Thailand: food orgy in Monkey Town

BANGKOK, Thailand — If you’ve ever longed for a monkey to jam its rubbery little finger in your ear, there is a town for you called Lop Buri, Thailand.

Long-tailed macaques have free reign over parts of downtown Lop Buri, known as “Monkey Town” in the Thai-language press. They are a menace: yanking down ladies’ skirts, scrambling up tourists’ necks and eating anything that can fit in their furry faces.

Not only is this simian banditry tolerated by residents, it’s annually celebrated. Every November, coincidentally within days of Thanksgiving, the 3,000-plus urban macaques are blessed with a catered feast. Waiters set up endless tables of delicately arranged fruits, cakes and candies.

Before gorging themselves into calorie comas, the monkeys show their gratitude by screeching, brawling and fornicating on the tabletops.

Why would the town of Lop Buri go to such lengths to treat packs of misbehaved primates? The official reason involves Hindu lore and a belief that these macaques are blessed descendants of a monkey warrior who must be honored.

The real reason? Tourist authorities want you to visit Lop Buri.

The monkey feast is the ingenious concept of a hotelier, Yongyuth Kitwattananusont, who first feted the monkeys in 1989. Now, with the sponsorship of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, his spectacle attracts thousands of tourists.

Yongyuth attempts to outdo himself each year. He once stuffed himself into a monkey suit and arrived via parachute. This November, he promises to up last year’s offering: 4,000 kilograms of food.

The feast’s popularity with foreigners is not lost on Yongyuth, who said in a Thai-language announcement this month that the event would continue “enticing tourists ... especially the foreigners that show interest year after year.”

A longstanding second-tier tourist draw, Lop Buri is the site of 10th-century Hindu temples built by a Khmer dynasty. The main temple, strongly resembling the architecture of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, is headquarters for the macaques. They roam its grounds with impunity.

Monkeys have been key to Lop Buri’s identity for centuries. A Thai spin on Hindu saga “The Ramayana” dictates that Lop Buri was founded by Hanuman, an anthropomorphic monkey who helped the legend’s hero rescue his bride from a 10-headed demon.

Today’s monkeys are said to carry Hanuman’s bloodline. They are more often seen carrying off the belongings of humans who stray too close.

A dangling earring or a swinging shopping bag invites daylight robbery. Scaling street signs and telephone poles, the macaques are like street dogs in 3D. They’re able to harass passersby horizontally and vertically. It’s a thrill to outsiders and an abided nuisance for natives.

Buddhism has long since replaced Hanuman-revering Hinduism as the majority religion in Thailand, but the monkey god’s descendants will not be cast out anytime soon.

Tending to the monkeys is considered good merit-making among Buddhists. Even when the stars of “monkey town” mount their heads, yank their hair and make off with their wallets.