Lopburi, in central Thailand, is well-known for its cheeky marauding monkeys. The macaque monkeys tend to congregate mainly around Phra Prang Sam Yod temple in the town centre, earning it the nickname of the monkey temple. The temple itself is in fairly good condition, show-casing some intricate Khmer designs. It was initially a Hindu temple and was converted into a Buddhist monument sometime later. The three prangs stand proudly amongst the nearby newer buildings.
A nominal entrance fee of 50 baht allows you to go inside the temple and the grassed areas around it. There isn’t really much to look at inside the temple itself, just mainly some bats that have claimed it as home. The main reason for going into the temple though is to get close to the monkeys from the relative safety of being behind bars.
I say relative safety, as their little hands can still make quick snatches through at the unwary! All window spaces are barred to prevent monkeys from being able to get inside, and the door to the temple should be kept closed for the same reason.
If you have not taken your own food with you, there are people selling bags of fruit and vegetables for you to feed the monkeys. On one visit I ended up with a bag of cucumber, another visit a bag of small bananas and another time with corn. The monkeys aren’t fussy though, and will eat almost anything offered – they will even try and eat the plastic bags if given half a chance, so be careful!
Being inside the temple really did feel like being inside a kind of reverse, human zoo. With the monkeys running about freely outside and me in what felt like a cage really did make me laugh. I wandered about outside afterwards, giggling at the curious monkeys peering in at the “caged” human specimens. It was also cute to see little furry families huddled together watching the world go by.
The monkeys are not afraid of people at all, and will happily approach you for food, sometimes uninvited and unexpected. They can be quite aggressive and vicious though, so it is best to maintain a healthy distance from them.
There are staff walking around with sticks and catapults to scare away any bad trouble-makers. The monkeys are also likely to try and steal and food or drink that they see, as my friend, James, found out. James actually punched a monkey to protect his spring rolls. He rose victorious in the spring roll battle, only to find that, actually, they weren’t all that good anyway!
One of my favourite monkey thefts was witnessing one youngster hurtling into a shop for a quick snatch and grab before scampering up onto a power line to examine its booty – only to discover it had stolen a packet of freeze-dried instant coffee granules! The packet and its contents was quickly thrown down onto some unsuspecting people below.
Watching monkeys rifling through items left unattended can also be amusing. I watched one going through things left in a moped compartment. It quickly downed the remains of a bottle of water before chomping through the wire of a mobile phone charger and then discarding it with disgust.
The monkey temple can be visited year-round, but November is a particularly fun time to visit when the locals hold the annual monkey festival. At this time the monkeys really are given a feast fit for a king, with row upon row of tables adorned with food for the monkeys’ tea party.
When you have had enough of feeding / watching / dodging the hundreds of furry critters, you may want to wander round some of the other temples and ruins in town. There is also a museum and a zoo, and a small ride out of town will take you to Ang Sub Lek, a lake which is great for just relaxing alongside. There are several raft-style bars on stilts around the lake where you can enjoy a drink and some food. I would recommend the sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. At dusk, thousands of bats exit a mountainside cave, to create a spectacular dark streak across the sky. There are also a few army themed attractions near the military zones.
Lopburi is easily day-trippable from Bangkok, but to really appreciate the town I would recommend at least an overnight stay. You will probably only want to spend a couple of hours at most around the monkey temple itself, so for those pressed for time a quick stop off is all that is really needed to see Lopburi’s main attraction.
Where else do you know of where people can get up close and personal with wild monkeys? And, do you have any funny monkey tales to share?