One of the most popular festivals in the central region of Thailand is the Monkey Festival held annually in Lopburi. The city is about 150 kms north-east of Bangkok and is a convenient stopover on the northern railway line to Chiang Mai. The iconic Khmer ruin in this city is Prang Sam Yot, which was originally a Hindu shrine. However, it is its inhabitants that is of more interest to both local and foreign tourists. In and around the Khmer temple can be found literally hundreds of Crab-Eating Macaques.
Pictures of the 23rd Lopburi Monkey Festival 2011
These days the monkeys are the symbol of the province. Alighting from the train you will see a giant monkey on the platform. Then a short walk north of the station will bring you to Prang Sam Yot and Sarn Phra Karn. All around this area the monkeys are roaming the street almost as if they were teenage gangs. A naughty student at school is often called a “ling”, which is the Thai word for a monkey. That is exactly what they are. If you are not careful they will snatch a bag from your hand or rifle through your backpack.
I saw them jump onto the back of a pick-up truck as it slowed down to go around a corner. They were looking for anything that they could steal. At the next corner they would jump off and scamper up the side of buildings where they will search through the goodies that they had just stolen. If you are walking down these streets, don’t forget to look up as they are perched on window sills and hanging from telephone wires. Local people arms themselves with sticks and slingshots. Some houses also have electric fences around their windows.
The idea of the Monkey Festival, now in its 23rd year, started with a local man called Yongyuth Kitwatananusont. He is the owner of the Lopbui Inn which is where I stayed the night before going to the festival. In front of the hotel there is a large monkey which he has been using as a kind of symbol for many years. Business has been good for both him and other people working in the tourism sector. Recognizing the important role that the monkeys have played in this, he decided one year to lay on a buffet meal for them.
The first Lopburi monkey festival took place on Sunday 25th November 1989. There were 35 Chinese tables set up and covered with an abundance of food. These were placed at three different locations around the city. Phra Prang Sam Yot, City Shrine and Downtown areas populated by the monkeys. Guest of honour that first year was former prime minister M.R. Kukrit Pramoj. The monkeys were naturally stunned to have so much food offered to them in such a free manner. Normally they would have to work for it.
These days, the festival is held around the main Khmer temple. It starts at around 10 a.m. with musical performances and human monkey dances. After the speech by the Governor of Lopburi, the monkeys are then invited down to eat from the buffet tables. Normally when you explore this temple the monkeys are everywhere. But with literally hundreds of tourists standing around the tables, the monkeys were naturally shy. But, they came down eventually and people were able to get the pictures that they wanted.
The festival goes on all day with two more rounds in the afternoon at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. It was good this year to see more foreign tourists than normal. In particular there were quite a few backpackers. I asked some of them how they had heard about this event and they all said from the Internet. That just shows you how things have changed these days with websites being the prime source of news. It was also good to hear that people had come here after reading about the festival on some of my websites such as www.ThaiFestivalBlogs.com and www.ThaiTravelBlogs.com. If you missed the festival and you want to go to the party next year, then I can tell you that it will take place on Sunday 25th November 2012.
The largest reservoir in Central Thailand is Pasak Jolasid Dam. Is it 4.8 kms long and stretches across Lopburi and Saraburi Provinces. It has a storage capacity of up to 960 million cubic meters. The project was initiated by H.M. The King in the early 1990′s and was officially opened in 1999. Pasak Jolasid Dam is a source of water for households, factories and farms in the Pasak Valley. It has also helped greatly with water management in the Chao Phraya Valley which often suffered from flooding during the rainy season. The Pasak River is a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River, flowing eastwards through Phetchaboon, Lop Buri and Saraburi Provinces, and joining the Chao Phraya River in Ayutthaya Province. Before the building of the dam, this river was one of the main sources of flooding in Bangkok.
Pasak Jolasid Dam is now a major tourist attraction for people travelling in Lopburi Province. For us, we went there for lunch before heading on towards Lopburi city to see the monkeys. It is possible to do this loop as a day-trip from Bangkok. Though, to make it a more worthwhile day, it is a good idea to do it between November and January when the sunflower fields are blooming with bright yellow colours. A recreational park has been created at the southern end near the dam. There are plenty of food vendors here and you can buy some food to eat as a picnic along the waterfront. There is often a cool breeze here and it is a great place to come to escape the heat of the day, There is also an interesting museum with free entry which details the history of the reservoir as well as the social history of the local inhabitants.
You can join tractor and trailer tours of the dam for a very cheap price. The commentary during the tour is only in Thai language but fortunately the tour price is the same for Thai people and foreigners. Really they should offer us a discount but it was so cheap anyway. It was a very windy trip across the dam. On the other side there is a giant seated Buddha image. I thought that was our destination but the tractor did a u-turn and took us straight back without stopping. There wasn’t really that much to see on the journey across so I am not sure whether it was really worth it. But, each trip was always full with Thai tourists. No foreigners here at all. Nearby there is a railway station, and it is possible to take a train ride across the lake. I haven’t done it yet but judging by satellite pictures the train crosses some of the longest bridges in Thailand. Instead of going around the lake, the train tracks go over the water for much of the way.
