Pausanius, one of only twelve or so teachers in Thailand's monkey capital, tells us exactly how it is.
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
The town of Lopburi, 154km north of Bangkok, has been inhabited since at least the Dvaravati period (6th to 11th centuries AD) when it was called Lavo. Nearly all traces of Lavo culture were erased by Khmer and Thai inhabitants following the 10th century, but the Lopburi National Museum has many Dvaravati artifacts. Ruyins and statuary in Lopburi span a remarkable 12 centuries.
King Narai fortified Lopburi in the mid-17th century to serve as a second capital when the kingdom of Ayuthaya was threatened by a Dutch naval blockade. His palace in Lopburi was built in 1665 and he died there in 1688.
For the visitor, Lopburi is of interest for its fine juxtaposition of ancient brick ruins and not-so-ancient shophouses, hotels and restaurants. It is one of the few cities in Thailand that actually feels as old as it is. The town also boasts a resident troop of monkeys that keeps things lively.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
Not a lot, although a few jobs pop up each year. There is a private school with a bilingual program that employs about 6 foreign teachers. There are three high schools, each employing a couple of farangs, a Rajabhat and a couple of very small private English "colleges"...although none of the larger chains. Turnover does not appear overly high either, with many teachers having been here over 5 years. There is talk of the major senior high school introducing a bilingual programme starting at Matayom 4 next school year, which will create some opportunities.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
It's 153km due north of Bangkok with a well maintained 4-6 lane highway all the way. It is on the Bangkok - Chiang Mai train-line with at least 6 trains north and south each day and there are countless buses each day. An excellent minivan service operates very regularly stopping at Victory Monument. The cost is 80 baht.
Is there any entertainment or do you invite friends round for Scrabble?
There are a handful of bars that offer live music, good food and reasonable atmosphere. Only one has satellite TV showing Premier League football, etc. For some reason, a "wild west" theme abounds throughout Lopburi. There are a couple of nightclubs. As there are very few farangs and virtually no overnight Western tourists, most places are targeted toward the Thais. As such, karaoke reigns supreme at many places after about 10 pm. There are no "girly bars" as found in Bangkok and the larger tourist towns. Being an Army town, there are a few karaoke bars with hostesses willing to negotiate most things, but as there is virtually no overnight tourism, this is very much aimed at Thais. There are plenty of good quality but cheap restaurants in and around Lopburi.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
1,500 - 2,000 for a standard 32 m2 condo
2,500 - 3,500 for a 2 or 3 bedroom townhouse
3,500 - 6,000 for a house
It is very difficult to find furnished accommodation. "Furnished" may mean no more than a refrigerator and a bed. Few houses have anything approaching a Western kitchen.
Shopping malls, department stores?
There is a Big C to pick up all those Western goodies. There is a mall attached to the Big C but 80% of the shops are selling mobile phones and accessories, so hardly a mall as most would know one. Tesco Lotus is supposedly opening in Lopburi this year.
Internet cafes? (snail-speed Hotmail default page or fatties playing Ragnarok?)
Most have given up catering to internet users and turned themselves exclusively into game parlours. There are two or three, quite cheap at 10 bt per hour but download speed is rarely above 4 kbs.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
(1) Yes, you will be stared at. This town has few resident farangs. Difficult to put an exact number on them but you can go many days without seeing any in the town, so I estimate no more than 50. Many of these are missionaries who seem to keep together doing what they do wherever they do it. The town has virtually no overnight tourism. Despite an abundance of local attractions, the ruins at Ayutthaya are superior and only an hour down the road. Most tourists stop for a couple of hours to see the monkeys on their way up north. As such, a farang is rare, particularly one living and engaging with the locals.
(2) I have had no reports of significant crime, especially against farangs. However, it is a regional center and an army town. With a belly full of Mekong on a Saturday night, the friendliest Thai can turn hostile, so I wouldn't be walking up dark streets by myself after 2-00 am. Also, this is not a town reliant on tourism in any way, as such, being a farang with money does not get you any special treatment.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
There are no taxis like in Bangkok nor tuk tuks. Transport is by motorcycle taxi, buses, songteaws and some beaten up Mazda vans that call themselves taxis. After about 9-00 they are all few and far between. Having no overnight tourism, there is no demand. The best bet is get the number of a friendly driver who doesn't mind you calling at 2-00 am to extract you from the closing nightclubs to get home.
Main advantages of living there?
Cheaper than Bangkok. A picturesque town by central Thailand standards. Plenty to see for a small town. Only 1.5 - 2 hours from Don Muang and Bangkok. You can pretty much buy most things you need to survive locally.
And what are the downsides?
Limited nightlife. Difficult transport after hours. Virtually no English written or spoken in the town.
Any local attractions?
There is plenty here for the history buff. You can hardly turn a corner without seeing one ancient ruin or another. Lopburi was the capital of Thailand on a couple of occasions. Archaeological sites are well maintained.
The most significant are Wat Phra Sri Mahathat, 12th century ruins, and narai Rajanivet palace, where king Narai spent much of his time and based his capital in the 17th century. This includes the national Museum of Lopburi which is more impressive than one might imagine!
The town is famous for it's monkeys. About 400 congregate at the ruins of two temples Phra Prang Sam Yot and San Phra Karn, in the centre of the old town and able to roam freely. They are not "sacred" in any sense, but most locals would consider it unlucky to run one over, so they appear well regarded.
There is also a modest zoo and, further afield, impressive sunflower fields and mountain ranges (attractive and peaceful enough, but more like hills than mountains).
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
It is actually pretty difficult to find a farang in Lopburi after hours. As mentioned earlier, there appear to be no more than 50 or so in town, many who are missionaries who tend not to be seen (or caught at least) in night spots or bars.
A few places you will run into farangs (although certainly not every night) are: The Old West, which has live music, usually in English, good food, including barbecue shrimps and steaks and live satellite coverage of Premier League games and other sporting events. The Bank nightclub, which is almost the equal of anything in Bangkok. Modern, hi-tech and with pretty good quality live bands and dance music. Siam Café, an outdoor venue with live bands and good food every night. There are a few steakhouses as well where farangs missing the cuisine of home will frequent. As mentioned earlier, there are no "girly bars" catering to a farang market.