I should have known better. I should have known that beneath the cuddliness, is danger.
During our 2nd full day in Ayutthaya, we took a day trip out to Lopburi, a little town about an hour’s train ride north of Ayutthaya. Up until a couple of days before, I’ve never even heard of it. But a couple of people we’d just met told us to go there to see monkeys. Any mention of potential animal encounters, and I’m in!
After an hour’s worth of a hot, sweaty train ride through the green Thai countryside, we arrived in Lopburi. As soon as we stepped out of the train station, blinking into the light, a rickshaw driver approached us. “Monkeys? I take you to monkeys!” Clearly, Lopburi has embraced their call to fame. Sure, why not.
We hopped unto the rickety tricycle rickshaw, and he biked us down to the end of the road. I see Lopburi as a sleepy little town typical of the others in the area: crumbling ruins from the old kingdom dominate the skyline and markets & vendors dominate the food scene. But what dominate the streets? Wild monkeys.
I know I’m a Southeast newbie, but I’ve never been anywhere like this, where wild animals coexist alongside humans so casually. I mean, these monkeys were everywhere… camping out in the beds of parked trucks, sitting on the sidewalk next to dogs, hanging from telephone wires. Who rules the town and who is merely a tolerated resident?
And then at the end of the (very short) road, looming in front of us was Phra Prang Tom Yot …or aka. the famed Monkey Temple.
When we entered the old temple, I could not believe how many monkeys there were (I later learned they are macaques)! Hundreds upon hundreds of them, from scruffy old ones, to tiny babies. It’s obvious that they have claimed the ancient ruins as their home base.
I was happily snapping pictures when I heard a shout from behind me. I whipped around, and there was D, frantically spinning in circles as a monkey clung to the back of his shirt. “Help!” he yelled.
So of course, I started laughing and took a picture instead.
I was still laughing as D flung the monkey off. Before I knew what was happening, the monkey made a beeline for me and in one swift movement, pounced on me and grabbed me around the waist. And then, before I could react from the shock that I had a monkey on me, it had climbed all the way up to my head.
You guys, these monkeys have absolutely no fear of humans.
“Argh what do I do??” I yelled. And then I realized my face and neck were covered with some sort of wetness and mud. I felt its sticky, sopping fur pressed tight against my face. “And why is it WET?!”
My first thought was that the monkey had peed on me. Naturally.
“It came from that bath thing,” D said. “I think it’s just water.”
I reached up over my head to grab the monkey to pull it off, but it held on to dear life with its grubby little paws. Finally, a guard came with a stick. The monkey, seeing it, quickly jumped off. And I grumbled that just my luck that of all the perfectly dry monkeys here, I had to get the ONE wet one.
I turned my attention back to photographing the monkeys. The baby monkeys were sooo cute! They were just as interested in me as I was in them. I was wearing shorts with some drawstrings and that really got their attention. I had baby monkeys jumping all over me. And they were persistent little things. As soon as they were flung off, they’d jump right back on. D stood back, and meekly warned me not to get too close too.
But I was having the best time of my life. I haven’t laughed this heartily or felt such childlike glee in weeks!
So there I was, flinging monkeys off of me left and right. One monkey jumped on and grabbed me around my arm, dangling there. I shook my arm to get him off, like I had done to the 10 before him. He was slipping down, and then
THE LITTLE F*CKER BIT ME.
It all happened so fast. Maybe a couple of seconds at most. I stared in shock at the angry little teeth marks on my wrist. It didn’t really hurt terribly, and it didn’t look too bad either. At first, I thought it was just a superficial scratch, but then slowly, a bit of blood bubbled to the surface.
The fun was over. All of a sudden, these monkeys weren’t so cute anymore.
I made my way over to the ticket booth and showed them the teethmark. “I just got bit. Are the monkeys sick?” I asked.
“It’s OK. It’s OK,” the guy said. He got out an alcohol bottle and a cotton ball and cleaned the cut, and I was on my way.
We left the ruins and walked around town a little. We walked back to the train station and bought tickets for the next train back to Ayutthaya, which was in 2 hours. We had some time to kill so we sat down at a street stall for some food. By this time, it’s been an hour since the bite and I’ve started getting more and more unsettled.
As soon as we sat down, I made D look up it on his phone. We started to type into google “lopburi monkeys….” It didn’t help that one of the top search suggestions was “lopburi monkeys rabies.”
The fearful/pessimistic side of my brain kicked into overdrive at this point: I’m going to start foaming at the mouth! I’m going to die in one month! Does it hurt to die from rabies??
Some sites said the monkeys are infested with rabies and HIV. Omg! I’m going to have HIV ON TOP of rabies!!! But I slightly calmed down when I read that HIV can’t be transmitted through saliva. But rabies can if it broke skin.
But the monkey wasn’t foaming at the mouth or anything. Maybe I’m okay! And it’s only a little bite.
Argh! That’s it. It was time for a professional opinion.
I dragged D back to the ruins and found a worker at the entrance. I showed him the bite again and asked “Where can I find a clinic?”
“There! Alcohol!” he pointed to the ticket booth.
“No, no! I already got alcohol. I want doctor!”
“Alcohol! Alcohol!” He kept on pointing. Clearly, we were not on the same page regarding the severity of this thing.
Finally, someone pointed me down a road where I can find a clinic. We found one with a clear English sign on the door: “rabies vaccine.” I entered and showed the nurse my bite mark. “It’s pretty small, so do I even need the vaccine?” I genuinely wanted her to say that the bite is too small to be concerned and put my mind at ease.
“It broke skin. It’s not high, but there’s some risk for rabies. So it’s better to get the shot than not.” She further explained that the rabies vaccine is a series of 5 shots, each one requiring to be taken on a specific day.
This was turning out to be practically more hassle than it was worth. But I did feel better after leaving the clinic. And on the plus side, on our walk back, we passed the ruins once again. The sun was starting to set, and it bathed the crumbling towers in a beautiful golden light.
For the next month, I dutifully got my shots on the specific days. From Lopburi to Sukhothai to Bangkok to Koh Chang, we got a pretty good introductory Hospitals of Thailand tour. I also experienced the full range of care – from a needle hastily jabbed into my arm in the middle of the waiting room to a private room in a brand new hospital that will make LA ones weep. Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed with how efficient Thai hospitals are. I have one more shot left, that I will have to seek out in Cambodia.
Did I overreact with the tiny bite? Maybe, but hey, I figure it’s better to take a few shots, than to wait for the foaming to start. :)