People often ask a traveller “What’s the best place you have ever been to?” Although it is normally an impossible question to answer definitively, there are always some standout moments of any journey.
For the love of Monkeys
One of those such moments for me is a small town in Thailand called Lopburi. It’s a little off the beaten track but not hard to get to with a bit of effort.
But why? Simply put . . . monkeys . . . I love them and Lopburi is the home of the Monkey Temple, or the Prang Sam Yot to give it its specific name.
Getting to Lopburi and the Monkey Temple
We decided to take the train to Lopburi for the day. There are many tours that operate out of Bangkok and will do a combined Ayutthaya and Monkey Temple visit, but it is also easy to get to via public transport.
The added benefit of doing it under your own steam is that it will feel like more of an adventure and you’ll probably be able to miss the big groups, so the odds are the temple will be quiet.
We decided to tie the visit in with an overnight stay in Ayutthaya, also a recommended place to visit, as if you catch the train from Bangkok, you’ll need to change at Ayutthaya before arriving in Lopburi anyway.
Arriving in Lopburi
It was another humid day, the few wispy clouds in the sky offering little protection from the sun. After a short ride from Ayutthaya, the train chugged into the station at about 11am.
I had been looking forward to this stop for a few weeks having searched out the best places to see and interact with monkeys in Thailand. As we left the station, a charming chap offer to take us to the temple in his pedal-powered tuk-tuk for 10 baht.
Given that we didn’t know what direction to head in we thought it was an excellent plan.
Our driver (or is it rider when pedalling) was a relatively slender old man and with the two of us in tow, he seemed to struggle with the slight incline.
I ended up feeling somewhat guilty and offered to take over, but he was insistent. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the temple, turns out wasn’t a long way and would have absolutely been faster to walk.
The Prang Sam Yot Temple
As a temple, the Prang Sam Yot is nothing extraordinary compared to others in the region, but to be honest, we were not here for the classic Khmer architecture, we wanted monkeys, loads of them.
The temple is in the centre of a large square of grass enclosed in by a metal small fence. While it can easily be seen from the outside, to get up close and personal to the vast majority of our little furry cousins we decided to get closer. To enter it cost just 50 baht (£1) payable at small hut manned by a guard and his stick.
Am I being watched?
As soon as I walked in, I could sense eyes on me from every angle. It is times like these that remind me why I had that rabies shot before I left the UK.
As we paid our entrance fee we had the opportunity to also buy some food for the monkeys. Fortunately I had done some research so realised it was probably a bad idea.
In fact, based on the blog I read before going myself, we made sure to hide every bit of food we owned meaning the monkeys weren’t overly interested in us.
It turned out to be a great advice
Much to my amusement, the unfortunate Chinese lady arriving after us, hadn’t read the same advice I did.
I can only guess that she thought that the cute little monkeys would sit on the floor, look up at her with wide eyes, arms out, pleading with her to hand over a bit of food.
No way. These guys are smart.
No sooner had she entered the temple area that one launched itself onto her back, she screamed as another climbed her leg and a third drew near.
She started to panic and jerked around trying to shake them off; it looked to me like she had just been tasered. It wasn’t long before the other monkeys had noticed the commotion and joined in the hunt.
I felt bad for her, kind of like I should help . . . but it was way too much fun just watching, and besides, what could I really do?
As the 4th monkey landed on her the temple guard noticed and ran over with his big stick scaring the macaques away, they must know that sticks hurt, however, it wasn’t before the monkeys got away with all the food, along with a bottle of water and a packet of biscuits.
Hide your food when you enter The Monkey Temple
Seeing the attack had made me somewhat apprehensive, I double checked that my bag was properly zipped up and sauntered off thankful I made the correct choice about not buying food!
It wasn’t until I knelt down to take a photo of an exceptionally handsome monkey that they decided to investigate me.
While checking that my aperture was set I felt an unexpected jolt on my back which coincided with an abrupt squeak from my friend. I knew right away I had a monkey on my back.
Luckily in the aforementioned blog that I read, it suggested that to remove monkeys, simply rotate at speed and the monkeys will fly off you in all directions. It worked; monkey on … spin …monkey off.
It seemed after this initial breach I was now thought of as fair game. I am not sure if the others saw and assumed I was carrying something worth having but all of a sudden I had three monkeys bundling on me.
After a while, I learnt to accept it and enjoy the experience, especially the one that sat on my back and groomed me hunting for ticks, I felt a genuine closeness to nature, almost as if I was one of their crew. In total, we spent about an hour in the monkey temple before we had a wander around the town.
Then this happened . . .
As we made motions to leave and head back to the train station, I noticed a lady pulling up to the local bank on her moped with an interesting looking plastic bag on her handlebars.
Within moments, a curious little bugger had ripped the bag open and grabbed what was inside. The immense disappointment was clear on both sides as the poor lady had just lost her brand new mobile phone and the monkey; as much as he tried, couldn’t eat it.
Sensing the imminent danger from the bank security he scarpered with his bounty, edible or not, straight to the top of a post.
The bank team were extremely helpful in trying to get the phone back. The tactic they used was tossing a small packet of rice at the monkey in the hope that he would catch the rice and drop the phone.
After a couple of throws, they were right in one sense; the monkey caught the rice, however now he had a phone and a bag of rice.
The guards, seeming disappointed, had to play their trump card . . . a fine ripe mango . . . game on.
Mango Vs. Rice Vs. Phone
The first mango toss got the monkeys attention but was off target. The following attempt was a big success; you could see the monkey making a calculation in his brain, rice vs. mango . . . versus calling his mum.
It was no contest, as he seized the mango out of mid-air he dropped the phone and the guard was able to catch it, aside from a couple of teeth marks; good as new.
Between the lady losing a bag of food and the monkey stealing a phone it was rather an eventful trip and with that number of monkeys around I’m sure there will always be some shenanigans going on.
If you want to know more about Lopburi and the locals attitude to the macaques be sure to watch this quick little video.
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