Cave where youth soccer team believed trapped has its own legends

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

As the whole country waits impatiently for news regarding 12 missing soccer players and their young coach, just how little is known about one of the longest caves in Thailand — where they are believed to have been trapped for three days now — is becoming increasingly apparent.

Spanning some 7 kilometers, Chiang Rai’s Luang Khun Nam Nang Non Cave Cave is believed by many locals to be “magical,” adorned with reflective stones, stalagmites, and small Buddha statues, while stories of tourists allegedly becoming lost in the cave are not unheard of.

The passage through the cave is said to be “treacherous” due to it’s convoluted route and constantly changing levels. It’s interior remains largely untouched by man, with no electrical power to light the way for visitors — making it the perfect home for resident bats.

“I’ve never taken a tour [group] there because it’s not a big attraction for foreigners,” 32-year-old local tour guide, Junpawat Kingngeun, told Coconuts Bangkok this afternoon.

“It’s mostly visited by locals looking for a rather challenging hike or a peaceful place to meditate. You have to be pretty adventurous to enter,” he added, before admitting to having ventured in himself on a couple of occasions.

Luang Khun Nam Nang Non Cave is prone to floods during rainy seasons. In fact, it’s labeled as hazardous and closed to the public entirely from November to April, as water can rise to heights of 8-10 meters as it moves rapidly through the cave.

One local website focusing on Chiang Rai attractions, offers a more mystical warning, saying that those who don’t ask “permission” from the mystical “cave keeper” before entering must stay silent inside the cave and — weirdly specifically — avoid profanity or suffer dire consequences.

The site goes on to tell the tale of two French tourists that entered the cave in 1991 and turned up three days later allegedly bewildered and disheveled, an intriguing tale that we are sadly unable to corroborate.

At least one story of a visitor disappearing in the cave, however, made it into online news outlet Sanook. On August 12, 2016, Sutirod Polyutasat left his bike with market vendors in the area, explaining that he “planned to find a cave to meditate in for a couple of days,” the paper reported.

When he failed to reappear in seven days, authorities were called to search for Sutirod but could not find no trace of him. Nearly three months later, towards the end of October, he turned up at a resort asking for a room but claiming he did not have any money. He allegedly looked bewildered, scratched and starved, or so the story goes.

Sutirod later explained to police that he got flooded in the cave, but had a supply of food that sustained him. When he ran out, he wandered to the local market before — retreating back to the cave of his own accord until the end of October. OK, we’re only going to rate that a partial “disappearance,” but still … weird.

While we can’t confirm the accuracy or tall-tale status of some of these stories, Chiang Rai residents aren’t denying the cave’s mysterious history in their conversations with local news outlets either.

Perhaps they’re just hewing to the popular Thai saying: “If you don’t believe it, don’t disrespect it.”

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