The world waits with bated breath today, hoping to hear news that the final four boys and their coach have been successfully rescued from the Tham Luang caves in Thailand.
Astonishing tales of heroism, ingenuity and sheer hard work have emerged over the past couple of weeks, as expert divers, medical teams, the police, armed forces and volunteers dropped everything and travelled from across the globe to try and bring the boys to safety.
In the middle of such incredible danger and potential tragedy, the most extraordinary, uplifting story of hope and humanity has also emerged. That the world can – and has – come together as one at such a time appears to be the sort of affirmation of human kindness that many people are seeking in 2018.
The stories of sacrifice are many – from people giving up their time and holidays, to the former Thai navy diver, Saman Gunan, who paid the ultimate price when he lost consciousness after delivering air tanks to the cave complex and later died. There are also tales of locals farmers whose rice crops have been sacrificed; flooded by the water drained from the caves.
In the weeks and months ahead the eyes of the world will gradually turn away from this corner of Thailand, but this community will still need help as it strives to get things back to ‘normal’. We’ll leave the care of the young soccer players to the experts, but if tourism can help the region’s economy, then we are so very happy to help promote this part of the world.
The caves are located in Chiang Rai, Thailand’s northernmost province. Often overlooked in favour of its more-famous neighbour, Chiang Mai, about a four-hour drive away, the city of Chiang Rai is one of the oldest settlements in the country. Situated in the Golden Triangle (the region bordering Myanmar and Laos), it was once a hub for the opium trade but these days is known for other attractions:
This famous Buddhist temple – commonly known to foreigners as the White Temple – features an intricate, ornate, pure white exterior that tells the most extraordinary story, complete with a sea of suffering hands that you have to cross to reach the ‘gate of heaven’. It’s strangely beautiful and, even in Thailand, unique.
This 14th-century temple was the original home of Thailand’s revered Emerald Buddha, discovered in 1434 when a bolt of lightning struck the main golden stupa to reveal the huge green statue within. Today, a replica lives in Chiang Rai, while you’ll find the original Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.
Part art studio, part museum, part home, Baan Dam is the creation of the late, renowned artist, Thawan Duchanee. The style here is traditional Thai-meets-gothic, with grounds holding multiple buildings all furnished and decorated with… animal remains. It’s bizarre and eerie, and not recommended for vegetarians.
You’ll find this golden clock tower at the junction of Phaholyothin and Banpaprakan Roads. Built in 2008 by the same artist who designed the White Temple, at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm every evening it’s the site of a light and sound show.
About five minutes’ walk from the clocktower is the outdoor Night Bazaar where you can put your bartering skills to the test shopping, or dine at the food court. Western and Thai food is available, but be sure to try the quintessential northern Thai dish, khao soi (traditionally, a chicken drumstick and soft egg noodles in a coconut curry broth, accompanied by red onions, pickled cabbage and a slice of lime).
A day trip to this corner of Thailand, bordering Myanmar, will make you feel like you’re in… China. Santikhiri (formerly known as Mae Salong) is an ethnically Chinese village where you’ll see signs written in both Chinese and Thai, you’ll hear Chinese being spoken more than Thai, and you’ll eat delicious Yunnanese food. Be sure to visit the temple for beautiful views of the village, as well as the surrounding mountains and hills – this region is famous for its tea plantations.