Thailand Travel Advice: Lopburi, A Town of Temples and Monkeys
The town of Lopburi in central Thailand is only one and a half hours from Bangkok but a town that is largely ignored by tourists. This is a shame as there is quite enough of interest for a day's visit with its plethora of ancient temples, interesting night market and army of urban monkeys.
With its current low numbers of tourists, Lopburi also provides a chance for visitors to experience "real" Thailand; a town which has not been dressed up for tourists, one which has been neglected a little but has a shabby attraction and an authentic feel.
Lopburi is one of the most historic towns in Thailand having been part of the Khmer empire and later the capital of Thailand under the reign of King Narai The Great, where he had a royal palace and a First Minister of Greek origin.
Lopburi is worth visiting for those travellers who wish to get a little off of the most heavily trodden tourist trail, to see a little of what everyday Thailand is like and visit some interesting historical monuments at the same time.
Have You Been to Lopburi?
Lopburi Temple: Wat Nakorn Ko Sa
Wat Nakorn Ko Sa sort of sums up Lopburi, a bit scruffy, not really looked after but ancient and having a certain charm. This ruined Khmer temple sits right next to the railway line and can be clearly seen from the platform when waiting for a train.
As can be seen from the photo, the temple is a ruin with part of the main prang remaining and some of the walls of the prayer hall still standing. The temple is completely overrun by weeds and the ones growing from the top of the main prang look like strange tufts of hair on an ancient man's head.
There are number of collapsed and unkempt temple remains like Wat Nakorn Ko Sa around Lopburi and this is what gives it some of its charm in my opinion. When walking around town and coming across an 8-900 year old relic in a scruffy corner it is a nice surprise.
"Prangs" A Khmer Architectural Feature
What's a Prang?
Many of the ancient temples of Lopburi feature a tower or steeple-like building known as a "prang". This feature is diagnostic of the ancient Khmer style and even the least culturally aware person is able to deduce that a temple with this feature was built when the Khmer empire incorporated parts of Thailand during much of the Angkorian period from about AD 1000-1200.
Many ancient Khmer temples with prangs were originally built as Hindu places of worship but were adopted as Buddhist temples once Buddhism became dominant in the region.
The prangs of Phra Prang Sam Yord are the most obvious in Lopburi but most of the other ancient temples of Lopburi feature them or would have done before they were ruined.
A Guide to Khmer Temples
Angkor Wat is the world's most well-known Khmer temple but there are many hidden gems in Thailand and Laos too. This book contains much information on the ancient Khmer temples of Lopburi as well as many others such as Phanom Rung, Phimai, Muang Sing, Muang Tam and Khao Pra Viharn.
An excellent little book.
Lopburi Temple: Phra Prang Sam Yord
The "Monkey Temple"
Phra Prang Sam Yord is probably Lopburi's most obvious landmark, situated as it is in the middle of the old city's main thouroughfare you could hardly miss it. This temple is quite a sight with its three "prangs" dominating the town centre and army of attendant monkeys - read more about them here; Lopburi Monkeys.
The architecture of Pra Prang Sam Yord is typical of the Khmer style temples built when this part of Thailand was part of the Khmer empire and this is one of the oldest and most spectacular buildings in Lopburi.
Phra Prang Sam Yord is situated on a raised earth mound and surrounded by mown lawns making it very easy to photograph both from a distance and close-up.
Entry is 50 baht for foreigners and 10 baht for Thais. Foreigners can get a combined entry ticket for all the main Lopburi temples for 150 baht, which I think is a fair price.
Lopburi Temple: Wat Sao Tong Thong
Usually I like the crumbling ancient temples in Thailand, so when I saw a fully intact Wat Sao Tong Thong I nearly walked straight past it. However, I was hot and saw a drinks vendor in the temple grounds so I entered and spent a little time to read the signage outside as I was finishing my drink. I was lucky because Wat Sao Tong Thong is really nice and I nearly missed it.
A Temple, A Mosque, A Church
According to the information at the temple, Wat Sao Tong Thong has been used as a Hindu temple, a Christian Church and an Islamic Mosque in the past; now it is a Buddhist temple. How many buildings have been used as a place of worship by four different religions?
The temple has an impressive white chedi (pictured right), an old prayer hall full of Buddha images and a really gleaming new scripture hall that looks like it has been covered in sequins. Parts of this temple are ancient but it is obvious to see that there have been many restorations and additions over the years, but the result is an interesting and attractive temple.
Buddha Images at Wat Sao Tong Thong
One thing that really struck me about wat Sao Tong Thong was the number of ancient Buddha images inside the prayer hall. the focus of the prayer hall are the golden Buddha images at the back, but all around the walls are many ancient seated Buddhas with a naga hood. All too often these type of Buddha images have been stolen and/or damaged by thieves and end up in private art collections or museums but here there is a good collection of them on site.
