Exploring the Ruins in Lopburi, Thailand’s Ancient Monkey Town
You might think, after watching Planet of the Apes, that a town run by monkeys would be a relatively civilized and peaceful place. The reality couldn’t be further from the myth. The monkeys in Lopburi constantly scrap amongst themselves, make love (probably not the right expression) on rooftops and harass humans with any semblance of food. I know, I know, monkeys aren’t technically apes and Lopburi isn’t technically run by monkeys, but it does sometimes seem that way. Throw in a scattering of ancient ruins and you end up with one of Thailand’s most intriguing towns.
Prang Sam Yot (The Monkey Temple)
Like any good gang, the monkeys in Lopburi have carved out an area which they rule with an iron fist. Their headquarters is Prang Sam Yot, a Khmer temple dating back to the 13th century. The temple alone is worth a visit, but the monkeys really add some entertainment to proceedings. You can buy a bag of food from vendors at the temple to give to the monkeys, but it’s only a good idea if you want to have physical contact with them. They’ll climb all over you and steal whatever food (or whatever rustling plastic) you happen to be carrying — some people enjoy it but I chose to keep my distance after seeing how shabby some of them looked.
There were a few baby monkeys hanging around the temple. These are the best kind of monkeys — too young to have disturbing sex right in front of you and too small to pick fights with other monkeys at the drop of a hat. This little one that I photographed stared straight at me for about 2 minutes; I’m almost convinced he was smiling. The monkey temple is in the centre of town and is a 5 minute walk from the train station. If you’re only stopping off in Lopburi for an hour or so to break up a train journey it’s the best place to go (along with the temple complex directly across the road from the station, but more on that later).
Ban Wichayen housed foreign ambassadors during the reign of King Narai. One famous former resident was Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek adventurer who grew wealthy as an adviser to the king. He annoyed lots of people and was then beheaded just before his powerful ally died. The complex is now in ruin but the mix of Asian and European design is still clearly evident. Sadly there are no monkeys in this area but it’s still a worthy stop on the Lopburi ruins hopping circuit.
Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat
We headed to this Khmer era set of ruins at around 5 pm, assuming it would be a good place to watch the sunset. It actually would have been if it didn’t shut at 4.30 pm. We went back a little later to watch the sunset from outside (which was OK) but we had to return the next morning before our train to Bangkok to see inside the complex. It’s the most complete set of ruins in Lopburi — there are lots of small temples and other buildings which have been well restored. We were also the only ones in the whole complex that morning, which is always nice.
Phra Narai Ratchaniwet (King Narai’s Palace)
There are some rocky ruins and some well intact European style buildings in the grounds of the palace as well as a museum housing artifacts from Lopburi and Ayutthaya. It’s interesting enough and it was nice to escape the midday heat in an air conditioned building.
The monkeys in Lopburi tend to stick to a few streets close to their temple hangout. We stayed in a hotel that was surrounded by a cage to keep them out, and they are constantly walking in and out (and on top of) shops and harassing food carrying pedestrians. There are hotels in other parts of town so you can avoid them, and it also might pay to carry a stick if you insist on carrying food around town.
More Ruins in Lopburi
There are also lots of other small temples and ruins in Lopburi. You’ll see most of them while walking between the main sites. There is also a big white pagoda just across the river but it’s not that interesting.
- Where is Lopburi? It’s around 100 kilometres / a 3 hour train ride north of Bangkok. Train tickets are really cheap — we paid 28 baht each for a ticket from Lopburi to Bangkok. Lopburi is only an hour away from Ayutthaya by train; make sure you go there if you’re in the area.
- How much do the ruins in Lopburi cost? The Monkey Temple, Ban Wichayan and Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat are all 50 Baht each and King Narai’s Palace is 150 Baht. If you’re in a hurry (or on a budget) you could probably skip the palace.
Are you a fan of monkeys? Would you like to visit Thailand’s monkey town? Let me know in the comments below!