The former royal capital of King Narai, Lopburi, about 150 kilometres or so north of Bangkok, is home to an ancient Khmer temple, Phra Prang Sam Yot, built some 800 years ago. It is here that each year a rather bizarre festival – the Monkey Buffet - is held for the local crab-eating macaques, about 2,000 or more of them, who roam freely about the site and in the surrounding town.
The magnificent ruins of Phra Prang Sam Yot, Lopburi
No expense is spared to provide a magnificent feast for these highly mischievous residents, and the cost of each festival can run into the hundreds of thousands of baht. Chefs from many of Bangkok’s finest hotels prepare the feast at the San Pra Kan shrine in the centre of the town and thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Table for one, please
Every local fruit imaginable is loaded onto tables that groan under the weight, but the highlight for these lucky monkeys are the durians, of the finest quality, that they simply can’t get enough of. There are also grilled sausages, desserts of sweet jellies, sweets and candies and even cans of Coke to wash it all down with.
A fizzy drink to wash it all down with
Local residents believe the macaques bring them good fortune and continued prosperity and the festival is their way of recognising the part the monkeys play in attracting tourists to make the long trip up from Bangkok.
Although its origins only date back to 1989, the brainchild of a local hotelier, Yongyuth Kitwattananusont, designed to attract more tourists to the town, this colourful, boisterous festival is now a firm fixture on the tourist calendar.
The festival, which normally takes place on the last Sunday in November, begins with an opening ceremony featuring dances by performers suited up as monkeys. Once the real monkeys arrive the sheets covering the mountains of fruits, vegetables and other delights are pulled off and the monkeys clamber all over the towering displays.
A veritable bounty up for grabs
Reverence for monkeys is found throughout Thai folklore and literature, and they are respected for their intelligence and ingenious ways of getting what they want. All their artful skills are on display during the Monkey Buffet and you would be well advised to treat these cheeky fellows with a certain degree of caution, watch out for your belongings and avoid getting on their wrong side. Definitely do not try to come between a macaque and his food.
This annual spectacle is definitely an experience to remember. The monkeys’ antics, their appalling table manners, propensity for stealing anything not held in a firm grip and frequently ill-mannered behaviour to the tourists who of course make all this possible offers visitors a great day out and plenty of photo opportunities.
You will photoshop it later, right?
Apart from the festival, the quiet, pleasant little town of Lopburi itself is worth exploring as are of course the magnificent Khmer temple ruins and shrines that this ancient spot plays host to.
The locals like to say that the town was founded by Hanuman himself, the heroic monkey god of the epic Ramayana, and its perhaps fitting that all this ostentatious display and extravagance is to reward his present-day descendants for their heroic efforts in boosting tourism.
The remains of King Narai’s palace