December, 2010 browsing by month


(F)lopburi, the Monkey Feastival, Thailand

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

© Frank P. Schneidewind



It was a hot day, the last sunday in November. A trip to the City of Lopburi was on our agenda, to witness the Monkey Feast at their Khmer temple. Lopburi isn't too far from Bangkok, it takes two hours by train or one hour by car or bike. Since we had our toddler coming along, we choose the quicker minivan option to get there. 85 Baht per person is a good price for this speedy service, they took us there via Saraburi in a short time. Since we knew Lopburi and it's temple well, the proclaimed Monkey Festival drew our attention. Some research beforehand about their timing and schedule must have been ignored, two weeks prior to the event. No one had time to give any details or answers to our question. The website was also a big void on information, so we took our chances. Macaque monkeys occupy this temple compound, it seemed to be their refuge when the City of Lopburi developed around this 1.000 year old ruin. The animals are not so welcome with the merchants near here. When they venture around, they snatch food. The humans keep the monkeys with slingshots and sticks at bay all year round. We witnessed that on several occasions prior to this day.

Today was their big "Thank You" day and a feast was arranged for them. Several dozen concrete monkeys were scattered around the compound. The venue is fenced in and accessible from the south, where a stair leads to the lawn, surrounding the ancient Khmer temple. There is also a ticket booth to the left of the stairs, but today admission was free to anyone!

We arrived in the late morning there, about 11 o'clock and many left the field already. It was bright and sunny, also reasonably hot on this day. The concrete chimpanzee's greeted us on the stairs up.

Many more concrete chimps and colored ice cubes dotted the lawn, a few spectators strolled around and a tent-frame was decorated with fruits in the backdrop, guarded by the concrete chimp army.

The monkeys here were supposedly irritated by the event, enormous loudspeakers broadcasted non-stop advertising for a local hotel and tried to keep local people from leaving. Most announcements were talk show style in Thai language and addressed the roughly 100-150 attendants here. Many kids were zooming around, as Coca-Cola, Fanta and other soft drinks were given out free of any charges. The kids loved this!

The tent structure, whose decoration was made out of fruits and vegetables, was surrounded with some cut off trees. The Macaques were hiding somewhere unseen higher up in the ruins, probably trying to escape the noise level from the permanent announcements and advertising messages. The entire thing here was a mere promotional joke for a single hotel. It sure did not appear to me like a special day for the animals.

Their concrete brothers and sisters were looking like out of comic books with their neckties and bowties. Concrete chimps in suits, come to Lopburi for that! They were surrounded by ankle deep mud as the midday heat was rapidly melting the funky colored ice blocks. The water from them later turned into the earth here into an ugly color mud. What sense did this waste of water and energy make? Is that monkey-business?

A lonesome guard sat in the VIP area, some local folks and their kids still weren't done with free servings of Coke, but the heat was getting intense.

Dancers in traditional dresses were gathering for something, careful to avoid the messy ice block mud puddles with their white shoes.

More dancers gathered under a tent on the side, a performance was about to begin:

Three different troupes of dancers were then performing in the scorching sun. I wished they had a few more spectators, the surely deserved it.

A tourist information sign was spotted laying around. More action was outside the compound, where they had a few market stalls set up.

Two announcers were pretending that they entertained a large crowd, at least the awkward noise level from their public announcement system was geared and cranked up for a large event. The gentleman in the grey vest and black cap in the back ist presumably the organizer and hotel owner here. The lady on his right occasionally spoke a few words in English for the foreigners, which traveled far to come here. The dude with sunglasses wore a TAT shirt, so maybe he was some sort of TAT representative. The guy with black trousers in the front was the annoying non-stop announcer. Event management was sure not their strong side. Without the free soda pop offered, hardly a local would have turned up. Unless their daughter performed in one of the dances.

The only folks still hanging around, were the concrete chimps. Their human looking teeth, made these heavy guys appear so unreal.

At 2:00 P.M., buses, vans and songtheauws entered the compound suddenly from somewhere in the back, most humans began too vanish. The dancers and their parents all marched off within a short time.

10 minutes later the place was like a ghost town, but the macaques began to retake their grounds.They finally came down from their ruins to indulge. First one, then a few more showed up.

We have been here so often and enjoyed to show this to visiting friends. Unfortunately I have to delete this place from my list now, as they participate in the scheme to scam foreigners for their nationality. They overcharge with a smile on regular days now. There are many alternatives and free monkeys to see all over the country. Khao Takiap near Hua Hin has a great display of macaques and monkey mothers with infants, admission is free! Songkhla has a huge display right by Tan Kuan Hill with a monkey playground and rope-bridge across the road, free also. I prefer places where foreigners do not get ripped automatically. This is a Thai custom I cannot cope with and just dislike an awful lot.

"Concluded Tickets", by the way are the admissions to 4 temples in total, 3 of which don't even have a ticket booth. So visit your temples and ruins free of charge and do not let ticket scams, targeting just foreign visitors, catch you. The temples are easy to find and all within a stone throw or two from the railway station Lopburi. If you stay with your back to the northern monkey statue on the tracks, you have nice ruins to the east and west of you (less than 100 yards). A further temple lies behind the station's building and the 4th one is further North to the left of the track (Prang Sam Yod). Only the later one charges at all!

The trains from here going South, all go via Ayutthaya to Rangsit, Don Muang or Bangkok. Fare is 40 Baht for the rapid train, it may even be cheaper with an ordinary train.