The Way North: Bangkok to Chiang Mai (Part II)

9 Mar

LOPBURI

Inside the Train to Lopburi

My friend A and I decided to hit up the town of Lopburi for a few hours before continuing on to Sukhothai, the final destination for the second installment of our Thailand by train trip. Lopburi was only a couple hours away from Ayutthaya by train (around THB 40 on the 3rd class train) and we had read that they had nice Khmer temples and wild monkeys freely roaming the city.

Upon our arrival, we left our backpacks at the station and haggled with a couple of bike rickshaw drivers to take us to the temples. The price was THB 100 for an hour’s worth of touring around the city. I think we could have done without the rickshaw bikes as the temples were much smaller than Ayutthaya’s, and located somewhat close together.

They weren’t kidding when they said that monkeys were all over. Seriously. They were climbing up telephone posts, swinging on electrical wires, chattering on sidewalks and fences, a couple of cars we passed nearly got into an accident – avoiding a trio of alpha monkeys chasing each other down the street. Yikes.

Monkeys

Our Thai friends had already warned us about the Lopburi monkeys, which are taxonomically Thai crab-eating macaques. But during the whole train ride to Lopburi, A and I had images of charming little furballs shying away from treats of bananas while entertaining us with their monkey antics.

Instead, they were cheeky, non-cute, mini-Ewoks — some of them not even so little. They were as big as some human toddlers! They’d probably eat babies too!!

We had to put away our scarves, necklaces, rings, watches and bangles as they (apparently) had snatcher tendencies. One particularly naughty one jumped on A’s back, and that was when we decided not to get too cozy with the little buggers. But anyway!

Oh yes, the temples!

This seemed to be a gathering of elders at the Wat Mahathat, Lopburi

The architecture was visibly different from that of Ayutthaya, it’s much older compared to the latter’s overlapping styles thanks to the changing rulers in Ayutthaya’s history. Lopburi’s most famous temple, the Prang Sam Yot (also overrun by monkeys) was once a Hindu temple, but later on re-appropriated into a Buddhist one. Wonder how that went down with the Hindus and Buddhists alike…

 

Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, Buddha + Monkeys

There's a Rue de France in Lopburi!

It’s interesting to know that Lopburi was once the summer capital of the Thai supremo in the 1600’s. According to this guy (and since I haven’t read other references to back this up, not so sure how true this is), the king brought in French and Iranian artisans to infuse their cultural styles with his Khmer. It’s a cool story and it could be true too since the street signs are in Thai and French.

We checked out the ruins of a house called Bahn Vichien, which was the official residence of the French Ambassador to the Lopburi kingdom, incidentally it was built by a Greek adviser to King Narai. The French Ambassador’s wife was credited with introducing the Thais to egg-based sweets which was adapted into what they now call “fawy thawng”, some sweet egg flossy thing which I still have not had the pleasure of trying.

Outside the Bahn Vichien

So much East-Meets-West styling going on this little patch of a city, and once again our historical imagination kicked in. How grand this place must have looked –  gilded in gold, chandeliered, bespectacled, maybe even French petticoated (Egads! The heat!)

I wondered briefly if there were any Filipinos present in Lopburi’s glory days. At this time the Philippines was still under Imperial España, on the slow burn to the Independencia. For such a close Asian neighbor to be importing Western culture of their own accord, in some kind of cultural collaboration! I was consoled with the fact that there were two Filipinos admiring it now. Thailand is truly Amazing.

Cautiously stepping over the monkeys scrambling for their lunch, A and I made our way back to the train station to grab our own chicken and/or pork with peppers and five helpings of soda each. It was a really hot and dusty day, and we had caught the tail end of a Buddhist service at the Wat Mahathat which is across the train station, so there was a bit of monk traffic. Yes, monks do drive cars and motor bikes. One awesome monk also had tattoo sleeves about him and I thought that was soo cool.

We caught the 1pm train bound for Phitsanulok, a good five hours away (don’t remember the price but it was something like THB 100 for the 3rd class train). As we settled down with a good book (The Historian for A) and a good playlist (for me), our train pulled away from the Lopburi station. A couple of scurvy little macaques waved goodbye to us atop one of the prangs of the Sam Yot.

 

Monkeys on the Prang Sam Yot

We didn’t wave back.

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