CHIANG RAI • The boys rescued from a cave in Thailand woke up in their own homes for the first time in more than three weeks yesterday, with many rising at dawn to take part in a religious ceremony.
The 12 boys, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach were discharged from a hospital in the northern province of Chiang Rai on Wednesday, and later made their first public appearance.
During a national TV broadcast, they joked and showed solidarity with one another, as they shared details of their traumatic experience inside the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.
Many of the boys hail from the sleepy district of Mae Sai, near the border with Myanmar. Some were greeted with hugs, tears and smiles by waiting relatives and friends when they returned home on Wednesday. Others were blessed with water as they entered their homes.
For Duangpetch Promthep, captain of the youth soccer team, his first meal at home was stewed pork knuckle with rice. He said the dish was something he had yearned to eat while stranded in the cave, where the boys had no food for days and survived only on water dripping from stalactites.
He also blew out candles for a belated celebration of his 13th birthday on July 3, a day after the boys were found by British divers more than 4 km inside the cave.
Yesterday, some of the boys and their relatives took part in religious ceremonies at Mae Sai's Wat Pha That Doi Wao temple.
Wearing threads of white string tied around their wrists, the boys sat together in the temple and prayed for longevity and a good life while chants of Buddhist monks filled the room.
Reporters were not allowed close to the boys and their families at the temple to give them privacy. Officials have advised the families to avoid interviews for one month to let them settle back into their normal routines.
"They will live with their families first," school director Punnawitch Thepsurin said, adding that the boys will not resume their studies immediately.
The last of the group of 13 was brought out of the cave on July 10, ending a gruelling 18-day ordeal that claimed the life of Mr Saman Gunan, a former Thai navy Seal who was helping with the rescue efforts.
Mr Saman died on July 6 after losing consciousness during a mission to place oxygen tanks deep inside the cave, just two days before the first boys were taken out to safety. The boys paid tribute to him during their temple visit yesterday.
During their TV news conference, the boys said that when they entered the cave on June 23, they had planned to be inside for only about an hour after soccer practice. But a heavy downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
"This experience has made me stronger and taught me not to give up," said 11-year-old Chanintr Wiboonroongruang, the team's youngest member.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE