I was casually chatting up with my hostess at Koh Samui and when I told her Lopburi was in the pipeline, her eyes widened with excitement. “The city of monkeys”, she exclaimed! It was her hometown and she was super excited that I will be visiting Lopburi. Apparently Lopburi was gifted to Lord Hanuman by Lord Rama for his devotion and as a token of appreciation after the war at Lanka. So till date the descendants of the Monkey God rules the city. Am a strong devotee of Lord Hanuman but I cannot tell you how much am scared of monkeys. I have had an episode of them climbing over me and dangling from my dupatta that now I maintain distance from monkeys. The moment I see one, I totally avoid eye contact, my camera gets neatly tucked into my bag, all my belongings get into my backpack neatly zipped and clutched dearly by me, and I start to chant Jai Hanuman hoping that it will not attack me. So the news that I was going to visit the monkey city, did not go very well in my head.
She was totally right. The moment the train pulled into the Lopburi station I could see monkeys running near the train like porters willing to carry your luggage but these one were trying to grab things from people and make a quick run. Me and my friend dropped our backpacks in the luggage room of the railway station and decided to walk around the town. Exploring the ruins will take only half a day, it is a small town with two prominent temple and a palace. As the train pulled in, it was not just the monkeys that welcomed us, there was already a ruin right in front of the station. Lopburi’s history goes all the way back to Khmer Period. Actually much older if it was gifted to Hanuman 😉
Read: About the Khmer Empire
Contents - Read all the way though.
History of Lopburi
Lopburi was initially known as Lavapura or Lavo. It dates back to the Dvaravati period from 6th to 10th century and was known for its prosperity. Dvaravati period is when the Hinduism brought from Indian influence was at its peak. This place was flourishing with Hinduism and then was slowly converted to Buddhism. So even the museums will have sculptures and artifacts pertaining more on Hindu Gods. And then the Khmer influenced it. Some of the temple structures are very evident with the Khmer architecture. The main temple Prang Sam Yot which stands in the middle of the city is an example of the Khmer period. This period is also called Lopburi period with Thai art and culture prospering. Somewhere in the later point of time, when Ayutthaya period begins and Lopburi get detached from Cambodia, it kind of looses its importance. The famous king of the Ayutthaya period, King Narai finds Lopburi, makes it his second capital and asks the French and Italian engineers to build him a palace with fort walls here. This is still a prime attraction at Lopburi. By the time the Rattanakosin era got established, which you can see as the current Bangkok, Lavo got abandoned.
Things to do in Lopburi
The good thing about Lopburi is that most of the places have a clear board about what the temple is about. So, it is good to see. There are two main temples which you will have to see, San Phra Karn and Prang Sam Yod. This is where all the Lopburi monkeys can be seen. They hang around here big time. But there are many many small temples around right among the bustling streets that if you have time please do go around. Am jotting down the list of temples I visited. I followed somebody’s blog which I don’t remember now, that had mentioned this order. It was actually very convenient to just mark in the map and walk in an order.
PS: There are not many pictures of monkeys on this post cause I carefully tucked my camera away many a times 🙂
Wat Phrasri Rattana Mahatat
The moment you get down at the railway station, just behind it, the first thing you see is Wat Phrasri Rattana Mahatat. Built even before the Ayutthaya kingdom, somewhere between the 18th -19th century, the temple has now been abandoned and the large prang is seen in the middle. The tallest prang in Lopburi is of this temple. During the Ayutthaya period it was renovated and King Narai added Prayer hall and some more chedis around. At some places you can still see the stuccos restored and intact on the chedis. But mostly ruined. With further periods there were additions and demolition to this temple. It does very much remind you of the Temples of Ayutthaya and Sukkothai as it has influence of both the styles.
Wat Nakhon Kosa
This is also close to the railway station and on first sight you might think not to visit. Because just a prayer hall and almost collapsing chedi are the only remains. This was a Hindu temple, a place of worship for the Khmer kings. Later it was converted into Buddhist temple. Excavation from this temple can be found as exhibits in the Phra Narai museum.
San Phra Karn
Lopburi monkey temple number one 🙂 So let’s get this straight. Lord Ram who is the avatar of Lord Vishnu gifts this city to Lord Hanuman and hence all the monkeys. So it is actually a Vishnu temple. But during the Ayutthaya period the head has been replaced with that of a Buddha. So it is a body of Vishnu with four arms and head of that of Buddha. There is a statue of Garuda in the front. But it is now a Buddhist temple and it is prayed so also in Buddhist style. A lintel with Vishnu’s image taken from here can be found at Phra Narai museum. An inscription dating from Pallava period can be found here.
There is so much more interesting about this temple. But the monkeys are constantly leaving their hands through the grills to pull the flowers and whatever you are holding. And the place is flocked with tourists and native of the town that it is way too crowded. But the monkeys are considered to bring prosper and are given utmost respect. They have made a spot for them with water tank to cool themselves and a play area types that they enjoy to the max. People buy bananas and feed to the monkeys. However it was actually mentioned that the monkeys are fed by the temple officials at designated time and so not to feed them. I don’t think that matters. Monkeys are not there just to eat, they can take away your camera, water bottle, umbrella, whatever that you fail to notice. If you are not careful with your bag, they know to sneak behind you, open the zip and fish out things from bag. Am not making up that at all.
Prang Sam Yod
This is the Lopburi monkey temple number 2. This is not a functioning temple but this had equally competitive monkeys fighting with each other and targeting tourists. From outside it was three prangs and I did not want to enter considering the monkeys in spite of holding a ticket. The security guard could read my mind, he gave a long stick. “Just tap tap and go”, he said with a grin and now with a weapon in hand I felt much more protected. 😀 Mind you this is actually like in the middle of the road and yet so many monkeys.
Prang Sam Yod has three main Prangs that reminds you of Bayon architecture. All the three Prangs are connected with each other. A security guard stands at the door and lets in people into the Prang while ten other monkeys would also be waiting to enter in along with you. The inside was actually stinking of bat smell and dirt.. There was a Buddha statue. I came out faster than I thought I would spend time here. This is also a Hindu temple converted to Buddhist one. It is said that the three prangs would have had the “Trimurti” which is Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma – the three Hindu Gods.
I had to return the stick to the security guard unfortunately. As I walked around the town I could see hoards of monkeys hanging around the houses. Probably something good must be cooking in there and they were there for a taste. All the houses have proper mesh type grills to prevent the monkeys from entering.
Devasthan Prang Khaek
The next walk able temple from the Prang Sam Yod is the Devastan Prang Khaek. This one sits in an island like mound with cars plying on all the side and a market area on another side. This place is something everybody will miss cos it does not look that great, almost ruined and you will never think that in the middle of road is the most significant temple. Devasthan Prang Khaek is the oldest Khmer era ruin in Thailand. Unlike other temples, this is not even called a Wat (Buddhist temple) but it is still called Devasthan (Hindu version of calling a temple). There are three towering Prangs with entrance facing like that of Hindu temples. The placard just says, it was a sacred place of worship for Brahmanism. I assume it to be another Vishnu temple.
Just the lane opposite to Devasthan Prang Khaek has the Wichayen house which means the official residence of the ambassadors. So this place is not far from king’s palace. Basically a house where the ambassadors from other countries visiting King Narai would stay here. But then the close aide of King Narai was also called Wichayen, am not sure if it was his house. I think this building had a separate ticket charge. I decided to click a pic from outside and move on. If you look at the pic you will stand by my choice.
We walked further down into the town. You can see newer Wats and Chinese temple here and there. I decided to stick to history and skipped those. Lopburi has Lopburi river running through it which will later join Chao Phraya river. So fishing is quiet a thing at Lopburi. Have you seen the Chinese fishing nets that they lower into the river and pull it up? Such kind of fishing nets are used here and walking down the street we can see people knitting their nets or some repairing their nets.
Chedi Luang Por Wat Monkhan
This is a leaning Chedi. Opposite this Chedi is brand new temple too. More than the Chedi itself the walk to it was good as it takes you through the alleys of the town. Was expecting to be like leaning Pisa Tower but it was not that obviously leaning. The top portion alone you feel like its leaning a little.
The only last thing left now was to visit King Narai’s palace which is now a museum.
Somdet Phra Narai National Museum
Museums are of great interest to me and I loved this one without any doubt. We spent nearly two hours here. This is the palace built by King Narai during the Ayutthaya period. He kept this as his second capitol and would often spend time here. King Narai is one of the progressive kings who made alliance with France and other countries. One of the curious and controversial kings who wanted to learn languages, exchange goods with other countries and brought foreigners into his court as advisers. Some liked it and some did not. So when King Narai passed away, the capitol was shifted to Ayutthaya, foreign ties were cut off and the palace was abandoned. Later on in the Rattanakosin period King Rama IV restored the palace. He further added rooms and court places. It was then converted into a museum.
At the gate once you get the ticket, information booklet and map will be given which you can follow. It shows you around the palace. As in which has elephant’s stable, storage houses, water tank, the reception hall, throne hall, hall to meet public, etc. The museum is filled with info.You can learn a lot about Ayutthaya period, King Narai, lot of artifacts excavated from in and around Khmer empire, culture and tradition followed, currency system, weaponry, and much more. You will also get to read stories about the politics of that time, who were the courtesans and what ploy was used against each and so on.
Having done with that we caught on a minivan to Ayutthaya. So you can actually do it like a day trip from Ayutthaya too.
Lopburi Monkey festival
One of the most famous festival that Lopburi is known for is the Monkey festival. It is called Monkey banquet, monkey buffet festival and much more. The idea is to spread out a huge buffet of food for the monkeys to feast on. It is a much talked about festival of Thailand. It happens in the last Sunday of November. Not sure if it is based on lunar calendar or just for convenience. So the hostess that I met in Koh Samui told me that apparently there will be tables and tables of food, tall statues kind made of food and the monkeys would dash at them. Food as in fruits and vegetables. If you are looking to meet lot of monkeys then this is your chance. Am seeing this because when I was in Thailand, I realized that as an Asian and Indian monkeys are not something new to me but there were plenty of tourists who saw monkeys as the exotic animal that they don’t get to interact with.
How to Reach Lopburi
I came into Lopburi from Phimai. However what you can do is take a day trip from Ayutthaya. It is about just an hour from here. You can hop on a train or a minivan and get dropped near the railway station, go around the town and get back. This can also be done as a day trip from Bangkok but it is going to be a little more travel time than Ayutthaya. Within Lopburi you can take a vehicle or just walk around, it is a small town.
Where to Stay?
Stay close to the railway station. From there almost everything is walkable and you can do one full walk around the town by noon.
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