There is no charge to visit Wat Sao Tong Thong but it is a nice idea to make a small donation in one of the boxes whilst you are there, 20 baht per person would be appropriate.
Photos of Wat Sao Tong Thong, LopburiClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lopburi Temple: Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat
Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat is Lopburi's most extensive ancient temple and perhaps its most attractive. This temple is believed to have been constructed at the end of the Khmer period, some time in the early 13th century, and features Khmer prangs alongside chedis from the later Ayuatthaya period - a mixture of ancient Khmer and Siamese architecture.
This temple covers a large area and there is quite a peaceful atmosphere as you wander aound the ruins and gardens.
As with many of the ancient temples of Thailand, the overall impression this temple gives is better than close inspection for most of the ornate decorations that would once have imbellished the buildings have been destroyed.
Entrance to Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat is 50 baht for foreigners but it is really worth getting the combined ticket at 150 baht which also allows entry to most of Lopburi's other ancient attractions.
For Thais the entry fee is 10 baht.
Although Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat is not as grand as the ruins in nearby Ayutthaya or Sukothai it is still impressive and it doesn't get the crowds that those other locations do and you are likely to have the place to yourself, or close to it.
The Atmosphere of Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat
One of the most enjoyable things about Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat and other ancient temples like it is the atmosphere they create. Photographs one usually sees of these temples focus on a single feature and, of course, only present a forward facing view. However, when walking around the temple complex, one is surrounded by the prangs, ruins and chedis which often tower over the observer.
One of the things that I like is that these attractive ancient ruins are scattered everywhere at Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat and around every corner or through every door or window, one sees another impressive relic.
In an attempt to capture a little of this atmosphere I took some photos from various angles that demostrate how extensive the ruins are.
If you are a photographer, Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat makes a very nice subject and I am sure you will be able to take better photos than I have managed.
Here are a few more photos of Wat Sri Rattana Mahatat.
Constantine Phaulkon's Residence
This European style house was, most famously, the residence of Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek who became King Narai's most trusted advisor; something akin to the Prime Minister.
Phaulkon's story is remarkable, he was born in Greece and worked for the English East India Company becoming fluent in a number of languages including Thai. He then became a translator and finally King Narai's right hand man. This did not prevent him from being executed by jealous court members in a coup when the King was on his deathbed. You can read more here about the Phaulkon Affair.
The house is a fairly well kept ruin, srrounded by walls in a pleasant garden. Traces of the church, house and reception halls can be seen as well as where fountains would have been.
Once again there is a 50 baht entrance fee for foreigners but it is included in the 150 baht fee which covers a number of attractions.
Novels Featuring Constantine Phaulkon
Some years ago I stumbled upon the first of a series of novels about the court of Siam during the reign of King Narai the Great and featuring Constantine Phaulkon as the main character. These books are best categorized as historical fiction; much of what is within the novels is based on fact but they are primarily works of fiction.
These stories are quite gripping and for anyone interested in Thailand they are an entertaining way of being introduced to the history of Thailand during the Lopburi period.
Reading these books is what prompted me to first visit Lopburi and anyone contemplating visiting the town would find them interesting to read before or after their visit.
Lopburi Temple: Prang Kaek
Prang Kaek is a charming little temple. It sits on a small traffic island sandwiched in amongst shops and government buildings and I love the way one sort of bumps into it in such an unexpected spot. For me this is one of the attractions of Lopburi; ancient ruins just stuffed in between modern day life.
Prang Kaek was originally built as a Hindu shrine, like many Khmer temples, but was then adapted for Buddhism. It is central Thailand's oldest building with a temple on this site from the 8th century.
Only one of Prang Kaek's original three prangs is intact but this temple makes an interesting feature whilst walking around town.
There is no entry fee for Prang Kaek as there is very little to see really, but if you go to Lopburi take the time to visit it and you will see what I mean about its strange position amongst modernity.
King Narai's Palace
Phra Narai Rajanivet
King Narai The Great was the ruler of Siam (Thailand) between 1656 and 1688. In 1666 he had this palace built in Lopburi and uses the town as the country's second capital after Ayuttaya. However, during his reign the King favoured his residence in Lopburi and spent 8 or 9 months of every year there, relocating his court every time he moved.
After the death of King Narai the palace was abandoned and now there is very little of it remaining although it is set in very pleasant and extensive gardens and it is nice to walk around and imagine what it would have been like in its glory days; something which is not difficult to imagine as most of the floor plan is visible.
In this picture you can see the remains of some of the palace's rooms and a fireplace.Whilst the remains of this palace are not spectacular, I enjoyed visiting them as I had read much about the history of Thailand at this time and it was not difficult to imagine these scenes as I walked around the grounds.
King Narai's Palace Museum
Within the grounds of the palace is a museum displaying artifacts from King Narai's reign.
