Even though my first hotel in Bali was just a ten-minute walk from Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, the insane horror stories around the internet almost made me leave it off my itinerary. My interest level in having my purse snatched by a thieving monkey, or having to take my travel insurance for a spin after getting bitten, was, uh, less than zero.
But the Monkey Forest also sounded like one of the most interesting places in Ubud. Not only did it offer a chance to see a whole lot of monkeys up close (600, to be exact), it’s also a spiritual center, home to three 14th-century Hindu temples. And the expanse of forest seemed like it could provide a welcome escape from the Balinese heat and humidity.
As it often does, my curiosity (or, #realtalk, the unbeatable Instagram opportunity) superseded my fear. And, wouldn’t you know, if you follow some basic safety guidelines, it’s plenty easy to enjoy this extraordinary place and emerge unscathed. Here’s what I learned.
- Bringing food or water makes you a target. I watched a monkey shamelessly steal someone’s water bottle, and it’s well-documented that they can sense if you’ve got so much as a pack of gum in your bag—and they’ll try to get to it. If you’re apprehensive about having close encounters with the monkeys, leave all that stuff at home.
- If a monkey does steal something from you, the forest guides will by all accounts do their best to retrieve it. That stolen water bottle was eventually returned to its rightful owner. But presumably that doesn’t happen 100% of the time.
- These are wild animals, and they act accordingly. Sure, there were plenty of cute scenes—lots of mama monkeys nursing their babies, or monkeys lounging in the shade, or monkeys grooming each other. But there was also a case of attempted monkey rape (followed by the unsuccessful male, uh, satisfying himself a couple of yards in front of me). And several monkey fights. It’s not, you know, 100% adorable. And it’s probably best to try to stay out of the middle of any monkey conflict.
- Speaking of which, don’t instigate monkey conflict by maintaining eye contact. That’s an aggressive move and they don’t appreciate it. I didn’t have any trouble keeping my eye and my camera on them for a couple of seconds at a time, but I also stood a few yards away when doing so and tried not to push my luck by sticking around for more than four or five seconds (probably overly cautious, but again, I had zero interest in picking a monkey fight).
- When you enter the forest, you’ll see signs with some of these guidelines, along with several others. Read them. Follow them. I promise I’m not just saying this because I’m that neurotic person who will actually listen to the safety presentations on every airplane I board until the Earth crashes into the sun. I’m saying it because those monkeys look like they have some sharp-ass teeth.
I’m realizing this sounds like some mild fearmongering. Whoops.
This really is an incredible place, though. I only spent an hour and a half there, but it was easily one of the most memorable parts of my trip to Bali. I could have happily spent my entire vacation just standing around that forest watching monkeys interact and ~thinking deep thoughts~ about biology and sociology and the history and future of humankind (it helps that it really is like 15 degrees cooler in the depths of the forest than in the center of Ubud). Whether you’re interested in checking out some 650-year-old temples or seeing some monkey antics or just getting out of the sun, you can’t leave the Monkey Forest off your itinerary.
If you go: The forest is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the entrance fee is 40,000 rupiah (~$3). If you have questions about your visit, you can find contact info for the forest on their website.