Lopburi / Thailand



Lavo / Lopburi

Historical Lopburi is one of the oldest cities and places in Thailand. People live here since stone ages, and there were settlements around since long. It's lying in the alluvial plains of central Thailand, at the banks of Lopburi River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River. The first civilization here was a Mon Kingdom, people of the Dvaravati Culture with Indian roots. The old name of the place, given to it by the Mon, was 'Lavo'. The place was conquered by the Khmer empire of Angkor in the first half of the 12th century and incorporated into it. Angkor left many impressive architectural evidences here. From the 14th century on, Lopburi came under direct influence and rule of the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya.

Classical Thai Dancing
'Classical Thai Dancing in Lopburi Palaca' by Asienreisender

A festival, performing Thai dancing, traditional Thai music and other arts in Lopburi Palace. Image by Asienreisender, 2/2007

Nowadays it's a vivid Thai city with about 27,000 inhabitants and few tourists. The mass of the culturally interested tourists goes to Ayutthaya, fewer to Sukothai. But Lopburi has some real advantages. It hasn't been so totally destroyed after the Burmese conquest of 1767 as Ayutthaya has been. The remaining places are in a better state. Besides, Lopburi is older than Ayutthaya. Much older. First settlements reach back to stone-ages, some 3,500 years ago. King U Thong, the founder of Ayutthaya, came supposedly from Lopburi. Lopburi and Suvarnabhumi (the Golden Land) were the most important vassal cities of emerging Ayutthaya. Lopburi came soon under full control of the kingdom of Ayutthaya. It became then, under the rule of King Narai from 1664 on, an important fortress and second capital of Ayutthaya, as a reaction of the Dutch naval blockade 1663/64 and the permanent threat coming from the Burmese kingdoms west of the Tenasserim Mountains.

A City Gate
'An Old City Gate of Lopburi' by Asienreisender

One of the town's outer city gates, 17th century. Image by Asienreisender, 12/2012

Lopburi is a fascinating place to go for a few days. It has it's drawbacks, either. Parts of the city are in the hands of marauding macaques. There has a heavy overpopulation of these impudent animals grown. Besides are some (larger) parts of the city really dirty and smelly, namely the fresh markets. That comes together with the animal plague. As though the dog (over-) population wouldn't be enough. But most annoying and dangerous is the omnipresent traffic chaos. Bigger than any other overpopulation is the overpopulation of motorised vehicles. And that's really most murderous. The annual traffic increase in Thailand is enormous and has killed a lot of living quality within the last years.

Lopburi is situated at the banks of the Lopburi River. The economy is coined by agriculture, rice, corn, cotton...

Map of Lopburi
'Map of Lopburi' by Asienreisender


The History of Lavo / Lopburi

Thousands of years ago, there were already several prehistorical stone-age settlements established in nowadays Lopburi Province, of who a number of findings give witness.

An Prehistorical Burial Site
'Prehistorical Skelleton in a Burial Site in Lopburi Province' by Asienreisender

A prehistorical grave, found in Lopburi Province, dates back 1,000 to 3,500 years. Image by Asienreisender, 2012

The foundation of Lopburi, formerly Lavo, as a settlement was probably done by an Indian king and his people, coming from a part of nowadays Pakistan. That was at around 648 CE. This first civilization in and around Lopburi was part of the Dvaravati Culture (see also: Nakhon Pathom as another example for a Dvaravati settlement in central Thailand). In the years 1115 and 1155 CE, envoys from Lopburi were sent to China, forming a relationship with the greater power in the north.

'Prehistoric Pottery in Lopburi National Museum' by Asienreisender

A piece of prehistoric pottery, found in Lopburi Province, between 3,000 and 3,500 years old. Image by Asienreisender, National Museum of Lopburi, 2012

After the Angkorean conquest, the city was one of the most important provinces of the empire of Angkor. The governor of Lopburi was also in the rank as an imperial viceroy. Angkor's power faded away for the sake of the emerging Thai kingdoms, and at the end of the 13th century Lopburi was for a time within the sphere of the kingdom of Sukothai.

