13 Things to Do in Lopburi, The Monkey-Mad City in Central Thailand

Central Thailand’s Lopburi is one of the oldest cities in the country. It was within the large Khmer empire in times gone by and was briefly the capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Although the vibe is pretty relaxed today, it’s still easy to glimpse into the past and imagine how grand and formidable the city would have been during its heyday.

Split into two distinct parts of the “Old Town” and the “New Town”, the majority of Lopburi’s major sights can be found in the older, historic area. It’s easy to walk from place to place, and many accommodations provide free maps so you don’t miss anything of interest. If you plan to visit places outside of the old centre, however, renting a scooter can be a great way to explore the wider city area.

Lopburi isn’t only known for its history, though; it is perhaps more famous today for the many macaques who maraud through the streets and live alongside their human neighbours. A cool place to visit within easy reach of Bangkok, here are some of the best things to enjoy on a trip to Lopburi:

1. Meet the monkeys at Phra Prang Sam Yod

Perhaps the biggest tourist draw in Lopburi, the ancient Khmer-era temple remains of Phra Prang Sam Yod is also known as the Monkey Temple. Many mischievous macaques live in the temple grounds and surrounding streets, happy to relieve people strolling by of snacks, drinks, plastic bags, caps, sunglasses, and other items. Be warned: sometimes the monkeys won’t take no for an answer! You can buy food nearby to hand feed to the monkeys if you like, and people wander through the grounds to try to ensure that the creatures don’t overstep the mark too much. If you’re feeling brave (and have had your rabies shots!) it doesn’t take much for the monkeys to sit on your shoulder, clamber up your legs, scratch through your hair, and otherwise try to engage with you. I, however, am terrified of the claws, teeth, and ever-watchful eyes of the monkeys and prefer to maintain a safe distance.

Luckily for me (and maybe for you too!) there are no monkeys lurking inside the gated three-pranged temple. Although small inside, it does provide the ideal opportunity to watch the monkeys running freely outside without the fear of one suddenly jumping on your back! A handful of ruined statues and bats hanging upside down from the roof offer several more photo opportunities inside the safety of the ancient building.

2. Step back in time at Wat Phra Sri Ratana Mahatat

Situated almost directly across from the train station, Wat Phra Sri Ratana Mahatat is a monkey-free ruined site, here you can wander the atmospheric ruins with little fear of being accosted by a cheeky macaque. The grounds are well maintained and the ruins are in fairly good states of preservation. The ruins date back to the 12th century. Explore the now-decaying walls, admire tall pagodas, including the city’s largest stupa, gaze up at once-grand facades, and snap pictures of the Buddha statues throughout the complex.

3. Visit the market at Wat Sao Thong Thong

Wat Sao Thong Thong is a rather ordinary and nondescript temple that wouldn’t perhaps be worth visiting for tourists if it weren’t for the small but interesting amulet market that is held within the grounds. Devout Buddhists come to rifle through the charms and pendants, looking for the perfect one that they believe will bring them luck or offer protection.    

4. Venture off the beaten track at Wat Sao Paulo

Wat Sao Paulo was built by the Portuguese during the 17th century to serve as a Jesuit church. Although it’s located a couple of kilometres from the heart of town, it’s well worth taking the time and making the effort to visit to see a different type of ruin. It sees relatively few visitors and the peaceful grounds are ideal for a spot of contemplation. When built, the church combined Thai and European designs. In addition to being used as a place of worship, the building was also used for star-gazing and astronomy.  

5. See an ancient spiritual site at Phra Khan Shrine

Located in the heart of town, the Phra Khan Shrine is an ancient shrine from the Khmer period, with several additions having been made over the following years. People come to pray and make merit at the shrine, and vendors sell flower garlands, incense, and other spiritual items. The grounds also contain an assortment of colourful statues and monkeys swing through the trees and frolic on the ground.

