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Thailand

Southeast Asia is littered with amazing historical ruins that rival the Greek and Roman monuments of the Occident, though many are rather obscure to Western travelers. Thailand in particular is home to many stunning examples of Thai and Khmer ruins, most notably the grand remains of Ayyuthaya and Sukothai.  Roughly 150 kilometers from Thailand’s bustling Bangkok sits the small city Lopburi that has the lesser known yet interesting temple ruins of Prasat Sam Yot. It’s not really the history or architecture for which this region is famous, but its primate occupants. It is, for lack of a better word, infested with long-tailed macaques.

Fed by the local population and travelers alike, these small primates have become habituated to humans to a certain extent and are unfazed by the activity around them.

Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, Prasat Sam Yot, or Three Holy Prangs, is surrounded by Lopburi’s modern buildings. The main complex is nestled among normal businesses and shops with smaller structures scattered around the city.

The monkeys can be spotted riding on the tops of trucks, frolicking on balconies, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. I narrowly avoided being hit in the head by an empty glass energy drink bottle thrown at me by a monkey who carefully tried to snipe me from the higher ground of overhead power lines.

ABOVE: A small macaque eats near graffiti in Lopburi.

Revered in Thai tradition as a living representation of the benevolent monkey warrior Hanuman from the Ramakien, a Hindu epic widely revered throughout South and Southeast Asia, the monkeys are tolerated and fed by Lopubri’s citizens. Local minders with slingshots keep the monkeys in line when they become too boisterous. The macaque family groups are maternal in organization, with large females leading the troops occupying the area.

Laying lazily in the shade of the ruins, the monkeys want for nothing, but once a year they receive special treatment.  Since 1989 Lopburi has been host to the Monkey Party, a feast laid out for the lucky primates sponsored by a local hotel owner. Meant to drum up tourism in the town and give the monkeys some extra love, the Monkey Party is held annually at the end of November.

Underneath the beating sun on the day of the festivities large tables were brought out adorned with all the foods the monkeys normally have to steal; fruits, soft drinks, cookies, and every conceivable item of junk food.

Banners and flags festooned the entrance to the ruins and a first aid stood at the ready in case anyone is unfortunate enough to get in between the monkeys and their buffet.

A parade with flag bearers in full festive regalia signaled the start of the feast, though many of the monkeys were too spooked at first to binge to their hearts content. Their apprehension was short lived though and they quickly commenced with their Bacchanalian meal.

ABOVE: Feast for the monkeys of Lopburi.

Monkeys scrambled over one another fighting to get to the food to the delight of the spectators, though many unsuspecting tourists were quickly relieved of their sunglasses and bottles of lotion due to the intense kleptomania of the macaques.

ABOVE: Travelers are reminded that the monkeys are friendly, but they are still wild animals.

Once the dust settled groups of monkeys laid strewn around the grounds of the ruins, succumbing to the sort of food comas that afflict Americans every Thanksgiving. Lopburi’s locals seem to have become accustomed to their monkey neighbors’ antics, and the boost given to the local economy every year along with the excitement of the event is a welcome diversion from its usually uneventful days.

For the adventurous, history-loving traveler there are many Khmer era ruin sites that lie off the beaten path similar to Lopburi, such as Buriram’s Phanom Rung and Nakhon Rachasima’s Prasat Hin Phimai, that offer much to those willing to go farther afield.