Photos: Miracle of footballers’ rescue turns Thai cave into tourist draw

Tourists snap selfies by a bronze statue of the diver who died trying to save the 'Wild Boars' football team from a flooded cave, while mementos from their rescue fly off the shelves -- scooped up by the 1.3 million people who have descended on a once serene mountainside in northern Thailand. 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.

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST 10 Photos
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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. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

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. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Visitors boarding a shuttle car to take them to the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. When they emerged -- after being heavily sedated and manoeuvred 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. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Visitors boarding a shuttle car to take them to the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. When they emerged -- after being heavily sedated and manoeuvred 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. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Visitors taking photos near the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. “It’s amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia,” tourist John McGowan told AFP after taking photos at the visitor centre 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. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Visitors taking photos near the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. “It’s amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia,” tourist John McGowan told AFP after taking photos at the visitor centre 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. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Mae Sai district, where the cave is located, was considered off the beaten track for foreign visitors. But between October 2018 and April this year alone “1.3 million people visited,” site manager Kawee Prasomphol told AFP. The government now has big plans for the area around the cave, allocating a total of 50 million baht ($1.6 million) including a shopping complex, restaurants, hotels and several campsites. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Mae Sai district, where the cave is located, was considered off the beaten track for foreign visitors. But between October 2018 and April this year alone “1.3 million people visited,” site manager Kawee Prasomphol told AFP. The government now has big plans for the area around the cave, allocating a total of 50 million baht ($1.6 million) including a shopping complex, restaurants, hotels and several campsites. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Streams of tourists explore a visitor hub where the centrepiece is a mural entitled “The Heroes”. It depicts the footballers and junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha -- a reminder of the governmental fingerprints in aiding their cause. At the heart of the mural is the beaming face of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out off oxygen attempting to establish an air line to the team and their coach. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Streams of tourists explore a visitor hub where the centrepiece is a mural entitled “The Heroes”. It depicts the footballers and junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha -- a reminder of the governmental fingerprints in aiding their cause. At the heart of the mural is the beaming face of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out off oxygen attempting to establish an air line to the team and their coach. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Vendors setting up stalls along the road leading to the Tham Luang cave. Laying white flowers at the foot of his bronze statue, Thai nurse Sumalee, who travelled four hours to the site, described him as “the hero of the whole country” in a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the rescue amid the blizzard of marketing opportunities now attached to the cave story. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Vendors setting up stalls along the road leading to the Tham Luang cave. Laying white flowers at the foot of his bronze statue, Thai nurse Sumalee, who travelled four hours to the site, described him as “the hero of the whole country” in a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the rescue amid the blizzard of marketing opportunities now attached to the cave story. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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A tourist from the US looking at his souvenir photos taken near the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. Nearby lottery ticket vendors are capitalising on the perceived good fortune linked to the boys’ survival and the folkloric appeal of a nearby shrine. The number of stalls has mushroomed from a few dozen to around 250. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

A tourist from the US looking at his souvenir photos taken near the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. Nearby lottery ticket vendors are capitalising on the perceived good fortune linked to the boys’ survival and the folkloric appeal of a nearby shrine. The number of stalls has mushroomed from a few dozen to around 250. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Vendors selling memorabilia, illustrating the rescue of the 12 boys. Kraingkrai Kamsuwan, 60, who moved his stall to the site weeks after the rescue, sells 4,000 tickets a month ($2.5) but reckons more will visitors will arrive once the cave reopens. He told AFP: “People want to gamble after wishing for luck from the shrine.” (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Vendors selling memorabilia, illustrating the rescue of the 12 boys. Kraingkrai Kamsuwan, 60, who moved his stall to the site weeks after the rescue, sells 4,000 tickets a month ($2.5) but reckons more will visitors will arrive once the cave reopens. He told AFP: “People want to gamble after wishing for luck from the shrine.” (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Visitors standing in front of a backdrop near the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. “A miracle has happened here with these children,” Singaporean tourist Cheong, giving one name, said but adding Tham Luang “must still have a spiritual side” despite the mass popularity. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Visitors standing in front of a backdrop near the entrance of the Tham Luang cave. “A miracle has happened here with these children,” Singaporean tourist Cheong, giving one name, said but adding Tham Luang “must still have a spiritual side” despite the mass popularity. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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Visitors walking down the road away from the Tham Luang cave, in which 12 boys from the “Wild Boars” football team and their coach were trapped last year, in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Visitors walking down the road away from the Tham Luang cave, in which 12 boys from the “Wild Boars” football team and their coach were trapped last year, in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province. (Lilian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2019 10:41 AM IST
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