Thailand is renowned for having many festivals throughout the year. The festivals vary in their importance with some hugely significant religious festivals as well as other celebrations such as Loy Krathong and, of course, Songkran. However, one of the most unusual festivals and one that now frequently gets a mention on global news networks is the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival. It is an annual event which is usually held on the last Sunday of November.
Lopburi is located approximately 155km to the North West of Bangkok and takes around three and a half hours to reach from Pattaya. It is a city that is steeped in history with records detailing the existence of a settlement prior to the 11th century when it was taken over by the Khmers. As you walk around the main city, you will see ancient Khmer ruins as well as King Narai’s Lopburi Palace and Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat an ancient temple.
Surprisingly, Lopburi is often overlooked by tourists and expats living in Thailand, who tend to look no further than Ayutthaya. Unfortunately, this means that they are missing out on so much of Thailand’s history and heritage. The ruins, the palace, and the temples are all worth seeing, but for many, it is the city’s famous monkey population that appears to be the highlight. There are thousands of monkeys in Lopburi, all of whom have become very accustomed to living with humans, and indeed, there is now the annual Lopburi Monkey Festival to celebrate them.
What is the Lopburi Monkey Festival?
Monkeys have been a prominent feature in Lopburi’s history with many of the monkeys still choosing to reside in the old Khmer ruins. However, they are visible throughout the city and can become a nuisance causing damage to some of the city’s magnificent architecture. Some of these buildings date back to the 17th century when the Khmer Empire fell to King Narai of Ayutthaya took over and turned Lopburi into a thriving and prosperous region.
To try and keep the monkeys away from the centre of the city, the annual feast is held in the old Khmer ruins in the city. While the city already has thousand of monkeys, amusingly, many others will travel to the city during the festival hitching rides off unwitting van drivers and jumping on top of trains, which stop near the monuments.
Of course, this attracts Thai and international tourists who wish to see the spectacle for themselves – something which you really wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else! Naturally, the long-tailed macaques are undeterred by the presence of humans. Indeed they are the ones supplying the food, and they seemingly become aware that they are the VIPs and special guests at the event. It is a fantastic photo opportunity and something to tell friends and relatives.
Food for the monkeys
While we are sure that the monkeys aren’t too concerned about what food is served, they are said to enjoy sticky rice, fresh fruit, and salads particularly. Some people even take along items that they have cooked especially for the creatures. The macaques certainly enjoy the food, but it is not uncommon for food fights and general squabbles to take place, so it is best to stand back when, not if, this happens!
Other activities at the festival
While the monkeys are the main feature of the event and tables are laid out especially for them, there will be live performances of traditional Thai dancing as well as live music. Believe it or not, the shows are for the benefit of the monkeys rather than humans as the monkeys are said to bring good luck. As with many things in Thailand, if they bring good luck, they are highly respected and revered.
A friendly word of caution!
As we mentioned earlier, the long-tailed macaques have somewhat taken over the city, although to a lesser extent than before the pandemic, but they can be a nuisance. They will happily intermix with humans who are conducting their everyday lives as well as tourist. However, they are mischievous and happy to steal things such as bags, sunglasses, and phones if ever they see an opportunity. It is highly likely that you will have a monkey jump on you, so if you do wear glasses, it is wise to be extra vigilant.
Rarely the monkeys will bite, although this is usually only when they feel threatened or are protecting their young. Unfortunately, if you do get bitten, you will need to go for a rabies vaccination. If they do jump on you, try not to push them away aggressively but instead, get a friend to try and coax them away!
How to get there from Pattaya
If you are travelling by any form of public transport, you will need to travel to Bangkok first as there is no direct bus or minibus link directly from Pattaya. If you are travelling by bus, you should depart from the Roong Reuang Bus Station at the top of North Pattaya Road. Take the bus to the Morchit bus terminal, and from there you will be able to take a bus directly to Lopburi.
If you would prefer a picturesque (but slow) train journey, you will need to depart from the main Hua Lamphong Railway station. The best way to get there is by bus to Ekamai. You will then need to take the BTS to Asoke followed by the MRT to Hua Lamphong. The trains leave approximately every hour although this is Thai time.
Should you wish to drive to Lopburi, you would need to take Highway 7 to Highway 9 in Bangkok and follow signs for Bang Pa-In/Ayutthaya. From there, take Highway 32 for approximately 50 km from which point you will need to take local roads although it is signposted.
Where to stay in Lopburi
There are lots of hotels in and around Lopburi that range from 2-star hostels to 4-star hotels with English speaking staff. Obviously, it will depend on your budget and what you wish to gain from the experience for which you choose. We would strongly recommend booking in advance when the Lopburi Monkey Banquet Festival is on as it does attract large numbers.