Visit our Lopburi pages at www.ThailandGuidebook.com for more ideas of what to see in this province. I have also marked the dam on google maps. I have posted many more ideas for excursion from Bangkok over at our www.Bangkok-Daytrips.com website.
The Sunflower Festival in Thailand starts around November and goes on until about February. The best places to see sunflower fields are in Lopburi Province and Saraburi Province. It was Lopburi where we went last weekend to see the sunflowers. Thousands of people from Bangkok head this way at the weekends for a day trip to take pictures in the sunflower fields. For people in Lopburi it has started to become a major tourist attraction. Each farm takes turns in planting the sunflowers so that there is at least one area of blooming flowers during this period. According to latest statistics, there is now 12,000 acres of sunflower fields in Lopburi alone. As well as being a tourist attraction, they also extract oil from the sunflower seeds and of course make tasty snacks.
The best places to see sunflowers in Lopburi are in the districts of Phatthana Nikhom, Chai Badan, and Khok Samrong. From Bangkok, we took Highway 1 north through Saraburi and then turned off onto Road 21 a little while later. A short distance along this road we came across two major sunflower fields with beautiful mountain backdrops. We then later turned right onto Road 3017 towards Pasak Jolasid Dam. We had an enjoyable picnic at the dam and then drove back along Road 3017 towards Lopburi. Again we saw plenty of sunflower fields. Some were on the main roads. Others had signs telling us where to turn off. If you have a car and drive around this area then you will surely have no problem.
Most farmers will charge you about 5 or 10 baht to enter their fields to take pictures. We found others along side roads which were free. The places that charge admission usually also have stalls selling souvenirs and snacks relating to sunflowers. They also offered tractor and cart rides throught the fields and also a few places had elephant rides. Most Thai people just went to the sunflower fields to take pictures. Usually of each other. If you don’t have your own transport, then you could join the special train trip that goes from Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok to the sunflower fields around Pasak Jolasid Dam. The train goes only at the weekend and on public holidays. It leaves Bangkok at 6.40 a.m. and returns eleven hours later. Prices start from 255 baht and go up to 675 baht for first class.
For more information about Lopburi Province, please visit our www.ThailandGuidebook.com website. We have lots of pictures of our trips to this province and also maps and lists of hotels. Don’t forget to visit our popular forums at www.ThailandGuidebook.com if you need any help in planning your holidays. All festivals are also posted on our www.ThaiFestivalBlogs.com website. All of these sites are part of the internationally acclaimed Paknam Web Network.
One of the more unique festivals in Thailand is the annual Monkey Party in Lopburi, about 150 kms north of Bangkok. It was started some twenty years ago by a local businessman called Yongyuth Kitwatananuson. He put on a buffet lunch for the monkeys as a way to say thank you to the animals for all the tourist money that they had brought to the city. This soon became a tradition and is now firmly an event on the national festival calendar. I went there for the first time this year and there were literally thousands of people there. So many that I think they have started to outgrow the limited space they have at Pra Prang Sam Yot temple.
These days it is more of a spectacular event as the local administration have taken over the proceedings. There is now a parade through town, cultural shows and vendors selling food and souvenirs. You could go there as a day excursion from Bangkok as it only took us about two and a half hours to drive up there. However, we decided to go the day before and stay overnight as we wanted to visit some other attractions as well. Some hotels were full but we didn’t have much of a problem. The Monkey Party was due to start at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning. The party is held every year on the last Sunday of November. We were there nearly an hour early and there were already many people milling around taking pictures of the monkeys. But really, you don’t need to go so early.
In the end, it started a bit late as we were waiting for the Governor to arrive and then for the parade. Around the temple they had set up stands for the “Chinese tables” and also large blocks of ice. These had fruit encased inside of them. Though in this picture you can see some sunflowers which is a symbol of this province. The parade arrived a little after 10 a.m. They brought with them the colourful table tops and dancing monkeys. The governor opened the proceedings by using a mallet to bash open one of the blocks of ice. He then tempted the monkeys down from the temple with a plate of smelly durian fruit. They seemed to like it. Fruit and desserts were then placed on the table tops around the temple. However, as there were so many tourists pushing and shoving to get a good viewpoint to take a picture, the monkeys didn’t come down at first.
I think next year they will have to rethink their planning. There was plenty of space around the back of the temple. They could have put more tables there. In the end, they had to move the tables closer to the ruins so that the tourists didn’t surround the tables. It was great fun but really too many people. I am not sure if the animal activists would agree with the food served at this monkey banquet. I would have to check, but I don’t think sweets are that good for the monkeys. But, they certainly had a good choice of food and picked and chose things that they liked. It was amazing to watch them even open a can of Coke. They are that clever. You really have to be careful when you visit this temple. If you are carrying a plastic bag, the chances are high that it will be snatched away from you by one of the monkeys.
You don’t need to go early for the festival. This year there were four rounds at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Most people went for the first round to see the opening ceremony and to watch the cultural shows. It is a good idea to combine a visit to the monkey party with a trip to the sunflower fields. I will tell you more about this in the next blog. Visit ThailandGuidebook.com for tourist information, maps and more festivals for Lopburi Province.
Related links: Monkeys Swimming in Thailand
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.