Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Thai cave where football team were trapped becomes tourist draw - in pictures

One year on from the rescue, more than 1.3 million tourists have visited Tham Luang cave

What was once a serene mountainside in northern Thailand has been transformed into a tourist hot spot, with more than 1.3 million people travelling to see the flooded cave where the 'Wild Boars' football team were saved by divers.

Tourists snap selfies by a bronze statue of the diver who died in the rescue mission, while mementos fly off the shelves from a makeshift gift store.

"It's amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia," tourist John McGowan said after taking photos at the visitor centre, situated around 100 metres from the Tham Luang cave entrance.

"I wanted to see it with my own eyes," the 60-year-old said, adding he was a little disappointed the cave is still off limits to visitors.

For a few dollars, tourists can get framed photos at the site, pick up posters of the footballers and take home a souvenir t-shirt – some printed with the face of Saman Gunan, the Thai diver who died in the bid to save the group.

There has been extraordinary global interest in the picturesque rural backwater of Mae Sai since 12 youngsters – aged between 11 and 16 – and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23, 2018.

They quickly became trapped by rising water levels and the daring, unprecedented mission to extract them through twisting flooded passageways captivated the world for 18 nail-biting days.

When they emerged – after being heavily sedated and manoeuvered out by expert divers – they did so into the centre of a global media frenzy.

The cave, which previously received around 5,000 visitors a year, has since been inundated by visitors both Thai and foreign.

Updated: June 18, 2019 10:44 AM

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