Tham Luang dares tourists to visit 'Chamber 3'
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Tham Luang dares tourists to visit 'Chamber 3'

Visitors take pictures of the entrance of Tham Luang cave complex. Photo by APINYA WIPATAYOTIN
Visitors take pictures of the entrance of Tham Luang cave complex. Photo by APINYA WIPATAYOTIN

CHIANG RAI: Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non National Park in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district has officially opened Chamber 3 for visitors to get a glimpse of how the rescue mission for the 12 members of the "Wild Boar" football team and their coach, trapped in the cave for 18 days following a heavy downpour five years ago, took place.

Attapon Charoenchansa, chief of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), said the national park will be promoted as a destination for cave adventure, with one of the key attractions a salutary reminder of the extraordinary rescue operation.

Sessions in Chamber 3 will be limited to groups of no more than 10 people and must be led by one forest official and one local guide. The tour will last about three hours and only two groups will be allowed to visit the chamber each day.

“We are concerned about tourist safety. After consulting with specialists, we decided to open the section of the cave that runs to and includes Chamber 3, a central hub of the rescue effort,” he said.

Chamber 3 is about 800 metres from the entrance. The Wild Boar football team was stuck in Chamber 9 which is about 2.4km from the entrance of the cave. The area after Chamber 3 is not yet open for public visits.

“We also plan to provide a longer trail only for professional cave explorers because the route will be complicated and dangerous,” he said, adding that more surveys will be carried out to see which areas can be opened to serve demand from more experienced cave explorers.

To visit Chamber 3, each visitor must be fit and healthy due to the slippery floor, steep path, and sharp rocks along the route. At some points there is only enough space for the group to go through in single file as the walls are so narrow, he added.

Noppadon Uppakham, one of the rescue team members at that time and a guide during a recent media visit, explained that visitors will learn of the hardships that many endured to save the 13 football players and their coach.

Mr Noppadon was part of the team that implemented the guide ropes for divers to bring oxygen tanks to Chamber 3. 

The ropes, electrical wires, communication cables and oxygen-carrying tubing to add air inside the cave remain untouched as exhibits for visitors to see.

Another highlight is a demonstration of how rescuers transported each boy via a stretcher inside Chamber 3.

Mario Wild, one of the cave rescue team members, recalled his experience that things went crazy at the beginning of the rescue mission due to a poor management system, but later things improved leading to mission's success. He remembered well the moment when he saw the first rescued boy.

“He was wrapped carefully so I didn’t know whether he was still alive. But I felt relieved when the medical team gave a thumbs-up gesture as a sign that he was still with us. Tham Luang is an amazing, magical place. And due to strong cooperation from all partners, it made impossible things possible,” he said.

Josh Morris, a former coordinator of an international rescue team who has long experience in cave exploring, said his team will coordinate with the DNP to train its staff to be cave guides, adding Tham Luang is a fantastic place to visit and also safe venue for those in search of a cave adventure of their own.

Chamber 3 opened to the public on Friday and will close during the rainy season.

The entrance fee is 950 baht for Thai tourists and 1,500 baht for foreign visitors, excluding other fees for safety equipment hire.

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