STRAY DOGS & CHEEKY MONKEYS

I’d barely made myself at home in Lopburi, and I was already on the verge of being chased out of town. From the off, as I ambled out of the train station after catching an early morning train north from Bangkok, the town’s myriad stray dogs were on my tail, as though they genuinely resented backpackers snooping around their patch.Making more haste than usual to find somewhere to stay, I literally dropped my gear at the first hotel I stumbled upon: The Asia Hotel. A bewilderingly huge establishment at the centre of town, it seemed empty, its grand stairwells and corridors eerily devoid of even the slightest trace of human life.
On the upside, my room was an undisputed bargain: for 250 baht per night, an en-suite bathroom, a double-bed, and a TV were all thrown into the deal. Pity then that the only ‘programmes’ worth watching on TV were re-runs of classic Looney Tunes cartoons which had been dubbed into Thai.Hiding away from the might of the midday sun by taking a siesta, I eventually began pounding the streets of Lopburi at two in the afternoon.
Initially, I made a beeline for the river, across which a group of children were swimming in spite of the water’s stomach-churning dirtiness.
Looking further downriver, a succession of huge nets, supported by wooden scaffolding, dangled over the water in anticipation of being employed to catch fish.Doubling back into town, I soon passed a sight that was becoming all too familiar in Thai towns and cities: a huge Tesco Lotus supermarket. Determined to avoid shopping in Tesco for food or drink, I picked up my pace and promptly set my sights on a roadside vendor selling skewers upon which unidentifiable hunks of meat merrily sizzled.
At only five baht per skewer, I bagged three and edged back in the direction of the railway line in order to explore Phra Prang Sam Yot. As I neared the ancient Khmer site, a stark warning confronted me in the form of a huge sign declaring that a Monkey Zone was being entered… and at one’s own risk to boot.At first sight I clocked nothing more than a group of monkeys scampering around the grounds of the temple, but a grief-stricken shriek that fell from above soon diverted my attention skywards, towards a couple of monkeys that were running across a bundle of power lines tacked to the side of the nearest building.
Keeping my cool and resisting the temptation to cover my face and establish tight hold on my belongings, I couldn’t help but admire the acrobatics that were being performed.While reports of monkeys snatching bags are quite common in Lopburi, I reasoned with myself that money and passports must have limited value in Monkey World. But then I realised that it wasn’t my possessions which were at risk in any case. It was my food they were after.
The more time I spent wandering around the laid-back streets of Lopburi, the more it dawned on me that it’s not really a place where foreign travellers stay for longer than necessary.I got the distinct impression that most visitors were simply passing through Lopburi on the way to somewhere else as part of coach-based tours which ventured no further than the main monkey-wracked ruins.
As a result, I seemed to be something of a curiosity when I began to duck in and out of local shops, yet the majority of the Lopburi residents appeared to be too shy to engage in conversation until an elderly man stepped forward beneath the eaves of a 7-Eleven store in order to try and ascertain where I was from and why I was in town.As soon as I revealed that I hailed from England, the man unsuccessfully tried to stifle a chuckle before asking whether I came from ‘the poor north or the rich south’.
He subsequently enquired about how the prevailing global crisis had so far affected the economy in England, evidently interested in the politics afflicting even the most farthest-flung countries. I later saw the man sat outside the aforementioned Tesco store; as I curtly waved, he coolly doffed his cap with a grin.After dark, the stray dogs of Lopburi came out in force like never before, boisterously prowling the main thoroughfares and backstreets alike.
Having had an unpleasant encounter with a stray dog in Thailand on a previous occasion, I naturally steered myself away from the dog-strewn pavements straight into the traffic on the roads for one reason and one reason only: given the choice, I would sooner become unfortunate road-kill than a rabies victim.Once safely back at the hotel, I hoped that a clutch of fellow travellers might be propping up the bar in the foyer.
There were, however, two glaring problems that I’d neglected to recall. First and foremost, there were no other travellers. Secondly, there was no bar in the foyer. Thus, there was only one thing for it, and that was to hit the nearest shop.
Having already had my fill of beers of the Singha and Chang varieties, I picked up a couple of bottles of Archa for a change, praying that they’d provide an unfettered taste explosion of bud-destroying proportions. To the contrary, I was sorely disappointed to discover that Archa beer is the Thai equivalent of Skol, its cheapness reflected in the unpalatable taste through and through.Still, looking on the bright side, such beers did aid my passage into The Land of Nod. It was just a shame that I didn’t get chance to switch off the TV before slipping away.

(Steve Rudd)

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