The first European in Southeast Asia was probably Marco Polo (1254 - 1324 CE). Marco Polo was a medieval merchant traveller, travelling along the silk route until deep into China. From Beijing he made a journey to Mergui (nowadays Myeik in Burma) and came through Lopburi. Lopburi is described in Marco Polo's third book of his travels. He used the name 'Locach', a Chinese derivate for 'Laovo', respectively Lopburi. He mentioned for example that the location of Lopburi was "too far to be a military target for the Mongol army of Kublai Khan".
At the time of Marco Polos arrival here, Lopburi was part of the classical Southeast Asian empire of Angkor. In 1289 CE another diplomatic mission was sent from here to China.

In the second half of the 14th century Lopburi became part of the emerging Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya. King Narai of Ayutthaya made Lopburi in the 17th century a second capital and a stronghold. That may have been a reaction to the blockade of the Chao Phraya River mouth by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the years 1663/64, which was clearly seen as a threat for Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was in that times closer to the shores of the Gulf of Thailand as it is nowadays, and more vulnerable for naval attacks.

King Narai of Siam
'King Narai Monument' by Asienreisender
Kosa Pan
'Kosa-Pan' by Asienreisender

Ok Phra Visutasuntorn (Kosa Pan) was the head of the Siamese legation to Versailles in 1685. When he came back to Siam, he stood on Phetracha's side in the Siamese Palace Revolution of 1688. He became then minister of foreign affairs and commerce under king Phetracha. Kosa Pan died in 1700. Image by Asienreisender, National Museum of Lopburi, 12/2012

On a huge roundabout on Narai Maharat Street is the King Narai Monument placed. It was built in 1966, but it's in a such good shape that it looks still new.

King Narai of Ayutthaya (born in 1633, reign 1656 - 1688) has a certain prominence in Western records. In the 17th century, Western powers became more aware of the strategical importance of Siam. Narai was the Siamese king who formed advanced relations with the British, the Dutch and the French. He was open minded for Western influences, but not always in the desired ways. Efforts to convert the king to Christianity, for example, failed. A number of Siamese envoys went to Europe in his reign, as well as European powers sent repeatedly high representatives to Siam. Siamese envoys visited Versailles, England and the Vatikan. At least two missions were lost at sea.

King Narai was aware of the power and influence of the emerging Western states in Southeast Asia, and managed quite skillfully to play them out against each other. After the Dutch East India Company blocked the access from Ayutthaya to the Gulf of Thailand at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River for a few months in 1663/64, interrupting all trade and supplies who run over sea routes, king Narai established closer relations to France, to outbalance the Dutch. The establishment of Lopburi as a second capital was supposably a reaction on the Dutch aggression.

Narai also managed to receive Western knowlege, particularly architectonical advances in terms of constructing fortifications. Interestingly, Narai was already interested in the construction of a canal at the Isthmus of Kra, to gain a shippable connection between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea (Indian Ocean). He ordered the French ingeneer Lamar in 1667 to research the project. However, Lamar came to the conclusion that it was impossible (with the means of the time).

In 1675 came the Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon with the British East India Company to Siam. He gained the attention of the king and was soon appointed as Narai's advisor. Phaulkon favoured the French and used his influence for their advantage. The British competitors were expelled from Siam.

A Palace Guard
'A Siamese Palace Guard in the Royal Palace' by Asienreisender

A Siamese palace guard in front of Dusit Hall (the royal reception hall) in the Royal Palace of Lopburi. Image by Asienreisender, 2/2007

Since the English had established an important trade post in Mergui (Myeik) at the Andaman Sea, they demanded compensation for the loss and blocked the port city in 1687. There were some shady English activities going on, and the English policy there, as it seems to be, wasn't consistent. Tragically, it came to an armed conflict between the Siamese and the English, in which 60 Englishmen were killed. King Narai then declared war on the British East India Company. Control over the port of Mergui was then given by the king to the French officer Chevalier de Beauregard and his garrison.

