Lopburi is less popular as a historical tourism destination, probably because there’s not as many ruins to see as in Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. However, this city has a fascinating history as an outpost of the Khmer Empire in the 10th century and seat of power under King Narai the Great (of Ayutthaya) in the 17th century before declining and then being rediscovered and restored by King Mongkut in the 19th century.
If you need a break from the heat whilst visiting these top sites, consider stopping by at our top ice cream pick for the city.
1) Somdet Phra Narai National Museum
This is both a museum and a historical site and is my top pick for historical sites to visit in Lopburi. The palace was built in 1666 by King Narai the Great. It’s surrounded by high walls and has nice grounds inside where you can walk around and look at the ruins including the elephant stables and the water tank with pipes which were probably some of the earliest uses of plumbing in Thailand.
The museum is housed roughly in the centre in a large building across three levels. It mostly consists of written information and artefacts and covers the whole history of the area.
2) Prang Sam Yod
This three pronged temple is the best known monument in the city, not only for its historical significance but because of the hundreds of crab eating macaques that inhabit it. It was likely built in the 12th-13th centuries when Lopburi was still under Khmer influence. It was originally a Hindu shrine and has three prangs that represent Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (the Hindu trinity) but was later converted into a Buddhist shrine during the reign of King Narai the Great in the 17th century.
Beware as you approach as the macaques are incredibly mischievous and if they suspect you to be carrying food, they won’t hesitate to try and steal it from you. The same goes for sunglasses, eyeglasses and bags. However, if you can find a good vantage point, watching their antics is an interesting way to pass the time. Inside the temple grounds there are some staff that can look after you and you can buy food to feed the monkeys. If you pay the small entrance fee you can go inside the temple, which is sealed off from the monkeys, and have the bizarre experience of feeling like you’re in a zoo while the animals look in on you.
3) Ban Chao Wichayen
These ruins are most interesting because they represent the large western influence present in Lopburi and the Ayutthaya Kingdom during the reign of King Narai the Great. Ban Chao Wichayen was built as the house of the Greek merchant, Constantine Phaulkon who had become King Narai’s closest councillor. It also had houses for other visiting foreigners and a Christian Church.
4) Pratu Chai
Take a break from the temples to check out this old wall and gate. Not much more to it but good to spark some further study into the ancient walls of this city (I found this map, from here). Good to visit on the way to the Yotse ice cream shop – our top pick for this city.
5) King Narai the Great Monument
King Narai the Great reigned over the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1656 to 1688 but spent 8-9 months of the year in Lopburi which he designated the second capital of the kingdom.
This monument is worth visiting to spark and cement your research into this monarch who had such a big influence on the history of Loburi. It’s located on a large traffic island to the East of the main historical sites. However, it’s not too far from our top ice cream pick for the city, so consider visiting both together.
Interesting Historical Facts
- Lopburi was previously known as ‘Lavo’ and was the capital of the Lavo Kingdom between the 7th and 11th centuries. After that time, the capital shifted south to Ayutthaya and the kingdom eventually became the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
- During most of the existence of the ‘Lavo Kingdom’ it was under the influence of the Khmer Empire and was known as ‘Lavodayapura’ in the Khmer language. However, Lavo became detached from the Khmer Empire at the end of the thirteenth century, sending embassies to China from 1289 to 1299 to announce that fact.
- King Narai reigned in Ayutthaya from 1656 to 1688 but spent 8-9 months of the year in Lopburi which he designated the second capital of the kingdom
- Sensing a weakening of Burmese power in northern Siam, Narai launched the Burmese–Siamese War of 1662–64 to bring Chiang Mai under the direct control of Ayutthaya
- Most controversially, King Narai allowed the rise of Constantine Phaulkon, a Greek adventurer who arrived in Ayutthaya in 1675. Within a few years, Phaulkon had managed to ingratiate himself with the king and became Narai’s closest counselor. Under Phaulkon’s guidance, King Narai balanced the influence of the Dutch by favouring the French. Phaulkon also encouraged French interest by initially leading them to believe that the king was about to convert to Catholicism. Although King Narai did display a degree of interest in Catholicism, he also displayed an equal interest in Islam and there is no concrete evidence that he wished to convert to either.
- Among the gifts that were exchanged between the Siamese and the French courts, two items from Siam were to have an unexpected impact on French history. The items were a pair of silver cannons that were eventually stored in the Royal Furniture Repository in Paris since they were classed as gifts rather than weapons. After failing to find usable weapons at the Arsenal, rioting Parisians broke into the Repository and discovered some 20 cannons. However, the Siamese cannons were the only ones that still functioned, and so they were hauled to the Bastille. The date was 14 July 1789.
As you explore the numerous historical ruins in the Thai heat and humidity you might feel the need to relax with an ice cream. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our guide to the best ice cream in Lopburi.