LOPBURI, Thailand (Reuters Life!) - Twenty chefs. Two tonnes of grilled sausage, fresh fruit, vegetables, ice cream, milk and jelly. Two thousand guests. A lot of monkey business.
The town of Lopburi in Thailand celebrated its annual Monkey Festival over the weekend, laying out a lavish banquet for the more than 2,000 macaques that roam freely through it.
Locals believe that providing food for the monkeys, Lopburi's most famous residents, brings good fortune and prosperity. The feast is also a sort of "thank you" for the animals whose antics entice thousands of tourists to the town every year.
Twenty chefs from some of Bangkok's top hotels prepared the feast for the primates at the downtown San Pra Kan shrine.
"This is very exciting because I've never done this before," said veteran chef Wuttichart Muadsri. "I've only ever served people in a hotel."
Buffet tables groaned with the feast, which cost more than 500,000 baht ($15,000) and that included a pricey variety of the pungent durian fruit, which the monkeys ate with gusto.
"There are more than 20 kinds of fruit, but the highlight today for the monkeys is definitely the durian. And not the cheap durian. Which means today I spent 18,000 baht just on durian," said hotel owner and businessman Yongyuth Kitwatananusont, the event's main organizer.
The monkeys have the freedom of the town, scaling buildings and television aerials, darting into open doorways and grabbing bags, wallets and food from unsuspecting people.
Some residents and vendors carry slingshots to chase them off, and visitors to the San Pra Kan temple are given bamboo sticks to ward off overly curious primates.
(Reporting by Vorasit Satienlerk; writing by Miral Fahmy; editing by Roger Crabb)