However, the rising French influence in Siam became a concern for parts of the high nobility. It became more and more apparent, that France had colonial ambitions. In Thonburi, an important strategical point at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, was already a French fortress Wichayen (now: Wichaiprasit Fortress) installed. In 1688, it came to the famous so called 'Siamese Palace Revolution', led by a nobleman called Phetracha. After Narai died (he was allegedly already sufferering a sickness, but was finally poisoned), Phetracha took the royal power over and expelled all the Western representatives with their trade posts in Ayutthaya and Lopburi from Siam. It followed a time of an isolation of Siam from the Europeans.

Nevertheless, Siam kept it's long-term diplomatic and trade relations to other Asian powers as China, partially Japan, India, Persia and other smaller states in the closer vicinity.

It's interesting that Narai's reign fell into a time of Burmese weakness, which Narai used to attack the western neighbour in 1662. After a Chinese army invaded the Burmese capital of Ava, Narai tried to gain control over the northern territories of Lanna, who were occupied by the Burmese. In two expeditions, Siamese troops were successful to capture several northern places like Lampang and Lanna's capital Chiang Mai. Another campaign led by Narai targeted directly into Burmese heartland, supposedly through the Three Pagodas Pass. The Siamese army of 60,000 soldiers captured a number of Burmese towns, including Rangoon, and led siege on Pagan. However, after considerable losses (probably on both sides), the Siamese retreated in 1664.

However, the accounts of the French diplomats and the Dutch East India Company (VOC) contain valuable informations of the Siam of the time and the life at the court of Ayutthaya and Lopburi. Without these records, we would know much less about it, because the Siamese records were, unfortunately, all destroyed after the downfall of Ayutthaya in 1767.

After King Narai's death in the Lopburi Palace, Lavo decreased in importance, some sources claim it was almost deserted, until king Mongkut (reign: 1851-1869) of the Chakri dynasty ordered restorations and used it and particularly king Narai's old palace as a royal residence again. That was from the 1850s on. In this time the city got actually it's nowadays name 'Lopburi'.

In 1937 Prime Minister General Phibunsongkhram made Lopburi a military center of Thailand. The city has been expanded to the east, along the Narai Maharat Road. This road streches several kilometers from the old city center to the east, where the King Narai Monument is situated. Due to the traffic it's a highly unpleasant walk, but gives an impression of bombastic fascist city-planning in the 1930s. Aside a part of the road are huge barracks from the time.

Lopburi Barracks
'Barracks in Lopburi' by Asienreisender

A fresquo at the entrance at Lopburi's barracks, showing the militaristic kitsch of the 1930; it's the fascist style of the time. Image by Asienreisender, 12/2012


Sights of Lopburi

Lopburi with it's long history is a place worth to go for it's many sights. These sights are mostly to find in the area of the old city, what makes it easy to go everywhere by walking. Also the zoo and the King Narai Memorial, although situated somewhat east of the old town, are reachable by walking. A good alternative is, as always, a bicycle.

King Narai's Palace

'Memorial Plate in Dusit Hall, Lopburi' by Asienreisender

The famous relief inside king Narai's throne hall (Dusit Mahaprasat Hall), where the king received foreign guests. Strange for any Westerner to see Thai People worshiping so many different things, e.g. anything what has to do with royalty. Here many local people pray and put gold leaves on the relief. Image by Asienreisender, 2012

The old King's Palace (Phra Narai Ratcha Nivet) is a center piece to visit in Lopburi, for it's a large, historical site in a good shape with large, clean garden. Moreover, it houses a National Museum since 1924 with a lot of information, items and other material very worth to have a look on.

It's everywhere the same thing in Southeast Asia. At the touristic sights, where entrance is charged, foreigners pay more than locals. Much more. In Thailand it's five times as much. For more about that have a look at 'Entrance Fees in Thailand'. However, that adds up when one is visiting many places. The entrance for the National Museum in King Narai's Palace is now up at 150 Baht for foreigners (stand: 2012). I wasn't willing to pay that.

Short after 8:30, when it opens, I went there. I set up my brightest sunday smile and approached the ticket booth with the pretty young lady inside. I said 'good morning', claimed, I were a Thai person and put 30 Baht on the table.

She said "No".

I said "Yes".

She said "No".

