Tham Luang boys thank all rescuers

Tham Luang boys thank all rescuers

All 12 boys of the Moo Paa (Wild Boars) Academy give all rescuers a wai during a royally sposored dinner at the Royal Plaza on Thursday to thank them for their rescue operation at Tham Luang cave. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
All 12 boys of the Moo Paa (Wild Boars) Academy give all rescuers a wai during a royally sposored dinner at the Royal Plaza on Thursday to thank them for their rescue operation at Tham Luang cave. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Young footballers who captured the world attention in the rescue operation at Tham Luang cave have shown their appreciation to His Majesty the King and all people involved in the mission.

They pledged to repay all efforts helping them from the trapped cave in Mae Sai district, Chiang Rai province, when they grow up.

"We all appreciate the concern and kindness of His Majesty the King," Adul Sam-on said on behalf of all 12 members of the Moo Paa [Wild Boars] Academy on Thursday.

"We would like to thank everyone who devoted their efforts for us and our families. We will never forget."

Adul said he and his friends will repay their efforts by concentrating on their study and will grow up to be good citizens of Thailand and the world.

"We promise to do the best of our ability," he added.

The boys were on the stage at the royally sponsored dinner reception at the Royal Plaza, with thousands of guests -- foreign and local -- invited to the event. The celebration is called "United as One."

Their coach Ekapol Chanthawon, who remains in the monkhood, also travelled with them from Chiang Rai to Bangkok on Thursday.

The boys and their coach went inside the cave on June 23 and was trapped by flood water before international efforts joined hands to help them. 

The first three boys were brought out on July 8 and all were rescued by July 10.

Chanin Wiboonroongruan, one of the Wild Boars members, emerges from a mock cave during the Tham Luang exhibition at the Siam Paragon shopping centre on Thursday. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

It was showtime Thursday for the 12 boys and their 25-year old soccer coach, who shared their drama of being trapped for almost three weeks in the flooded cave at a public exhibition at the Siam Paragon shopping mall shortly after arriving in the capital.

The exhibition featuring members of the Wild Boars soccer team also shows a reproduction of the cave with simulated sounds of water dripping. Equipment used by rescuers and other memorabilia are on display.

Psychologists had counselled that the boys after their rescue in July should be given a six-month respite from being pressed to recount their experience for the sake of their mental health. But the government, eager to share the glory of the good-news story, has trotted them out for public appearances and interviews.

Other efforts to promote their story have included construction of a museum and the anointing as a national hero of a former Thai Navy Seal who died while diving in the cave delivering oxygen tanks.

One exception to the feel-good vibe has been an ongoing feud between tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and a British caving expert, Vernon Unsworth, whose advice and experience were considered crucial to the rescue operation.

Deputy government spokesman Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, who has been organising many of the events with the boys, responded with concern to Mr Musk's comments highlighting Thailand as a destination for sex tourists.

"When there is this kind of perception we shouldn't overlook it. This reflects our image, which we have to fix. We won't blame him and say 'Oh, he said all those bad things','' he said. "We should take this information and use it to make changes.''

For the boys, mostly teenagers, the Musk controversy is not even a sideshow. They are carefully guided by the committee set up to control who has access to the boys as they draw attention from filmmakers and the media.

At least five of them at Thursday's forum said in more or less the same words that "my life is the same, but more people are approaching me.''

"Things are back to normal, except now I have more friends," said Chanin Wiboonrungruang, 11, the youngest of the group, with a big smile, at the exhibition.

Wearing yellow shirts and baseball caps, the boys recounted their ordeal and the moment rescuers found them.

"It is indescribable how glad we were," said Ekapol.

The boys have already detailed much of their adventure in a news conference after they were released from hospital observation following their rescue and in interviews with the US television network ABC.

In a panel discussion moderated by Weerachon in the Siam Paragon mall on Thursday, they gave mostly brief replies. Adul said that the area they were staying in the cave stank of urine -- the matter of body excretions had been a subject of much speculation on social media.

The boys appeared unaware of the government's advice to avoid talking about their ordeal.

Adul said he was surprised when he met officials such as American diplomats but was not asked about what happened in the cave. He said someone later told him that there was a ban on people asking them questions about it.

His teammate Ekarat said he was also surprised why no one asked him about the events in the cave. "I started to doubt whether I was also stuck in the cave,'' he said.

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