Where Monkeys own the Town
A traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to seeG. K. Chesterton
Lopburi was once the former ancient town of the Khmer from the 10th to the 13th century and lies 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of Bangkok. Should you be visiting Ayutthaya any time during your vacation, then you only need to drive a short distance further to the northeast and you will be here in this small town.
Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat
Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat is a historical 12th-century archaeological site that was constructed during the time of the Khmer reign. And what stands out most about this particular place is its strikingly tall Prang, said to be the tallest in Lopburi.
Though much of the decorative detail on the Prang was constructed entirely out of laterite, it had corroded, but much of the lintels and fine stucco details are still unmistakably present. Nevertheless, a fair amount of restoration work has been carried out by the Thai Fine Arts Department.
Vichayen House was originally built by King Narai in Lopburi as the official residence for Chevalier de Chaumont, the first French ambassador to Thailand during the reign of King Louis XIV. Constantine Phaulkon, the famous Greek advisor to the king had also at a later stage become a resident at Vichayen House. Constantine Phaulkon was later assassinated in 1688 during a time of struggle for power when the king was close to his death.
Although the house no longer has its roof anymore, the grounds are surprisingly in good condition and well worth the visit. The distinctive French architecture that remains throughout the grounds, houses the original residence formally occupied by the ambassador to the left with a Roman Catholic chapel in the middle and a hall of residence for members of the foreign mission.
Narai Ratchaniwet Palace
Narai Ratchaniwet Palace was partly designed by the French and built between 1665 and 1677. The Palace is surrounded by high walls and although most of it is in ruins, the surviving remains are well cared for. The grounds were divided into three sections enclosing government offices, ceremonial buildings and the private residence of the king. These ruins also show traces of the Sutta Sawan Pavilion where the king was believed to have died. The complex is open daily from 7.00 am until 6.00 pm.
Phra Prang Sam Yot
Phra Prang Sam Yot, known as the Temple of Three Prangs, is considered one of Lopburi’s most important archaeological sites. Originally these ruins were built as a Hindu monument and later converted to a Buddhist temple during King Narai’s reign.
The three laterite-sandstone structures seen here are said to represent the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. And the Prang on the right as you enter the complex is considered the best preserved of the three.
Monkeys are the order of any day at Phra Prang Sam Yot, therefore it would be in your best interest to keep all your valuables close to your person. There’s no way you can avoid these primates. They are everywhere. They wander throughout the city, the streets, the ruins, and nobody seems to mind at all.
Though these monkeys are relatively harmless and seemingly quite tame, they do have the freedom of the town and are allowed to run wild all over the place, including many of the archaeological sites in town.
Exploring Lopburi – The Monkey Banquet
A monkey banquet is held in Lopburi every year in the last week of November. Unfortunately, I arrived during the month of October before this event took place, but nevertheless, I did enjoy the day wandering around taking in all the sites, sounds and smells while having scores of monkeys running all around me.
I’m told that the monkey banquet is financed by a local businessman every year at this time affording a huge treat for these friendly primates. Other local Thai’s who come to pay their respect during these festivities, often bring heaps of food themselves, including of course all the monkeys favourite snack.
To those of you who saw one of the episodes of the “The Amazing Race” on television a while back, you may have noticed that at some point, participants of the race, after arriving in Thailand, headed for this central town where they had to prepare various banquets for the monkeys. It was absolutely hilarious.
Tables are laid with lots of goodies, especially fruits of many kinds for the picking or should I say gorging. Apparently, it’s one fat feeding frenzy. Photojournalists from all around the world take advantage in order to get the best pictures which I believe are then posted all over the local newspapers in the area.
Should you be in the neighbourhood of Ayutthaya in central Thailand around this time, you may want to take advantage of this once in a lifetime event. It’s only a short drive away. Various local activities surround these colourful events.
San Phra Kan
San Phra Kan which is also known as the Kala Shrine consists of two divisions. One section dates back as far as the Khmer period while another section was recently built as early as 1951. This former Brahman shrine, now a location for worship, houses the four-armed deity of Vishnu on which sits a Buddha’s head.
The entire statue is covered in gold leaf. While the area around the compound is now enclosed to prevent the large group of monkeys who inhabit the grounds from being run over on the streets around the site, you are advised to take care of all your belongings. San Phra Kan lies adjacent to Phra Prang Sam Yot.
Prang Khaek is a small Khmer ruin which, much like that of Prang Sam Yot, was originally constructed as a Hindu shrine. This historical and archaeological site consists of three small brick Khmer Prang’s said to be the oldest in central Thailand. Much of the site has been restored several times. The ruin is located in close proximity to the Phra Narai Ratchaniwet Palace and the marketplace on Vichayen Road.
Wat Nakhon Kosa
Wat Nakhon Kosa is another fine Khmer temple ruin said to be built around the 12th-century. This historical site was also originally considered to be that of a Hindu site constructed by the Khmers, with the Prang out in front. Buddha images found on the site are predated by the rest of the edifice. The shrine is in a fair state of disrepair, although some restoration has been attempted.