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.
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, which takes place every year on the last Sunday in November, 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.