6. Trace historic steps along the Lopburi Heritage Walk

Lopburi has many more historic sites in addition to those detailed above. A terrific way to take in as much of the town’s history and heritage is to walk the Lopburi Heritage Walk. The route leads you past several places of interest and also provides plenty of opportunities for observing local life.

7. Soak up the regal air at Phra Narai Ratchaniwet

Also known as the King’s Palace, Phra Narai Ratchaniwet was once home to a mighty Siamese king. The site honours the past leader, and you may see people leaving offerings to show their respect. Displaying a blend of Khmer and French designs, the palace now contains an insightful museum. Take a journey back to the 17th century and see what life was like for the monarchy, eminent members of society, regular townsfolk, and peasants. Some displays are related to previous Thai kings, and the museum contains a number of personal items that once belonged to the nation’s rulers.

A word of warning: if you’re visiting during the rainy season, do take care coming down the exterior steps of the museum. The tiles, as I sadly discovered, can be very slippery. And the stone steps are sure to leave some angry-looking bruises as you bounce down them.

8. Chill out at Ang Sub Lek

Ang Sub Lek is a pretty reservoir on the outskirts of Lopburi town. Located near some small mountains and with a small island in the middle, the lake is a popular weekend hangout spot for locals and visitors. Come during the week, however, and there is a high chance that you’ll find plenty of peace and quiet. Several basic bamboo-hut restaurants sit on stilts over the lake’s edges, or there is a more up-market eatery that has delightful grounds, a small sandy area with deckchairs right next to the water, karaoke, and other facilities. The water slides and inflatable water toys might be tempting on a hot day. I’ve never actually swum in the lake, though many people do, because spotting monitor lizards lurking at the edges freaked me out. You might not, though, mind sharing the waters with reptilian friends! There’s also a quad-biking course across the road, great for a thrill with scenic views.

9. Watch the bats at Wat Khao Wongkhot

Located near Ang Sub Lek, Wat Khao Wongkhot is a cave temple within one of Lopburi’s mountains. During the day you can admire the sweeping views from an elevated position, see an assortment of religious statues, and listen to the squeaks and squawks of the many bats that live in one of the chambers. The best time to visit, though, is right before dusk. As daylight starts to fade, the bats come out to play! A few bats flitter out to start with, followed by a mass exit of hundreds and hundreds of the small nocturnal creatures. The moving streak of black against the darkening sky is quite impressive.    

10. Enjoy diversity at Pasak Jolasit Dam

Outside of Lopburi town, but within Lopburi province, Pasak Jolasit Dam is a pleasant place to spend a few hours. It is a significant irrigation project and the biggest reservoir in Central Thailand. You can ride across the dam by train, enjoy kayaking and boating on the waters, stroll around the water’s edge, see a large white Buddha statue, and more.

11. Smile for joy in the Sunflower Fields

Among my favourite things to see in Lopburi, the sunflower fields create a stretching blanket of vibrant yellow in the cooler months (usually between November and February). Having your own transportation is the best way to get to the areas in bloom, though local tuk tuk drivers often keep abreast of what fields are filled with flowers at any given time.

12. Attend the celebrations of King Narai Fair

A yearly event, King Narai fair remembers the previous Siamese ruler each February. The joyous festival features engaging theatrical performances with characters in period costume, music, dancing, and singing, food and drink aplenty, market stalls and fairground-type games, and a cool sound and light show.

13. Experience a banquet with a twist

Every November, Lopburi locals treat the town’s macaque population to a sumptuous feast. Tables are spread with an array of colourful fruits and vegetables, bottles of water, and, curiously, cartons of juice and cans of soda. Seeing the monkeys pounce on the tables and run away with booty aplenty is all a bit surreal. Large monkey statues are displayed for the occasion, and there are food vendors, competitions, and street stalls to add to the sense of fun.

A convenient stop-off en route by rail between Bangkok and Chiang Mai or a weekend trip for visitors to Central Thailand, there are plenty of reasons to add Lopburi to your Thailand travel wish list.

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