Thailand's Lopburi Monkey Banquet Is the World's Wildest Dinner Party
In central Thailand’s provincial capital of Lopburi, about 150 kilometers north of Bangkok, the last Sunday in November is reserved for the Lopburi Monkey Banquet . The world’s wildest dinner party is held in honor of long-tailed macaques (in Thailand, monkeys are honored as heroes), who have become integrated into local society despite their pick-pocketing tendencies and mercurial attitudes.
To understand the significance of this banquet, which began in 1989, one must first appreciate the role monkeys play in Lopburi culture. These fellow primates are part of society, having free reign of the town and the ability to enter public buildings and traverse roads like any other citizen. They can be annoying, stealing from locals and tourists alike, and are generally mischievous and destructive. However, the loyal townspeople have a firm belief that they bring good luck and fortune, and thus are patient (at the very least they bring fortune in the form of tourist baht, the local currency) with the creatures.
Musical performances and human monkey dances (a scene of which you can witness for yourself in the documentary Baraka) begin the day. After a speech by the Governor of Lopburi, the monkeys are then invited down to eat from the buffet tables. Initially shy, the monkeys are surprisingly well-behaved, in view of the hundreds of spectators gathered to watch them eat off long tables draped in red cloth. Invitations are attached to cashew nuts and distributed among the macaque guests, while chefs prepare an abundant spread including sticky rice, tropical fruit salad frozen in ice blocks and an egg-yolk dessert known as thong yod. It all amounts to about 4,000 pounds of food for the monkeys.
Then, all hell breaks loose. The monkey diners inevitably get acclimated to the curious spectators, and suddenly they’re dancing on the tables, throwing soda at each other, flinging pudding and wreaking havoc. The lavish feast soon vanishes, most of it inside the satisfied monkeys' bellies, though a fair amount ends up on the ground, leaving the luncheon guests to conclude their wildly unhinged behavior by swinging up a few branches to take a treetop nap.
While this is one of those strange festivals around, the significance of monkeys in Thai culture cannot be overstated. In monkeys we see a hairier, exaggerated version of ourselves, and are reminded that no matter how different we are, tolerance brings good fortune to all.