Lopburi holds a unique place in Thai history. It is one of Thailand's oldest cities, and has been a major center of power since the sixth century. When the Khmer empire held sway over much of what is Thailand, Lopburi was their primary western outpost in the Chaophraya basin. The city probably reached the peak of its importance when the seventeenth century Siamese King Narai made Lopburi his second capital and spent as much as eight months a year here. Narai restored many of the Khmer era temples and built a large palace on the Lopburi river. Narai's reign was notable as the period in which the major European powers first made official contact with the kingdom, seeking trade and influence in the region.
The ruins you can see now are mainly from Narai's era, as well as the Khmer monuments that he restored and converted to use as Buddhist shrines. What's unique about Lopburi's ruins is that they, more than any other place in Thailand, reflect a European influence in the architecture and details.
The easiest way to get to Lopburi is by train. Trains depart Bangkok's Hua Lampong station almost hourly in the morning for the roughly two hour trip. The Number 9 train departing at 8:30 arrives in Lopburi at 10:29. Check Seat 61 or the State Railway of Thailand sites for current schedule and additional options. Lopburi is on the Northern Line to Chiang Mai, and all north-bound trains stop in Lopburi. There is no need to book in advance unless you are traveling during one of the big holiday periods of New Years or Songkran. You can just show up at the station and get a ticket for the next train. Note the Number 9 train is a second-class (air conditioned) train only. The fare is around 350 Baht (9.36 USD) each way.
The Lopburi train station is directly across the street from one of the main sights of Lopburi, Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat, and within about two or three blocks of all the sights (see map below). This is what makes the train the best mode of transport. Return trains to Bangkok depart Lopburi at 2:48 or 5:57 pm. The last train is at 6:05 pm. The return trains have second and third class cars. The third class fare is only 50 Baht (1.34 USD).
Lopburi Walking Tour
Dotted line indicates suggested route. Click on any of the icons for details about the sights.
The great thing about Lopburi as a day trip destination is that it's compact and easily explored on foot, which is just as well, since there's little in the way of public transportation available. Your day trip starts just across the street from the train station, at Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat, a grand ruin with a central tower probably dating from the twelfth century. From there, walk to the Lopburi Palace, where you can see the ruins of King Narai's warehouses and reception halls. Nestled in one corner of the old palace compound are the royal apartments built by King Mongkut in the nineteenth century. These buildings now house an extensive collection of art from the Lopburi period as well as many relics of King Narai's reign.
Up Rue de France from the palace is Bahn Vichien, a grand mansion built to house the first French embassy in the seventeenth century. The large complex includes a hall for the ambassador's attendants as well as a small Catholic chapel. Between the palace and Bahn Vichien is Wat Sao Thong Thong, which used to be a Catholic church, but was converted to a Buddhist temple after King Narai's time.
Heading back towards the railroad tracks up Vichien Road, you'll pass Prang Kaek, which is one of Thailand's oldest Khmer era monuments. It sits in a small traffic island on your right. Further up the road you'll start seeing more and more monkeys, signalling that you're getting close to Prang Sam Yod, which is their main hangout. The old temple dates from the thirteenth century, but it's hard to see much past the big troop of monkeys.
Across the tracks from Prang Sam Yod is a big traffic circle, in the middle of which is the Phra Khan Shrine, a small Buddhist chapel built hard up against the ruins of an ancient tower (prang). This is really the last of the major sites. From the shrine you can cross over the tracks and follow them back to the train station.
There are several convenience stores along the route where you can buy water and other drinks to keep you from getting dehydrated. There are several food stalls and restaurants along the side streets between the tracks and the palace. These include a few western fast food places near the palace, if you're concerned about hygiene at local places.