Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
There are hundreds of monkeys living in Prachuap Khiri Khan; it's easy to take your pick of activities to engage in with the furry fellows: You can feed them, you photograph them, or you fight them. I did two of the three.
I noticed them at an intersection as my bus rolled into town (a few days ago), making a mental note to return to the spot later. The monkeys were at the base of Khao Chong Krajok (Mirror Tunnel Mountain), the ancient outcropping of timeworn rock at the northern end of town. Further from the base of the hill I could see a golden temple at its top, enjoying what was sure to be a fantastic view of the surrounding landscape.
Returning the next day, I found the monkeys without issue. There is a small park at the eastern foot of Khao Chong Krajok, wedged between the sea and the mountain of rock. It was here that I encountered many a monkey.
I watched them with intense curiosity for a time, enjoying how they interacted with each other, and me. My camera is black, and they seemed to shy away from photos when they noticed me bringing it up to my face, like a paparazzi-swarmed celebrity. Carefree in their world, the monkeys engaged normal monkey things: Picking insects off each other, tending to young, sitting, jumping from trees, playing (quite aggressively) with each other, and fighting for food/power/females.
On the subject of monkeys and Prachuap, my guidebook says:
…the hill is claimed by a clan of monkeys who supposedly hitched a ride into town on a bus from Bangkok to pick up some mangoes.
Although whimsical, the statement doesn't specify how long ago this took place, so I inquired with the staff at my hotel. The owner told me the monkeys have been there longer than he's been alive—50 years or more.
One thing seems for sure though, the monkeys have been in Prachuap long enough for the town to have constructed a pond at the southern base of Khao Chong Krajok for the critters to play in, complete with large monkey statue, and for it to have fallen into disrepair—I'd say a good 10–15 years of wear and tear.
The afternoon play at the pond is absolutely wild. If you've ever wanted to see a monkey climb a rock wall or tree and jump several meters into standing water (many a belly-flops were seen), this is the spot to do it. The scene reminded me of what public swimming pool looks like, packed with dozens of rambunctious kids tweaked out on candy sugar-highs.
As for me a my monkey fight, dealing with the young alpha males was not unlike dealing with the same variety in our own species—something I'm use to these days. The teenage males would run up on you when they didn't like something, often coming to a griding halt when my foot kicked out about a meter from their face. I won't soon forget the one tried to include me in their games by swiping the back of my leg with a branch in a stealthy hit-and-run attack. Well, at least all that posturing, hollering, and displays of fangs gave me an entertaining new background for my PDA.
Wat Thammikaram Woravihara
Built in 1922 by the Royal Family of Damrong, the Buddhist temple with a view can be reached by a long flight of concrete stairs—399, if my count was correct. I know number-based superstitions factor heavily into the lives of many Chinese and Japanese populations, but I'm not sure of its prevalence here in Thailand.
The real trial with getting to the wat was not the stairs, but the monkeys on them. It was something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie—slowly… carefully… watch your step, now… don't make the monkey slash at your bare leg…
Back at sea level, you can find an old woman pushing a cart, selling bananas and peanuts to feed to the monkeys for B$20. A sign from the city can seen, proclaiming: "Please feed the monkeys." They are indeed a spoiled group.