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Thailand

‘This is history’: Bangkok mall opens Thai cave rescue display, featuring plastic tunnel

Exhibition showcases items used in the rescue of the trapped youth soccer team and a mural featuring key players in the operation, including Elon Musk

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 9:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 10:15pm

In Bangkok’s upmarket Siam Paragon shopping centre, a young man crawls through a small, dank-looking tunnel.

The sound of dripping water can be heard as he disappears into the shadows, mixed with a blast of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky from the shopping centre speakers.

“This tunnel is great for children,” said Supira Pungkanok, 78, as the man tumbles out of a tunnel entrance nearby. “It’ll warn them to not do anything adventurous.”

The 10-metre plastic tunnel, painted to resemble murky brown rock, aims to replicate the experience that 12 school football players and their coach had when they were trapped inside a flooded cave in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province in July.

Their plight made global headlines and inspired Tham Luang Incredible Mission: The Global Agenda, an exhibition documenting the operation that saw the Moo Pa team freed after being trapped for over two weeks.

How the Thai cave rescue mission unfolded

The extraordinary success of the rescue operation sparked a wave of national pride within Thailand.

“It’s Thai character: we’re united and help each other as much as we can,” says Salinee Chuman, the ministry of culture manager who organised the exhibit. The free show runs in Bangkok until September 9: three days after a scheduled “Thank you” party in the capital for the thousands of people, from about 100 countries, who helped rescue the boys.

The exhibition showcases items used in the rescue – among the most popular with selfie-taking tourists is a mannequin wearing a dive suit. But there are also underwater robots, packets of the same edible gel given to the boys to sustain them and a shiny metallic thermal blanket that visitors can wrap themselves in for more selfies.

The tone is celebratory, with tributes from Theresa May, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and Liam Gallagher blown up on a wall. Former Thai navy Seal Saman Kunan, who died of asphyxiation after delivering air to the boys, is honoured with handwritten messages, a statue and a painting of the major players involved in the rescue.

Elon Musk is also in the painting, despite transporter pods he sent to Thailand not being used and the Tesla mogul sparking controversy when he claimed Vernon Unsworth, a British diver involved in the rescue, was a “pedo”.

Prasong Noimor, who works with the government’s Provincial Electricity Authority, spent 17 days in the caves maintaining the power supply during the operation. Attracting crowds on Thursday in his pink hard hat, he said national pride has ballooned because the public never saw his team lose confidence.

“We had no hope but did it anyway,” he said. “For the first five days in the caves I was sick and worked until 4am. It was around 2am when the navy Seals told me that they’d found the boys, and at first I thought they were joking. After the rescue we stayed to clear the equipment, but even on the last day everybody just kept smiling.”

Thai cave rescue: an animated explainer

The exhibition will tour Thailand after it ends in Bangkok. There are at least six films and numerous books about the rescue also in the works.

Pungkanok, perhaps hinting at the operation’s potential for Hollywood success, said: “This is history. It was mission impossible.”