Mutual smilings hanging in the air. I explained her that I am 'here' since years already. Living 'here'. Soon later I had the ticket. That's really nice here in Thailand. When there are (silly) restrictions, they give one most of the time a possibility to bypass them. Once understood the rules here, one can play them out. Of course, it does not work always that smooth. Particularly not with the immigration offices and the embassies.

Dusit / Reception Hall
'Dusit Hall | Reception Hall in the Royal Palace of Lopburi' by Asienreisender

Close to the museum buildings is Dusit Hall, where king Narai received his guests, namely the legation of the kingdom of France with Chevalier de Chaumont. Image by Asienreisender, 12/2012

Well, the old palace was built from 1665 on, took the builders twelve years to finish the complex. The design comes from French Jesuits, who stayed in the French quarter in Ayutthaya already since a few years (1662). That was the time when Lopburi became the second capital of Ayutthaya. It's very remarkable that this palace is the first palace in Siam, and probably in the whole of Southeast Asia, which was built in stone. A result of the emerging European influence in the world region. King Narai was very open for Western ideas.

There is an outer, a middle and an inner part of the palace. It's surrounded by high brick walls. In the past they lost their coat, but meanwhile it's all nicely restorated. The King's Palace is in a good shape, very clean and staff is always around to maintain the place.

The palace had a sophisticated water drainage system for fresh water. In the outer part of the palace were the stables for the king's elephants and the houses for the royal mahouts.

In the inner part of the palace is Narai's throne hall situated, where he received foreign guests. The famous bronze plate reminds to the visit of a French delegation in 1685, who came to Siam to convert king Narai to Christianity.

The Outer Walls of the Royal Palace of Lopburi
'The Outer Walls of Lopburi Palace' by Asienreisender

Parts of the outer walls of the royal palace with some of the gates. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2012, 2016

At the end of king Narai's reign, when he was sick and opposition crystallized around Phetracha, here, in the inner part of the palace, the plot to overthrow the king was made. It's supposed that king Narai was poisoned, and he died in Suttha Sawan, the throne hall, in July 1688.

King Mongkut Pavillon
'King Mongkut Pavillon' by Asienreisender

The Mongkut Pavillion, nowadays the main building of the National Museum of Lopburi. Image by Asienreisender, 12/2012

This plot is called the 'Siamese Revolution of 1688'. Though, it wasn't actually a revolution, just a palace revolt. Anyway, after Narai's reign, king Phetracha invited a policy of isolation against Western powers. It was too obvious already, that Western countries, above all France, had ambitions to colonize Siam. In this context the 1688 events play an important role in Siam's history, for the Europeans were mostly banned afterwards. It came even to a longer siege of the French fortress in Thonburi, which ended with the retreat of the French. It wasn't that easy to get them out.

After Narai's death, Lopburi and the palace didn't play an important role for centuries. It was abandoned by the nobility.

In the 19th century king Mongkut (Rama IV) ordered the palace to be restored and added the 'Phiman Mongkut', the Mongkut Pavillon. He used Lopburi as well as a second residence as king Narai did in former times.

The National Museum of Lopburi

Inside the 'Mongkut Building' is nowadays the core of the National Museum. Other former palace buildings around are housing more items. The museum displays a great number of items who span a time range of some 3,500 years. For those few who are more interested in history it takes time to go through all of it, and one can easily come back next day and repeat the tour, seeing things one still missed at the first visit. You are, of course, privileged to pay again... A ticket is only valid for one day. Anyway, it's actually too rich and plenty for a one-time visit.

Items of the National Museum of Lopburi
'Items in the National Museum of Lopburi' by Asienreisender

The photocomposition shows just a very small choice of all the thousands of items in the national museum. Two Buddha heads with nagas (1) are, following the museum's description, representing the Khmer style of Angkor Wat. Strange is that Angkor Wat was a Hindu monument; Buddhism was later introduced as Angkor's state religion. The other sculpture (2), following the description in the museum, is of the same kind, but apparently not. It might be a hindu god.

