Only 61km (38 miles) north of Bangkok, this delightful royal palace (admission 100B; 8am–4pm, last admission 3:15pm) is usually combined with Ayutthaya in most 1-day tours and is accessible by minivan. Not all the buildings are open to the public, but the elegant colonial architecture makes a fascinating contrast with Ayutthaya's crumbling temples.
The 17th-century temple and palace at Bang Pa-In were originally built by Ayutthaya’s King Prasat who later abandoned the space when the capital moved in the late 1700s. The palace sat dormant for nearly a century before King Rama IV rebuilt it in the 1800s, and it became a favorite summer home for King Rama V until tragedy struck. In 1880, the pregnant queen and her daughter died when a boat capsized en route to the palace. Her horrified subjects and on-lookers stood by and watched, and could have easily saved her, had it not been for a Thai law that forbade commoners from touching the royal family. The grief-stricken King Rama V changed the law and built a marble obelisk in her honor.
On the banks opposite the palace is Wat Niwet Thamprawat, the only temple in Thailand with European architecture. It is small but stunning; featuring stained-glass windows, a belfry, and neo-Gothic style resembling a cathedral. In the center of the small lake, Phra Thinang Aisawan Thippa-At is a pavilion that is an excellent example of classic Thai style architecture. Behind it, in Versailles style, are the former king’s apartments, which today serve as a hall for state ceremonies. The Phra Thinang Wehat Chamrun, also noteworthy, is a Chinese-style building (open to the public), where court members generally lived during the rainy and cool seasons. It was custom-built with materials from China and showcases jade and porcelain from the Ming era.
It closes early, and you’re best moving on to Ayutthaya or Bangkok for any major meal or for a place to sleep. If you’re not on a pre-arranged tour, a taxi from Ayutthaya will cost several hundred baht, so you’re better off asking your hotel (in Bangkok or Ayutthaya) to pre-book a round-trip minivan or taxi. On your way in or out of Bang Pa-In, make a detour to visit the Bang Sai Arts & Crafts Centre, a space dedicated to preserving traditional Thai arts. Workers demonstrate the skills needed to make more than 30 local crafts, like ceramics, glass blowing, khon mask making, hyacinth weaving, and more. There is a small souvenir shop to buy local crafts after the tour.
77km (48 miles) N of Ayutthaya; 153km (95 miles) N of Bangkok; 224km (139 miles) S of Phitsanulok
Lopburi is famous for its 14th- to 17th-century temple ruins, as much as for its sometimes-very-aggressive troupes of monkeys that call them home. The town hosted kings and emissaries from around the world some 400 years ago, and archaeological evidence suggests a highly developed Buddhist society was here as early as the 11th century. These days, Lopburi is a popular day trip from Ayutthaya or a good stopover on the way north.
Getting There -- Lopburi is along Highway 1 just past Saraburi (connect with Lopburi via Hwy. 3196 to Rte. 311). The fastest way to go straight there from Bangkok is by minivan from Victory Monument (accessible by BTS) for 100B. Vans leave when full from in front of Rachavithee Hospital. Regular buses connect to Lopburi via Ayutthaya from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (tel. 02936-2841) for the same price. Numerous trains make daily connection with Lopburi via Ayutthaya from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Railway Station (tel. 1690), from 28B upward.
Information & Orientation -- The TAT Office is located in a teak house built in the 1930s just a short walk from the train station (follow the signs) on Ropwat Phrathat Road (tel. 03642-2768). They have a useful map and can point you to sites within walking distance.
What To See & Do -- You should visit Lopburi by approaching its attractions in a clockwise circle pattern. From the train station, stop in to Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat just out front. Built in 1257, Mahathat is a stunning ruin, much like the temples of Ayutthaya (admission 30B; daily 7am-5pm).
Directly west of the TAT, the large complex of King Narai's Palace was built in 1666 and combines a large museum of Lopburi antiquities with the wats and palace of the king. When nearby Ayutthaya was little more than a marsh, King Narai hosted emissaries from around the world (note the many Islamic-style doorways). The museum now houses displays of Thai rural life and traditions from weaving and agriculture to shadow puppetry (admission 150B; daily 8:30am-4:30pm). After leaving the museum, take some time to saunter around the atmospheric grounds around the palace.
From Narai's palace, head north through the town's small streets and market areas to Wat Sao Thong Thong, which houses a large golden Buddha and fine Khmer and Ayutthaya period statues. Heading farther north brings you to Ban Vichayen, the manicured ruins of the fine housing built for visiting dignitaries (admission 50B; Wed-Sun 9am-4pm).
Going east along Vichayen Road, toward the town center, the three connected towers at Phra Prang Sam Yot are stunning examples of the Khmer influence in what is known as "Lopburi style." This is the site where you'll find the town's famous macaques (monkeys) most hours of the day (admission 50B; daily 9am-4pm). Be careful around these mischievous apes: They have been known to get aggressive and can be very dangerous. You can take pictures, but keep a tight grip on your camera, and don't carry any food.
Reaching Prang Sam Yot brings you full circle back to the train tracks just north of the station. If you're in Lopburi in late spring, ask about the occasional macaque banquets, where a formal table is set for the little beasts, who tear it to bits -- they've no manners at all. Most days they are fed at a temple just east of Sam Yot, called San Phra Khan (across the train tracks). Groups of the mischievous animals trapeze along the high wires and swoop down on shop owners armed with sticks, who keep a close eye on outdoor merchandise. It's a different kind of rush hour altogether.
Where To Stay & Dine -- Few stay in little Lopburi, instead visiting the town on a day trip from Ayutthaya or as a brief stopover on the way to points north. If you do choose to stay here, try the Noom Guesthouse (15-17 Phayakamjad Road; www.noomguesthouse.com; tel. 036642-7693), with shared bathrooms for 250B and bungalows for 590B. They can arrange half-day rock-climbing trips to Khao Chin Lae, where dozens of roped routes leading to the top of Wat Pa Suwannahong. Climbing is nowhere near the quality of Krabi but it’s a nice touch of adventure in this quiet temple-dotted region.
There are lots of small open-air restaurants in and around town. One of the best options is the Thai-Chinese Khao Tom Hor (Na Phra Kan Road near the train station; 5pm-late). They’re famous for deep-fried salted fish, which is authentically delicious and cheap. An ice-cold Singha pairs perfectly with it.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.