Three hours by train is Lopburi, a city known for its Khmer-style temples and the monkeys inhabiting many of these ancient sites. We saw the first signs of monkeys when we noticed three tails hanging from electrical wires in the middle of the city. As we went nearer Lopburi’s main temple, the number of monkeys around us grew.
They were casually walking around the city: picking on garbage, hanging from street signs, huddling inside phone booths, and sitting on top of cars. Some females were carrying baby monkeys on their bosoms and a few strong-looking males with longer fur seem to lead packs. Sadly, many of the monkeys do not look healthy, with patchy skin, and some had missing eyes and even limbs.
The magnitude of the monkey’s presence in the city dawned on me when one time I looked up and there were dozens of our simian friends of various sizes staking their claim on one side of the building.
It was a truly creepy and amusing sight. It looked like the city had been taken over by monkeys, a good material for a horror film.
Many of the buildings surrounding the main temple were wrapped in metal screens to block the monkeys from going inside the buildings. I also noticed a good number of buildings in that area had been abandoned, perhaps because the monkeys were too much of a nuisance already.
And indeed the monkeys were EVERYWHERE. One time we saw a pack of them – probably about seventy-five strong – crossing the street and totally oblivious to the traffic. The vehicles had no choice but to stop and wait for the monkeys to clear the street, who always seem to take their time.
Some of the monkeys were even brave enough to hop on cars AND hop from one moving car to another. Crazy, no? It was total pandemonium as monkeys exploded on a fighting spree in the middle of a busy street or humped on each other in broad daylight. Many were just happy to swing between electric wires.
There were too many of these creatures scurrying around, doing whatever they want to do like they bloody own the town! I wonder if the citizens of the city find the monkeys as pests or as objects of curiosity.
Fortunately, the monkey population is only concentrated around the Khmer ruins close to the train tracks (as far as we can tell). They are fed there as well. The rest of the town is pretty much monkey-free, say in the temple or the market, although still a few of them manage to wander around.
We hopped on a train headed to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya the next day. Both Lara Stone and I had seen the city’s ruins before so we just decided to chill in the guest house beside the river. From the train station, it was quite a drive from the city center but it was worth it as the place had a remote feel to it.
Just outside our bungalow is the Chao Phraya, perhaps Thailand’s main river way. The river was abuzz with small boats tugging humongous cargo hulls attached to one another, sometimes as many as five of them. The drone of these tug boats was the only sound we could hear, otherwise, the chirping birds give the place an ambience of being surrounded by nature.
The guest-house had a charming restaurant cantilevered over the river. Lara Stone was delighted to find out they serve deep-fried native chicken. The restaurant is quite popular among the Thais, which it quite deserves if only it were a bit cheaper.
- Getting there: Trains leave Hualamphong train station every 30 minutes or so (27 baht, 3 hours).
- Place to stay: Found in the middle of the city is Nett Hotel, 036411738, which has the most basic facilities. Very friendly staff and convenient location; with fan and air-conditioned rooms (800 baht up).
- Things to do: See ancient monuments and old palaces.
- Tip(s): See the market first thing in the morning. Food stalls set up near the train station in the evening.
- Getting there: Trains leave Hualamphong train station every 30 minutes or so (from 14 baht up, 1 hr 45 mins).
- Place to stay: Chow Praya Hut, 035398200, www.chowprayahut.com, is about ten kilometres away from the train station. A tuk-tuk will take you there for 200 baht. The place is very basic, but the riverside location is charming, although it can get busy as well no thanks to the cargo boats. The restaurant staff, who also manages the guest house, is very friendly but speaks practically no English. Also, for some reason the English menu comes sans prices, so always ask for the price of the food you order or be prepared for a surprise when your bill comes. The food is a cut above the rest though.
- Things to do: Ayutthaya is replete with ruins that are worth a day trip or even more. If you choose to stay in the Chow Praya Hut, the monuments are a long drive.