Nagas (3) and sculptures (4) who are to see at the medieval monuments of the Khmer, particularly the local Wat Mahathat. Picture (5) shows three shrines for amulet collections. (6) is a medieval Pali inscription on a stone. Among the stone-age findings are the spear heads and stone tools (8). (9) is a sculpture of the Dvaravati Culture. The pot (10) is dated as 3,000 to 3.500 years old. Metallurgy in Lopburi started with bronze tools and was then developed to iron casting.

All images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2012, 2016

Prang Sam Yod

The 'holy three prangs' were erected in the Khmer era a thousand years ago, in the 12th century. The materials are laterite and sandstone, partially bricks. The three remarkable prangs are the city's symbol and one of the main tourist attractions. More than that, it's the basic camp for the local macaque population. Many tourists go there only for feeding the monkeys, not to visit the sight. The monkeys are supposed to be descendents of certain Hindu gods.

Phra Prang Sam Yod
'Phra Prang Sam Yod / Lopburi' by Asienreisender

Prang Sam Yod, the symbol of Lopburi, a medieval hindu monument, the three prangs are dedicated to Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. It dates back to the time around 1200 CE, the reign of Jayavarman VII. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2012, 2016

Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat

Wat Mahathat, Frescos

At the top of one of the main prang of Wat Mahathat are a few frescos remained. That's very rare, most of them are long gone. After the downfall of Ayutthaya in 1767 Lopburi was destroyed by the Burmese as well, although not that bad as the former capital. Image by Asienreisender, 2012

When arriving by train this big temple complex is one of the first things one sees in Lopburi; it's situated directly opposite the train station. Wat Mahathat means, by the way, temple of the big relic. There is a 'Wat Mahathat' in every historic place in Thailand; they all are distinguished by secondary names, what makes their names unique, but always long and sometimes a bit hard to remember.

Lopburi's Wat Mahathat's age is not known, but it's supposed to date back before the Angkorean era, means it was founded by the Dvaravati Mons and became later extended by the Khmer. As it looks now, it's clearly Khmer style. Altogether the wat is estimated being a thousand years old.

One of the buildings is clearly different. It's a 'viharn', built in the time of king Narai and represents a significant different building style. Some chedis are built in the reign of Narai as well.

Good thing here is that I never saw a monkey here. It's too far away from Prang Sam Yod, what's their center place.

Wat Phrasrirattana Mahathat / Lopburi
'Wat Mahathat / Lopburi' by Asienreisender

The areal around Wat Mahathat is the largest historical compound in Lopburi. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2012, 2016

Ban Vichayen (Ban Wichayen)

Two blocks north of king Narai's Palace is Ban Vichayen, also spelled 'Ban Wichayen'. It served as the residence for the French envoys and was a pompous place in the 17th century. It was then the residence of the influential and dubious Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulkon, who came first to Siam as an employee for the British East India Company. He made a rapid career in Siam and became a minister of king Narai. Might be that Phaulkon himself drew the planning of the place. He (Phaulkon) was called 'Vichayen' by the Siamese of the time. After the 'Siamese Palace Revolution' of 1688, Phaulkon was killed by orders of king Narai's successor, king Phetracha.

Nowadays the whole place, not small, is in ruins, surrounded by high walls. Before entering the usual and relatively high fee is due (Thais 30 Baht, Westerner 150 Baht).

The European Residences - Ban Vichayen
'Ban Vichayen' by Asienreisender

Ban Vichayen (alternatively: Baan Wichayen), the residence of the foreign envoys, especially the French in Lopburi. Constantine Phaulkon lived here and Simon de la Loubere stayed here as well at his visit in Lopburi. Straight in the background is the former church, of which was said it was so richly decorated. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2012, 2016

Prang Khaek

In the middle between king Narai's Palace, Ban Vichayen and Prang Sam Yod is another Angkorean Prang situated: Prang Khaek. It's neglected and not one of the well-visited tourist sights, but still a remarkable place. Surrounded by streets with heavy traffic, it could be a pearl of a small green island in middle of the city. But the place is so dirty, everywhere are faeces on the ground (from dogs, monkeys, people...) that one has to keep an eye open first for that. As soon as leaving the small sight, one is on the road and has to care for his life. The traffic nowadays is murderous.