This small museum holds many of the former King's possessions and the typical fare of ceramics and jewelry, but for me the most interesting exhibit is a painting of the French ambassador being received at the court of King Narai.
King Narai Reign Fair - Cultural Fair Held in Lopburi Every February
The King Narai Reign Fair is an annual event held at Phra Narai Ratchanivet Palace, Lop Buri in February which showcases various aspects of Thai life during the reign of King Narai The Great.
Lopburi Night Market - Try Delicious Street Food
Lopburi Night Market Is A Great Place For Cheap Food
Like many Thai towns Lopburi has a night market selling all manner of foods. The Lopburi night market is to be found strung along the road running from the town's railway station to Phra Prang Sam Yord.
Many visitors worry about getting sick from food eaten at places like Lopburi night market but in 13 years of living in Thailand I have never been sick from local food like this. Ingredients are bought fresh every day, most foodstalls specialise in one or two dishes and have a high turnover of ingredients, and meat is chooped up into tiny pieces and cooked at high heat. These things combine to make street food a safe meal.
Food in Lopburi night market is served from small food stalls where whatever you order is cooked freshly in front of you. Food can be eaten at the small tables and chairs behind the foodstalls or it can be taken away. Typically, a simple dish of something like mixed vegetables and chicken or a bowl of noodles will be 25-30 baht. Slightly more complicated dishes such as stir-fried prawns or deep-fried fish will be more, but food at these type of stalls is always good value for money.
This bowl of Beef Noodles cost just 25 baht.
Other foods available at Lopburi night market include:
*Deep fried sausages, squid, prawns and tofu.
*Cakes and other Thai desserts
*Mango, papaya, pineapple, guava & other fruits
*Barbecued sausage, pork & chicken
To see a typical food vendor's stall click on this link: Lopburi Night Market Food Stall.
Here are some more photos of Lopburi night market to give you an idea of what it looks like.
Cooking Thai Food
For those of you who can't wait to get to Lopburi night market to try some of the great food there, try cooking your own, it's really easy. Any of these Thai food recipe cookbooks will give you loads of ideas.
Lopburi Monkeys: Cheeky Chappies or Vermin?
In Thailand the town of Lopburi is synonymous with monkeys. In the centre of the old city hoards of Long-tailed Macaques, Macaca fascicularis, roam around, munching on leftovers and climbing all over the buildings; sometimes it seems like there are more monkeys than people!
The monkeys of Lopburi are certainly an amusing sight for visitors but locals must get a bit tired of them and it is a common site in the old town centre to see shopkeepers chasing monkeys away with a big stick. On my last visit to Lopburi I saw a monkey chewing the tyres of a parked car - be careful where you leave your vehicle!
Still, the locals can't be too upset at the monkeys making Lopburi their home as they believe that donating food to them will bring good luck; you certainly don't see any monkeys going hungry here.
On the last weekend of November every year, there is a Lopburi Monkey Festival where the monkeys are given a huge pile of food for a monkey banquet.
Whilst the monkeys are fun to watch, be careful as they can be aggressive and I know a couple of people who have been bitten and had to have a series of rabies shots.
Lopburi Monkey Links
Information about the monkeys of Lopburi.
The official Tourism Thailand Authority Guide to Lopburi.
Information about the annual Lopburi monkey festival.
More on the famous monkeys of Lopburi.
Information on Long-tailed Macaques.
Lopburi Monkey Video Clip
This video clip gives you some idea of how the monkeys of Lopburi interact with each other and the human population.
Vote For The Best Lopburi Attraction
Which of these attractions sounds the most attractive
How To Get To Lopburi
Lopburi is only about 1.5 to 2 hours away from Bangkok and makes a useful stop on any journey northwards to Chiang Mai. There are a number of major roads that head to Lopburi from Bangkok and a railway. There are no regular flights from Bangkok to Lopburi and frankly it would take longer than the bus when you take into consideration check in times.
The best methods of getting to Lopburi are:Bus from Bangkok's Mor Chit Bus TerminalTrain from Bangkok's Hua Lampong Rail TerminalDrive yourself in a hire car - I have found Thairentacar to be a good company
The Rough Guide To Thailand
Traveling around Thailand is relatively easy compared to many other countries in the region but a decent guidebook with recommendations of places to stay and helpful maps always makes things easier. The Rough Guide to Thailand is pretty good and at least as useful as the more famous Lonely Planet.
Five Great Things About Thailand
Five Reasons To Visit Thailand
Thailand is a great country to visit or to live in. The relaxed pace of life and low cost of living make it both a pleasant place to be and a cheap one. Here I will highlight just 5 things that make it a great place.
5 Great Things About Thailand
My Thailand Travel Photograph Collection
Here I present a collection of my travel photographs from around Thailand. I have attempted to put together a collection that shows a wide variety of scenery, temples and other interesting items that together create an overall picture of Thailand.