Making their first public appearance since being rescued by divers, the Wild Boars team described on Wednesday how they survived on nothing but dripping water, and even tried to dig their way out.
During the press conference, the boys waived, smiled and even offered the Thai traditional "wai" greetings on the national TV broadcast.
One of the boys, 14-year-old Adul Sam-on recalled the moment when two British divers found the trapped group on July 2, squatting in a flooded chamber several kilometres within the cave complex. "It was magical," he said. "I had to think a lot before I could answer their questions," added Adul.
"Everybody was happy, it was the most hopeful moment in 10 days."
A crowd of media and onlookers were penned behind barricades as the boys arrived in vans from the hospital where they had stayed since their rescue from the complex in Thailand's northern province of Chiang Rai.
Their discovery triggered the rescue effort that brought them all to safety in over three days, organised by Thai Navy SEALs and a global team of cave-diving experts.
The order in which the boys eventually left the cave did not depend on the state of their health, said their coach Ekkapol Chantawong, whose efforts have been credited by some parents with keeping the boys alive. "The ones whose homes are the furthest went first, so they could tell everyone that the boys were fine," he added.
The group had planned to explore the Tham Luang caves for about an hour after soccer practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.
"We took turns digging at the cave walls," Ekkapol said. "We didn't want to wait around until authorities found us." One of the boys added: "We used stones to dig in the cave. We dug 3 to 4 metres." That represents a depth of 10-13 feet. Their efforts were to no avail, Ekkapol said, adding: "Almost everyone can swim. Some aren't strong swimmers, however."
The group, who had eaten before going into the caves, took no food on an excursion that was supposed to last only an hour, and had to subsist on water dripping from stalactites, he said. "We only drank water," said one of the boys, nicknamed Tee. "On the first day we were OK, but after two days we started feeling tired."
The boys, who returned home on Wednesday night, all apologised for being naughty, admitting to having told their parents only that they were going to soccer practice, but not about the plans to go into the cave.
The boys, who sported crisp haircuts, had gained 3 kg (6.6 lb) each on average since the rescue, and ran through confidence-building exercises before Wednesday's event, said hospital director Chaiwetch Thanapaisal.
The moment was bittersweet, as two of the boys held up a framed pencil sketch of Samarn Kunan, 38, a former Thai navy diver who died while he worked underwater, laying oxygen tanks along a potential exit route. "Everyone was very sad," said Ekkapol, adding that the boys would spend time as novice Buddhist monks to honour the diver's memory.