About two hours from Bangkok by car, the provincial capital of Lopburi is a pretty quiet little place. A few small side streets, an old set of temple ruins from the Ayutthaya period, and a convenient rail station serving as a jumping-off point to nearby attractions makes this a charming spot to spend a day or two, along with a few thousand monkeys!
Feeding the monkeys, Lopburi — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Arriving in Lopburi, one notices a humongous statue outside the train station of a giant macaque, with no explanation as to why it's there. Turns out that for years, the locals of Lopburi have been feeding the abundant resident macaque population and the monkeys have somewhat taken over the town. The monkeys can be found everywhere throughout the city: in the temples, on the rooftops, in gardens, and they can also be seen scampering along the town streets, even scurrying across the train tracks in time to greet the incoming arrivals. The fame of the Lopburi monkeys has spread over time, and they have now become somewhat of a tourist attraction themselves.
Every year in November, the city hosts a Monkey Banquet where thousands of simians are fed by the locals, and there are plenty of parades, regional treats, and plenty of hilarious photo ops. In recent years, the city has gone all out in an attempt to wow the tourists, with stunts such as Thai skydivers parachuting down from planes into the ancient temples bearing food for the awaiting macaques. The Lopburi governor puts in an appearance, carrying trays of the most expensive durian fruits available to feed the superstar monkeys, and foreigners are always invited for the best photo ops and fun and games.
Parachuting into the temples, Lopburi — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Monkeys ride on peoples’ shoulders, climb on photographers’ heads, drink cans of Coke and Pepsi, and generally make a complete nuisance of themselves. The temple gets trashed in fruit peels, shredded aluminum cans and plastic water bottles, and the grounds are littered with monkey droppings. Yet, it's all in good fun. By the afternoon, Lopburi is back to normal, monkey and man alike are sound asleep, and the city looks forward to another year of prosperity and feting their prized primates.
Temples and monkey statues, Lopburi — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Besides the monkeys, there is also the ancient King Narai's Palace (home to the colorful Narai festival in February) as well as the excellent Lopburi National Museum with its huge collection of Dvaravati artifacts. If you are in Lopburi between the months of November and February, it's well worth it to try and get to the nearby sunflower fields of Saraburi, where thousands of giant sunflowers bloom every winter. Every field has viewing platforms, local products like sunflower seeds and oil, and some places even offer elephant rides through the flower fields! Check with the Lopburi Tourism Information Office for maps and directions.