Lop Buri before the monkeying around
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Lop Buri before the monkeying around

One of the first towns I visited in Thailand in the early 1970s was Lop Buri, about 150 km north of Bangkok. Its main appeal was its convenient three-hour train journey from Hua Lamphong. It offered a chance to escape Bangkok for a couple of days and experience a taste of life in a small town.

It was very pleasant too with friendly locals trying out their English. The hotel staff were admittedly a trifle puzzled that I would choose to spend precious days off in somewhat somnolent Lop Buri in preference to the bright lights of Bangkok. I was of course introduced to the now infamous long-tailed macaques that hung out at temples near the centre of town. In those pre-mass tourism days the monkeys were more of a novelty than a nuisance.

Fast-forward 50 years, and Lop Buri now has its own special crack police "monkey unit," which has been busy recently, rounding up scores of misbehaving macaques and taking them off to a new home. The monkeys have always been a bit of a menace, never shy of stealing anything that caught the eye. Fed by the growing number of tourists, they have become increasingly aggressive.

Things got a bit crazy in 2020 with the Covid pandemic. Tourism totally dried up and the monkeys lost their prime source of food. It wasn't long before marauding macaques were roaming menacingly through the town. They became involved in serious street battles verging on gang warfare as they fought over food scraps. For a while parts of the town resembled Planet of the Apes.

The joy of gambolling

The misbehaving Lop Buri monkeys have always been a topic of discussion. In the informative book Guide to Thailand (formerly Discovering Thailand) written back in the 1970s by former French ambassador Achille Clarac and Michael Smithies there is the following observation:

"The temple ruins… are occupied by hundreds of gambolling monkeys, which the visitors feed. You should not leave your car doors or windows open because the monkeys will snatch anything that takes their fancy. They also climb on the trains which stop nearby and travel free on the roof."

That was 50 years ago. I was particularly pleased to see the use of "gambolling" a word you rarely see these days. It has a lovely old-fashioned sound to it, bringing images of leaping lambs, lush meadows and babbling brooks.

Just being playful

According to the dictionary. "gambolling" means "to jump about in a playful way." You might come across it occasionally in old poems. It is derived from the French word "gambade" meaning the frisky spring of a jumping horse. It is also a word you don't hear often in conversation possibly because it sounds too much like "gambling" which could lead to misunderstandings.

Unfortunately, the monkeys in Lop Buri are more mischievous these days and go beyond simply being playful. Perhaps the Thai authorities should give the simian community an intensive course in the traditional art of "gambolling".

Bracing Britain

Tourist operators are concerned after learning that Thailand had dropped 11 places in the annual World Economic Forum travel and tourism index released last week. That might explain the recent newspaper headlines with the authorities promising to promote Pattaya as a "family resort". Best of luck with that one.

They shouldn't take too much notice of polls or lists. The Lincolnshire resort of Skegness has regularly been named in surveys as the "worst seaside resort" in the UK. But it still attracts large numbers of holidaymakers who don't care a stuff what the surveys say.

There was a wonderful poster in the old days proclaiming "Skegness is so Bracing" a polite way of saying it could be very windy. The poster was created by the Great Northern Railway to attract Londoners to the fresh air on the Lincolnshire coast. It featured an illustration of a jolly, fat fisherman, pipe in mouth, bounding along the beach at Skeggy like he had just escaped from the local lunatic asylum. It became popularly known as the "Jolly Fisherman".

Looking at the poster in a new light the fisherman could arguably be described as "gambolling". They also weren't kidding about the "bracing" bit either. With the wind whipping in off the North Sea you would probably use a much stronger expression than "bracing".

Marriage guidance

Last week's item concerning the gullible woman and the Sanam Luang fortune-teller back in the 1970s reminded me of a similar case which came to light last year.

A married woman who was having marriage problems consulted a Bangkok fortune-teller. He explained that she was the victim of black magic and needed an immediate exorcism to expel the demons. He said that the best way to resolve the situation was for her to sleep with him and pretend that he was her husband. She agreed, hoping that it would help solve her marriage problems. It will come as no surprise that it made the situation even worse.

He must have been a sweet talker too, because in addition to their romantic dalliances, he also managed to divest her of 14 million baht in the process.

Final word

Following the recent item on acronyms my thanks to Australian reader Murray Thomas who informs me he has just retired from the Department of Primary Industry and Energy, otherwise known as DOPIE.

Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com

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