The town of Lopburi in Thailand is famous for one particular corner of its population: the monkeys.
Just about 90 miles (150 kilometers) from Bankok, Lopburi is something of an urban haven for long-tailed macaques. Thousands of the primates live in the town, and not in any zoo -- they simply live there, walking around the oldest part of the city as high-status residents, occasionally stealing a camera, going for a swim in the downtown fountains, and, every November, drawing onlookers for the offering known as the Monkey Buffet.
One Hindu legend has it that Lopburi was founded not only by the revered King Rama but also by his primate friend, the warrior monkey king. The macaque, they say, are descendants of that co-founder, and the villagers lay out a feast each year to honor them.
Well, that, and to draw lots of foreigners with money to burn. The first buffet was hosted by a local entrepreneur in the tourism business.
It's no wonder thousands of people come to watch. Nearly 9,000 pounds (4,000 kilograms) of food lines the streets of the old city, set out in a careful buffet that is immediately annihilated by packs of screeching monkeys who rush to consume the fruits, vegetables, soda, candy and baked goods that serve as a religious offering to ancient ancestors. The monkeys eat, dance and occasionally fornicate on the tables as they celebrate their annual windfall.
Religiously derived or merely a brilliant tourist draw, the spectacle is deservingly one of the most popular in Thailand. A monkey buffet is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
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