Now for the main event – festival day! November 25th, 2013 (or the 4th Sunday of November annually) – the 25th annual Lopburi Monkey Festival commenced with all the simian fanfare one could imagine. Of the 3000 monkeys that call Lopburi home, 200-300 live in the immediate vicinity of Phra Prang Sam Yot temple and get to partake in the festival. Buildings within the same block as the temple are quite literally crawling with macaques! In past years, monkeys were ‘invited’ to the festival with cashew embellished invitations (though I didn’t catch a glimpse of them this year). The morning is spent with locals converging with trucks and tents around the temple to set up elaborate displays of fruit. This means that a good deal of effort goes into keeping the monkeys at bay so that the decorations are in tact for the opening ceremonies.
Some of the displays include Christmas trees decorated with ornaments of fruit and jelly packet. Massive blocks of ice are drilled into so that juice and fruit can be poured and frozen into the holes, creating a vibrant, delicious, and cooling offering for the macaques! There is even a hot tub filled with the most incredible bath a monkey could wish for, one filled with fruit and juice! The ceremonies begin around 10 am when the drum circle beats in the festival and Hanuman dances around the temple led through on a caravan of fruit embellished golf carts.
While most of the monkeys are warded off by monkey guards with bamboo sticks. A few of course manage to sneak an early treat here and there, such as the ones enjoying the blocks of ice. Festival day is exciting even in the absence of food – young monkeys, caught up in the excitement of the day climb on any visitor who stands in one place for too long or too close to a shoulder-height temple edge. Once one juvenile jumps on you, it’s a mere matter of seconds before upwards of 5-7 more join in. You would never think there was enough surface area on the human body to accommodate that many monkeys, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Any items with straps are fair game for climbing too, including purses and camera straps!
Finally, 10 am rolls around and the monkeys go nuts! The festival host welcomes them in and adamantly asks that the human patrons back up and make way for the monkeys, because, of course, this day is about them. Though I can’t be sure, it almost seemed that the older monkeys knew the drill, and were much less inclined to alter their morning napping schedule – they seemed to sit back and let the younger monkeys relish in the glory that is the festival, knowing there would be more than enough food left throughout the day. Upwards of 2 tons of food have been offered to the monkeys in the past (or about 20 lbs per monkey!) and that doesn’t include all the extra snacks the monkeys are given or snatch from humans (including soft drinks!).
Pictures are only show one dimension of this wonderfully unique festival. The sounds and smells (so. much. poop!) are something that doesn’t quite come through in photos alone. So if you happen to be in Bangkok in November, put this festival on your list of excursions! Lopburi is worth a day trip outside of Bangkok even outside of festival days, the monkeys are always there eagerly awaiting their next bag of juice. To see more scenes from Lopburi check out my personal blog.