CHIANG RAI — A cave complex where 12 young footballers and their coach were trapped will reopen as a national park later this year, a minister said Thursday.
The plan was announced during the unveiling ceremony of the Thamluang Khunnam Nangnon National Park sign, though environmental minister Varawut Silpa-archa said the area would only officially become a national park next month, awaiting cabinet approval.
“The cave will be open to tourists within this year as we are now exploring the cave’s condition,” Varawut said. “Once it’s ready, tourists will be able to walk 100 to 200 meters down the cave to reach the first chamber.”
He said the cave’s natural condition would be preserved, so that foreigners can appreciate the actual beauty of Luang Cave. Varawut expected a surge in foreign tourists when a feature film about the rescue operation hit the screens next month.
All 370 pieces of equipment that were used during the rescue operation and left inside the caverns have been retrieved, and chief of national park department Thanya Netithammakun said some would be put on display once the cave reopens.
Despite the government’s pledge of 3.8 billion baht to redevelop the forest park to become a tourist attraction and national park last October, the plan has been delayed due to fund allocation problems.
Thanya said the park’s area, which will be expanded from 5,000 rais to 12,000 rais (1,920 hectares), has been surveyed and passed public hearing to become a national park. He is waiting for the ministry to seek approval from the cabinet.
Luang Cave attracted global attention last year when 12 young footballers and their coach were trapped within for 17 days by a flash flood. The epic rescue operation, which involved more than 10,000 officials and volunteers, was concluded successfully on July 10, 2018 when the last of the boys were brought out.