Monkeys, monkeys, monkeys! They are literally everywhere in South East Asia. So cute, so furry and so mischievous, you’re destined to meet a few during your travels in this part of the world.
Coming across these (semi) wild monkeys is such a novelty for many travelers, but as animal worlds collide, misunderstandings can occur. Not knowing how to properly observe/interact with these creatures can mean the difference between a fun adventure or loosing some personal belongings (or worst-case scenario, a monkey bite).
By no means am I a wildlife expert, but throughout my travels I’ve had a few run-ins with these creatures (including an almost monkey attack in India!). I’ve developed a set of guide lines to follow when visiting temples and other locations where these wild things live. Having a basic understanding of these little primates and following this simple set of rules has allowed me to safely travel through temples and other attractions that monkeys call home.
1) Don’t Bring Anything Organic
They can smell it and they will want it now matter what it is! I’ve seen many tourists being relived of their snacks, gum, breath mints and anything else they’re carrying, all because the monkey decides he wants it (and what the monkey wants, he gets). Even water bottles are a bad idea as I’ve seen many stolen right from the hands of unsuspecting victims. Avoid being a target in the first place by leaving all food and drink items back in the hotel/dorm room. Instead, explore the site and then purchase food and drink after you leave a monkey inhabited area.
Some places, such as the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali, sell you bananas to give to the monkey’s. This may seem like fun but I’ve never been brave enough to try this after witnessing tourists with handfuls of newly purchased bananas get completely bombarded by monkeys. They are relived of the treats (and other personal items) in a matter of seconds.
Again, don’t advertise to the monkeys that you have food! These aren’t nicely trained creatures that will line up and wait for you to hand them a treat. They will take what they want, when they want and there’s not much you can do about it!
2) Be Careful When Reaching Into Your Bag
Monkey’s are smart. Too smart sometimes! While I was exploring the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary I watched as a guy opened up and reached into his backpack to take out his camera. This action alone caught the attention of a few nearby opportunist rascals. One monkey even started making a beeline for him, simply because he was expecting food to come out of the bag. Once the guy closed his bag (and the monkey saw it was just a camera), the monkey left. The whole experience left the guy a bit nerve rattled though!
I keep my bag zipped up the whole time and carry just my camera in my hand. Having less “bling” hanging off you, such as sunglasses or iPods, makes you less of a target. Constantly going into your bag shows the monkeys you have something to hide.
3) Don’t Look Them Directly In The Eye
I saw a sign giving this advice at the top of a little mountain on Myajima Island in Japan. The monkeys were king of the mountain and tourists were advised to avoid eye contact as they may see this as a challenge. I’ve since used this piece of advice whenever I encounter monkey’s and it seems to work.
4) Give Them Their Space
It may seem obvious but some people want to get a selfie right beside a monkey which may not be wise. Don’t approach the monkeys to get that perfect shot, but rather use your camera to zoom in for that close up.
If a group of monkey’s are blocking your path, either wait for them to move (at a safe distance) or choose an alternate route. If they are next to the path, I find that if I keep my gaze up and walk by without slowing down or looking at them, they don’t seem to pay much attention to me passing by.
5) Follow Instructions, Posted Signs and Directions By Staff
Not everywhere will have signs posted but heed the ones that do. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Bali has a large sign posted right at the entrance on how to conduct yourself while visiting the forest. It also gives advice on what to do in case a monkey decides to jump on you.
Many places will also have park staff on hand to help you out and give advice on how best to observe the monkey’s (and rescue you from the little beasts if needed!). Usually you’ll be told not to touch or approach them.
At one monkey temple I visited, park staff (not the tourists) fed the monkeys peanuts. The staff encouraged us to sit down and let the monkeys sit on us while the staff fed them. This made for great pictures and was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, it was made safer by the fact that the monkeys really weren’t interested in the tourists because we weren’t the ones supplying the food. Even though I had a monkey sitting on my lap, I was given strict instructions NOT to touch or pet them.
Visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Bali was one of the highlights of my visit to the area. The whole complex was beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Many places I’ve explored during my travels have been home to monkeys. To avoid these sites because of them would have been a real let down. Knowing how to conduct yourself when traveling to places inhabited by monkeys could mean the difference between an awesome experience and a trip to the local hospital for a rabies shot.
This article is not meant to scare or discourage travel to monkey inhabited destinations. Rather its meant to inform you of the risks and rules surrounding these places. Local wildlife is part of the traveler’s experience. But as always, you’re the visitor and should conduct yourself accordingly while visiting the home of others, human or not.
Do you have any tips to add?