Couchfish Day 7: Lopburi

Macaques—they give me The Fear

I think I first became terrified of macaques when I was in Pushkar, India. I was staying in a shack on the roof of a building and woke to hear someone trying to get into my room. My doors had no lock, instead held closed by a chain I had looped through the handles. 

The stuff of nightmares. Photo: David Luekens.

At first I thought I was hallucinating—but the doors were clearly shaking, so I got up and opened them, expecting to see a member of staff. Instead there were about eleventy million macaques. They were everywhere. The entire roof was covered in them. It was like the Pushkar Fair—but for monkeys. And four of the ugly bastards were trying to get into my room.

Macaques and I have never been the same since.

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Attacked in Phetchaburi, robbed in Prachuap Khiri Khan, chased out of a temple in Kompong Thom and protected from them by an armed guard in Bali. It’s fair to say macaques and I do not get on.

Your correspondent with new friend in Kompong Cham, Cambodia. That’s a grimace not a smile. Photo: Mark Ord.

Leaving Ayutthaya behind, my train rolls into Lopburi—a historic town on the way to Phitsanulok. While its past is interesting, most travellers come for these furry distant relatives of ours. Not me though!

Legend has it the mythical King Rama gifted Lopburi to Hanuman, the noble monkey warrior from the Ramayana epic. Hanuman must have gone on a bonking frenzy from that point onwards, as Lopburi today is overrun with his kin. You think I’m exaggerating? Check out the video below (viewer discretion advised!) of a macaque brawl in the absolute centre of town over a yoghurt cup in March of this year.

A freakin yoghurt cup. Please make it stop.

Reports said the riot (what other animals, I ask, riot?) was a side effect of COVID19, as tourism had collapsed and the macaques were not getting fed as much as they once did. A festival every November feeds them some two tonnes of fruit and a tonne of vegetables. Needless to say, I avoid Lopburi in November.

Pop quiz: How many macaques are in this photo? Photo: David Luekens.

Lopburi does have sights of interest that won’t snarl at me or steal my glasses. An outstanding museum and some ruins lie within walking distance of the train station. Phra Prang Sam Yod is impossible to miss—but as it doubles as macaque central, my time there is brief. While attention skews towards the macaques, I try to put them out of my mind and discover there is plenty more to see. David’s handy Lopburi Heritage Walk which takes in most of the key downtown sights is a great starting point.

I could do the heritage walk in a busy day if I arrived on a morning train and got an evening train out, though that wouldn’t allow me time for any of the outlying sights. As always (and despite the macaques) I stay overnight. 

Lopburi, like all Thai towns, is good for a stroll. Photo: David Luekens.

Noom’s Guesthouse is my backpacker crash pad of choice. Friendly, well located and affordable. They also run tours to outlying sites including the sunflower fields and Wat Phra Phutthabat. While the sunflowers are seasonal, the temple, one of Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist sites, is open year-round and makes an overnight stay in Lopburi worthwhile. I plan to head there tomorrow morning.

Done with my wandering around the historic quarter, I take a stroll towards the bank of the Lopburi River in the late afternoon. The walk there takes me along narrow back lanes lined with old wooden houses, shrines and food carts selling grilled sausage balls and som tam. I hear the “pok pok pok” of the mortar and pestle long before I see the cart and I order a serving—leaving 15 minutes later, eyes watering, mouth on fire.

The Lopburi River, but it could almost be in the Mekong Delta. Photo: David Luekens.

Once by the river, I set up by the bank to watch local men dip their huge nets into the muddy waters to catch dinner. In the late light, and largely bereft of marauding simians, I almost manage to stop cursing King Rama for handing over the joint to Hanuman in the first place.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading north to Kamphaeng Phet, with a train to Phichit and a bus from there. Kamphaeng Phet is home to one of my favourite guesthouses in all of Thailand. Be sure to check your email tomorrow to find out where it is.