Over 1 million tourists have visited site of cave rescue

With the approach of the first anniversary of the dramatic rescue of 13 young soccer players from a flooded cave in northern Thailand, local officials said over 1.3 million tourists had visited the site with most coming away saying they had been inspired by what they had learned.

Many tourists said the exhibits at the Tham Luang cave in northernmost Chiang Rai province were inspiring. Although the cave is well-known among locals, it is located off the beaten track for foreign tourists, and so officials in Chiang Rai were surprised at how many had made the extra effort to visit the site.

“It’s amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia, and I wanted to see it with my own eyes,” John McGowan, a tourist, told AFP news agency. He was able to take photos at the cave entrance, but with the rainy season underway no one is allowed to enter the underground passageways.

About this time last year, 12 young members of the Wild Boar soccer team and their coach went trekking inside the cave. A flash storm then flooded some of the passageways, and the boys were trapped deep inside.

When their plight became known, volunteers from around the world converged on the site to attempt to rescue them. Among those who participated were cave divers from Great Britain and Australia, the United States military, doctors and experts from several other countries in Asia and Europe and of course a large contingent of Thai volunteers.

Among them was a retired Thai Navy SEAL named Saman Kunan who tragically lost his life trying to reach the boys. The Thai people have erected a bronze statue of Saman near the entrance of the cave, and visitors frequently leave flowers at its base to honor his courage and sacrifice.

“He is the hero of the whole country,” said Sumalee, a nurse who traveled four hours to visit the site.

The Thai government has plans to build more facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, around the site to serve the burgeoning numbers of tourists.