Watching monkeys running around a city appealed to me for quite a while, even though that was nothing new.
Back home in Switzerland, I’d seen plenty of them marauding through the streets, clad in suit and tie.
Lopburi though provides not just the familiar picture of greedy macaques. Its ancient, Ayutthaya-reminiscent ruins offer a mesmerizing window into the past, times when Lopburi was within the Khmer empire and the capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
I was hooked by this old, monkey-mad town in central Thailand and booked a trip from Bangkok to Lopburi. Making a reservation online was a breeze and cost me a paltry $6.42.
It was a sunny morning when I rode Bangkok’s sky train to Mochit, the nearest station from the starting point of my journey.
Getting to Mochit New Van Terminal
It was scorchingly hot and humid when I got off at BTS Mochit. Sweat was oozing out of my pores as I took exit 3, heading for the place where all coaches and motorbike taxis are. I watched out for buses nr. 3 and 77 as these go to Mochit New Van Terminal, but neither of them seemed to be coming anytime soon.
I was pressed for time, as usual when I’m traveling, because I don’t particularly like hanging around minivan terminals. Following the wafting scent of barbecue chicken would’ve been tempting, but the hissing sounds of stopping buses made me fidgety. There was simply no time to stuff my face and keep waiting in vain.
I opted to hop on a motorbike taxi and stumped up 80 baht for the short ride.
The information guy at the entrance of Mochit’s van terminal told me Watcharin Tour’s counter was in the building on the left side. I kept going straight for some 150 meters, and showed my voucher at desk number 8.
The employee took a picture of my online booking and to my surprise, she motioned for me to stand there and hold up my cell phone. I assumed she just had to have some sort of proof and didn’t need the photo for God knows what and humored her.
“Go now,” she said, giving me a friendly smile. Within less than a minute, check-in was completed. It was only 12:20pm and the minivan was scheduled to leave at 12:50pm, but I was like, fair enough.
“Have you got five minutes?” I asked the driver. He nodded, so I sprinted to the shop that sold nibbly-dibblies and water. There was also a street vendor that offered fruits, though only guava was fresh. The pineapple’s consistency was sickeningly soft and tasted like three-day-old durian.
It reminded me to look more carefully at fruits that are pre-cut in cubes. Mai pen lai (it doesn’t matter), I thought to myself and took it in stride.
Marching back to my bus, I managed to locate the proper vehicle in a sea of minivans. This was a task I’d fortunately not taken lightly; there were minivans as far as the eyes could see and the number plate was my only hint.
Riding to Future Park
“Can I sit here?” I asked, nodding at the passenger seat. Luckily, the driver agreed.
Sitting there feels like sitting literally in the box seat, because that’s where the AC usually works well. Besides, this is the place to enjoy some decent legroom without a seatmate spreading their legs ultrawide.
Only minutes later at 12:30pm, the chauffeur turned the ignition. There were 14 seats on the minivan; only four of them were taken, and I was the only farang on the bus.
For miles, the northbound journey led along a highway below gray construction to extend Bangkok’s sky train system. Aside from the AC’s airstream plus the minivan’s roaring, there were no sounds. No music was played and everybody kept silent.
Boredom set in, but the literal bumps in the road and the accompanying jolts prevented me from drifting off. They reminded me that I was about to enjoy wonderful views of golden stupas and perhaps jewel-encrusted temples, and eventually, ancient ruins and thousands of monkeys. This promising prospect served as a pick-me-up; I didn’t nod off.
It was 12:50pm when the driver pulled into another minivan terminal close to Future Park, a shopping mall on Bangkok’s outskirts.
Little did I know how lucky I was to sit in a minivan with great air conditioning; in store was a break that lasted longer than I’d cared for.
Enjoying the reversed world at another station
I didn’t need a hoodie and felt comfortable while waiting, but my patience was put to the test.
Suddenly, the driver slid the side door open and blasts of hot air intruded our cool, confined space, making me nearly shriek. It reminded me of my home country where I was desperate for doors to remain closed as well. Though unlike Heidiland where it was winter now, Thailand is in the subtropics. It was the AC that had to work harder here rather than some heating system.
I chuckled at the irony and felt happy to be in the throes of a humid, subtropical climate.
After a terribly long 45-minute break and welcoming several other young Thai travelers, it was high time we got the fudge out of here. The driver let one more guy get on the bus, slid the door shut and started the engine.
Riding into a primeval city
The chauffeur picked up one last Thai along the way, stopped to have his papers checked, then headed further north. The bus was nearly full now and I was still the only farang.
As the AC had decided to stop working efficiently, I focused on the positive side of traveling and admired the view of glittering, chromium-plated San Phra Phum (spirit houses) that were sold along the streets. A sight for sore eyes was also Buddhist university Mahachulalongkorn and its temple-like architecture with gabled roofs and spiky peaks.
Further north in the middle of nowhere, the savanna-like scenery had a tinge of Africa that I’d never encountered in Thailand before, aside from when I was traveling to Koh Phrathong.
Between Saraburi and Lopburi, it was Wat Phra Buddha Bat, with its two Khmer-style, tower-like spires at the entrance that were awe-inspiring, indicating the importance of this Buddhist pilgrimage site.
A moment later, two elephant sculptures at Wat Thamrabook’s gate caught my eye. All these sights made me excited, more so because I knew Lopburi couldn’t be far.
The driver started to drop people off, which suggested that we were about to arrive in the monkey-mad town called Lopburi.
Spotting a sign that read “Sing Buri,” I thought to myself, What are these Buri-places all about?
Anyway. The van pulled in to Lopburi’s station at 3:40pm, and apart from a few monks in orange robes and a number of soldiers dressed in green camouflage gear, there wasn’t a single traveler at this bus stop in the searing heat.
Eager to watch monkeys running around Philippburi’s ancient ruins, I got off the bus a little sweaty and was wondering whether I’d become a tad loopy myself.
Well, at least I wasn’t wearing a suit and tie.