CHIANG RAI, Thailand - The famous Tham Luang cave was reopened to the public on Friday following removal of equipment that was used in last year's dramatic rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach who were trapped underground for weeks.
People visit Tham Luang cave in the Mae Sai district of Thailand's northern Chiang Rai Province on Friday. (Photo: AFP)
The northern Thailand cave, where the Wild Boar Academy team was rescued in July 2018, drew about 2,000 tourists in a single day, according to a local conservation official.
"We have allowed visitors to see the mouth of the cave," said Kamolchai Kotcha, director of the local conservation organization that overseas the cave.
Some of the rescue equipment left behind - including telephone wires, hoses and zip lines - may be exhibited inside the cave for visitors to view in the future, Kamolchai said.
Photos from the opening on Friday showed tourists at the site's entrance. Last year bikes and backpacks were found at the entrance-alerting local police that the boys were likely inside.
The visitors created so much traffic that authorities allowed only about 30 people to enter at a time.
Duangporn Sookawong, 75, who came all the way from southern Songkhla Province, said she believed that the rescue was a miracle and the boys were lucky that they were able to survive despite being stuck in the dark, complex network of caves for almost three weeks.
The Wild Boars went into Tham Luang in June 2018 for a routine hike after soccer practice, but became trapped after heavy rains blocked the only route out.
Hundreds of people descended on the remote site to help save the boys, who were found by divers - emaciated but alive - on a muddy perch deep inside the cave after nine excruciating days of waiting.
The boys were sedated and fitted out in full-face breathing masks before being pulled to safety through a hazardous underwater labyrinth.
Several books deals about the drama have been inked, and the first film about the rescue premiered this month at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.
About 1.5 million people visited the outside of the cave in the past year, despite not being allowed to enter the cave as the area was still being restored.