Tham Luang park head answers critics over slow development

Tham Luang park head answers critics over slow development

Navy SEAL members revisit Tham Luang cave in Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai province on March 18, 2019. (Photo by Chinnawat Chaimon)
Navy SEAL members revisit Tham Luang cave in Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai province on March 18, 2019. (Photo by Chinnawat Chaimon)

Tham Luang cave is drawing fresh public attention after a veteran politician complained about the slow development of the site, which has attracted more than 1 million visitors since the rescue of 12 young footballers and their coach in July last year.

In a letter to the director of Protected of Area Regional Office 15, Kawee Prasompol, head of the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Non forest park, explained why the cave landscape development project is not proceeding at the pace some might have anticipated.

His comments came in response to a Facebook post by Chiang Rai-based veteran politician Yongyuth Tiyapairat, who voiced dismay at how the globally-known site remains underdeveloped.

Mr Yongyuth was formerly environment minister during the Thaksin Shinawatra government, House speaker, and executive member of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai party.

Despite the government's pledge of 3.8 billion baht to develop the forest park in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district and nearby areas into a new tourist destination, Mr Yongyuth said the site is not what he expected it to be. 

New toilets were out of order and roads in the area were in a near-sorry state, he said.

Mr Youngruth also accused the local powers-that-be of sending horse carriage services to make money from tourists. 

In his explanation, Mr Kawee said the facility upgrade project had yet to be implemented because officials were still drafting the terms of reference for a survey, design and development feasibility study under a budget of 17 million baht. 

"The scheme has been approved by the cabinet but no budget has been disbursed," Mr Kawee said.

For forest park rehabilitation after the cave rescue operation, the park received a budget of 2 million baht from the province. The park was coordiinaing with the Rural Highway Department on road repairs around the site while it waits for permission from the Forest Department to develop the area.

As for the newly built but out of order toilets, he said, they were not new and had been in use for 28 years. A plan to dismantle the toilets was being studied as part of the park rehabilitation plan. 

A source at the Protected Area Regional Office 15 said the development plan for Tham Luang cave was still being studied, so allocation of funds had yet to be sought.

Tham Luang cave attracted global attention last year when 12 young footballers and their coach were trapped within the cave system from June 23 and July 10 by a flash flood.

Their plight drew about 10,000 officials and volunteers, including intrepid local and international divers, as an unprecedented rescue operation was launched, concluding successfully on July 10.

All the youngsters and their coach were brought safely out of the cave complex. However, one volunteer, a former Thai navy special warfare diver, died during the perilous rescue effort.

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