This post is part of the Slow Bali article series.
While I did not fall in love with Ubud as a whole, I am completely in love with the sacred monkey forest. Everyday, I walked through it in order to reach Ubud, as my hotel was situated in the South, right by the forest.
I must admit that before arriving in Bali, I had been pretty much terrified of the cheeky little things. I had read numerous cases where tourists were attacked, scratched and bitten, and while it was highly unlikely that monkeys carried rabies, travel and health websites still recommended getting vaccinated for rabies if one got bitten. Since I didn’t want to have to spend days at hospitals waiting to get vaccinated, or even leave the country if the vaccine was not available, I decided I’d simply avoid the animals, not visit the forest and take a longer route while walking from my hotel to Ubud. Turns out, there is no way you can get away from the monkeys if you’re anywhere near the forest. It also turns out I had no reason to be paranoid.
The tourists who get bitten by monkeys are idiots. If you leave the monkeys alone, avoid eye contact and make sure you have no food in your bag, or worse, in your hands, they will leave you alone. If they still manage to land on your shoulder or head, you simply wait until they move on. But travellers are sometimes complete idiots, as we all know. Balinese women sell bunches of small bananas at the entrance of the monkey forest. A lot of travellers think purchasing them so they can feed them to the monkeys is a good idea. Wrong. Those who hold the bunch in full view quickly get surrounded by greedy monkeys, which snatch the whole bunch. When this happens, the very clever travellers try to get the bunch back, angering the monkeys so much that they flash their large fangs, or even worse, bite. Those who have food in their bags get monkeys jumping onto their shoulders, trying to open or take them. I’ve seen parents not noticing their children trying to step on the monkeys’ tail, thinking it funny.
Taking care not to do any of these things, Boyfriend and I could walk through the forest every day and observe the monkeys going about their daily business: Mothers with tiny babies, large males walking around intimidating everyone else, youngsters playing and tugging at each other.
The sacred monkey forest is not just a tourist attraction. As the name implies, it plays an important role in the spiritual lives of locals, and is the site of several temples. If you visit, it’s simply culturally insensitive to treat the monkeys as some sort of circus act, and very unwise not to respect the fact that these are wild animals.
Entrance to the monkey forest was 20,000 rupiah at the time of writing, but there is a small paved road running to the side of it which is used by pedestrians and motorbikes wishing to pass through for non-touristic purposes (in our case we had to pass this way to reach our hotel). From here, it’s pretty easy to hop over a very low wall and find yourself in the ‘proper forest’. While doing this makes sense if you need to walk by the monkey forest regularly (it’s not so nice to share a narrow street with motorbikes), I still suggest you pay the entrance fee at least once.
While there, I overheard a Spanish woman asking her friend whether he thought she could touch the monkeys as she crouched in front of a particularly cute one. I felt like hitting her with something very very heavy. The sacred monkey forest is not a petting zoo, and these are wild, potentially dangerous animals. Respect them, and the fact that you’re in their home, and you’ll have a wonderful experience.
-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.theartofslowtravel.com