The 12 boys and coach of the Wild Boars football team entered the local town hall on the Thai-Myanmar border Tuesday, appearing at their first news conference since the dramatic rescue as a tight-knit family, kicking around balls that were given to them and laughing amongst each other.
It was a scene of relief, far removed from just a few days ago when they — and the world — endured an agonizing wait and hoped that the ordeal would not end in tragedy.
Clad in black shorts and white-and-green short-sleeved jerseys sporting a large orange boar, the recovering players and their coach were greeted with applause from the room mixed with local and international media, family, friends and officials.
The event in Chiang Rai was broadcast live on Thai government television, seemingly as a message that all was well within the country. But there was also a feeling that things were under tight control, as questions for the press conference had to be submitted by the media yesterday and then chosen — with the help of a psychiatrist.
It was a time of reflection for the teammates, as they answered the big question: What had they learned from the experience?
"I very much appreciate everyone who supported us, and next time I'll use common sense and make sure it is safe before I do something," coach Ekapol Chantawong [nicknamed Ake] said, when asked what he learned from the ordeal.
Days before the Saturday practice, Chantawong had posted on his Facebook page that they would explore the cave for just a few hours, as some of the players had not been there before.
"It was the biggest experience of my life and has given me more patience and taught me to never give up," said 11-year-old Chanin Vibulrungruang [nicknamed Titan], the youngest member on the team.
After the initial rising water on the first day that blocked their way out, most of the team thought they would get out soon, believing the water would subside the next day. It turned into an 17-day ordeal.
"I am very happy that my son came out from the cave safely and his spirit has not changed from the experience," said Somboon Kaewwongvan, father of Peerapat Sompiangjai, 16, also known as Night.
"As a parent myself, the bond with the other parents who we had never met to talk, is now much stronger,"he said.
Adisak Wongsukchan, father of another rescued boy, Ekarat, 14, said, "I am very proud of my son and the other boys because they were so lucky that the whole world supported them, even though they come from a small border town. Their lives have been changed forever from this event," he said.
The next step in their recovery from the cave incident is a nine-day ordination as novice monks to commemorate and honor the death of retired Thai navy seal Saman Kunan, who died July 6 while delivering oxygen tanks to the boys.
The heroism displayed by the divers was an inspiration to the young men.
Several players at the press conference announced that they wanted to be navy seals when they grow up.
The ordeal has called attention to a problem largely unknown outside of Thailand: The north of the country, with its porous borders and various ethnic groups, is home to a huge population of stateless people whose numbers range from the official figure of 488,000 to an unofficial, estimated 3.5 million.
Coach Chantawong and three players are among the stateless. Following the cave drama, Thai officials are considering granting them citizenship.
Thai Boys Speak of Lessons Learned From Cave Ordeal