Thai monkey festival returns as tourists finally come back to the country

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Macaque monkeys eat food left on a table outside the Phra Prang Sam Yod temple during the annual Monkey Buffet Festival in Lopburi province, north of Bangkok on November 28, 2021. Photo courtesy: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images

(CNN) — Watched by tourists and locals, thousands of monkeys in Lopburi in central Thailand feasted on two tons of fruits and vegetables after the town's Monkey Festival resumed following a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic.

Hundreds of macaques, also known as long-tailed monkeys, were seen climbing on people and stacks of fruit, munching away on bananas and pineapples.

The feast, which cost over 100,000 baht ($3,000), is an annual tradition for locals to thank the monkeys for doing their part in drawing in tourists to Lopburi, which is sometimes known as "Monkey Province."

"Today's special is durian, which is expensive. Lopburi monkeys like expensive things," said Yongyuth Kitwatananusont who has previously organized over 30 monkey festivals.

The theme for this year's festival was wheelchair monkeys, and Yongyuth planned to donate 100 wheelchairs to needy people.

Tourists have been gradually returning to Thailand after the government launched a quarantine-free travel scheme for vaccinated tourists in November, and the festival proved a popular draw.

Thailand saw more than 100,000 inbound travelers in November, as high as the number of arrivals in the first ten months combined.

"I'm really happy to get to see this and now I'm thinking about going to the next festival," said Moroccan tourist Ayoub Boukhari.

"It's quite unexpected and the monkeys are quite silly."

Some tourists were seen playing with the monkeys with their cameras. The resumption of the tradition also pleased locals.

"It's the first time in two years that monkeys get to eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables," said Thanida Phudjeeb. "I'm happy for them."

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Thai monkey festival returns as tourists finally come back to the country"