Prang Khaek was a place of Brahmanist worship. It's built of bricks and lost, as so many other buildings of it's kind, it's coat completely. A sign at the sight claims that the buildings were originally coated with a rubber gum. Extraordinarily. Might have been renovated in king Narai's time.

Prang Khaek
'Prang Khaek' by Asienreisender

More than a thousand years old, Prang Khaek served once as a Brahman place of worship. Now it's neglected, the place is extremely dirty inside and it's surrounded by noisy traffic. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 12/2012, 2016

Lopburi Zoo

Lopburi has a zoo in the new part of the town. Most of the animals here are from Thailand respectively Southeast Asia. Some are from other parts of the world.

Animals of Lopburi Zoo
'Animals of Lopburi Zoo' by Asienreisender

Here we find some old aquaintances again: the tiger, the leopard, the crocodile and even a king cobra. There is a Malayan Sunbear, an Indochinese leopard and a green peafowl. The porcupine is an animal from this world region, although I have never seen one in the wild. However, the gorilla isn't. He looked very sad in his dark cage...

Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2/2007, 2016


Monkey City

Monkeys in Lopburi

This is the same guy on both photos. Anywhere in a shop he has stolen a shrink-wrapped sandwich, opened it with his teeth, threw the plastic on the road and eat's the prey now. Images by Asienreisender, 2012

Yyears ago Lopburi was already known since long for the monkeys, the crab-eating or long-tailed macaques, living at and around Phra Prang Sam Yod. They were kind of an attraction. In 2006 there were already many of them around, but their number was still limited. In the meantime the population exploded and they invade the city. It's by the way the same phenomenon I observed in Pratchuap Khiri Khan in south Thailand. There are masses of macaques on the streets, on the roofs, climbing the electric wires, the cars. They enter the markets and steal from the stalls. They go into the houses and plunder the kitchens. They look out for food everywhere, and they find a lot of wasted food in the dustbins and rubbish on the streets. Globally, there are 50% of the world's food wasted. People buy food and throw parts of it away. Then animals come and try to get it. Dogs, cats, rats, insects, microorganisms and others. Here the macaques are very active. They don't fear people, aren't shy at all and become easily aggressive. The bigger ones have four long incisors.

When I entered Phra Prang Sam Yod I couldn't believe how many of them were around. Of course it's a touristic place and all kinds of stupid businesses are going on. One is the unavoidable selling of monkey food. Some tourists feed the beasts 'for fun' or to gain a better 'kharma'. Some local people do (frequently) the same. At the prang are some guards around with sticks in their hands. While walking around, a juvenile beast jumped on my back, on my small backpack. There is always a roll of toilet paper in an outer pocket, covered in a plastic bag. The beast took it out and opened the plastic bag, just two meters away from me. They aren't shy the slightest bit.

Monkey in Lopburi

That's the situation at the railway track behind Wat Sam Yod. An incredible amount of food is given to the monkeys here. Image by Asienreisender, 2012

'Theft', I thought. I turned and saw a Thai tourist nearby, who was there with his family and had an umbrella in his hand. I asked him to borrow the umbrella and gave the villain a good blow. I guess I afforded to spoil some kharma by doing that. He let the roll go and looked at me both surprised and disgusted, uttering a loud sound of protest. The beasts don't get any limits set in their behaviour. Then he made up a chauvinistic pose and approached to me as he would start an attack. I hold the umbrella up and gave him a warning glance to show him what he had to expect coming a single step closer. He considered that and stopped. I took the roll back, put it this time in my trousers pocket. Suddenly another monkey approached, showing aggressive behaviour and making noises at me. I made it clear again that I would receive him with a stroke of the umbrella, and he disappeared as well. Mean, little street gangsters they are. There were hundreds of them around.

It's really incredible how the locals promote the monkeys. There are piles of food, bananas and other fruits and plenty of food remains from food stalls etc. thrown onto the streets, just for them. That makes the surrounding dirty, produces a lot of faeces and insects (not only flies, also mosquitoes love fruit nectar); in reverse the macaques plunder the local shops, enter houses and cause a lot of damage. Never open a window, except there are bars in behind it. It's not really save to walk around here.

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Published on January 5th, 2013


Last update on July 25th, 2016