A Monkey Watches Tourists on a Train
Despite being a city of historical importance, Lopburi doesn’t get to see too many independent travellers. People heading north from Bangkok tend to take an overnight train to Chiang Mai and don’t bother to stop to see anything along the way. If you have the time, I would recommend that you do a few stops on the way up. This not only breaks up the journey but helps you better understand the subtle difference in life and culture of the central and northern regions. You can reach Lopburi from Bangkok by bus which will take you about three hours. But you will find the express train faster and more convenient. You don’t necessarily need to stay the whole day. When I was there, I noticed a few foreign tour groups being shown around the highlights within a period of one hour. In theory, you could catch a train here from Ayutthaya, stay a few hours then catch another train to your next destination. Maybe Phitsanulok. In this article, I am going to describe the quick highlight tour. The main feature of course are the monkeys.
Phra Prang Sam Yot
When you arrive at the train station, one of the first things you will notice on the platform are the giant monkey statues. Although they can be a nuisance to the locals, they are recognized as their provincial symbol and a major tourist attraction. In fact they are so grateful to the monkeys that they hold a buffet for them on the last Sunday of November each year. When you come out of the station, you will see the temple ruins of Wat Phra Si Rattana Maha That directly opposite. If you are short of time then you can safely skip this temple. Turn right and walk north a short distance. You will soon see the distinctive three stupas of Phra Prang Sam Yot. This is the place which is swarming with monkeys. The temple is built with blocks of laterite. It is also in a classic Lopburi style. It was originally a Hindu temple but was turned into a Buddhist one.
Entrance to the small grounds is 30 baht. The fact that the ticket collector was holding a long stick should give you a clue about the temperament of the monkeys. Basically, try and not make eye contact with them. Feel free to go about your business and take pictures. But be careful that you don’t have any food or a bag that the monkeys might think has food. They will come and grab it for sure. When I was there, it was mid-day and many of the monkeys were relaxing in the shade of the temple wall and Buddha images. The monkeys are literally everywhere. So mind your step. I noticed that there was an iron grille for the entrance to the main building and thought I could find sanctuary there. Inside it was dark with a rancid smell. I couldn’t quite work it out at first, but before too long I realized that I wasn’t alone. Looking up at the ceiling I could see dozens of bats. Some preparing to swoop down at me. Other temples in Lop Buri can boast more impressive ruins. However, only this one has the diversity of wildlife!
San Phra Kan
Once you have finished with Phra Prang Sam Yot, you should cross the railway track to the Phra Kan Shrine. This is one of the most sacred shrines in Lopburi and a popular place for locals to come and pray and wish for good luck. This shrine is actually Brahman rather than Buddhist. The main image they worship is Phra Kan who has four arms. Judging by all the food offerings in this picture, I would say that he grants quite a few wishes. In the grounds of this shrine you will also find more monkeys. However, there are signs warning you not to feed them as they can be quite aggressive.
This is basically the end of your quick tour if you don’t have much time. You could easily spend the whole day here as there is a palace and museum to see as well. There are also some cheap and clean hotels if you want to take your time. If you visit the Tourist Authority of Thailand office, down a lane opposite the train station, they will give you a map for a walking tour of the city. I will give you a more detailed look at Lop Buri on another day.
More tourist information about Lopburi can be found at www.ThailandGuidebook.com.