So this is a question I’ve asked myself multiple times, having been to Bali 4 times I have always been intrigued by the sacred monkey forest. Ever since I first visited Ubud back in 2014 and I took a walk down to the entrance of the forest!
Back then, I was concerned for my health and safety. I had heard that many people were bitten by the monkeys and I hadn’t had my rabies injection! But I decided that I would walk down to the entrance and see what it was all about, if I had a bad feeling about it then I wouldn’t go in.
On the approach to the forest there were many people outside and even many monkeys already at the edge of the forest. One woman had some bananas in her hand and was enticing a baby monkey to come get them from her, what she probably didn’t plan on was the baby monkey jumping on her. This ultimately freaked her out and in a mad panic the mother of the baby monkey jumped on her too and bit her. OBVIOUSLY that was enough to deter me from going any further. I thought, if that could happen before you were even through the entrance imagine what would happen when you were surrounded by hundreds of them on their sacred grounds!? I turned straight back around and sought out something else to do with my day!
Following that incident I did a bit more research on the monkey forest, this time not on the well-being of humans but on the well-being of the monkeys in the forest.
So as it states in the title, it is a sacred monkey forest and the locals do see the monkeys as sacred so they do ultimately spend their time looking after them, but unfortunately because of its popularity with intrigued tourists, such as myself, there are literally thousands of visitors a day who walk through the forest to see the monkeys.
Many of the tourists carrying interesting, shiny objects like expensive cameras and food! There are even locals selling bananas at the gates for you to feed to the monkeys. Unfortunately all of this promotes mischievous behaviour from the monkeys and tempts them into climbing all over you, rummaging through your pockets and stealing your expensive items.
If you simply google Sacred Monkey Forest Ubud you will read many reviews and stories of how people have been attacked and even chased out of the forest. And even bitten, which in Bali is not ideal due to the high risk of catching rabies, which can be deadly to humans if not treated fast!
Ultimately I think once upon a time, it was simply a sanctuary for the monkeys but now, it’s a money making machine for the locals where the monkeys run riot and prey on the idiot tourists who do not do their research or listen to any warnings before entering the forest!
When I returned for the 3rd time to Bali back in 2017 I was still intrigued by the monkeys, and wanted to see them in their natural habitat. I knew that the monkey forest in Ubud was a massive no go for me (particularly as I am actually fairly scared of monkeys in general!)
Sangeh Monkey Forest
Whilst travelling this time, I had got chatting to a fellow traveller who had been in Bali for a number of months now and had done a lot of exploring herself, it turns out that there is actually another sacred monkey forest not that far from Ubud which no one really knows about.
It’s super quiet and the monkeys are well behaved, in fact because of the lack of human interaction they aren’t as courageous as the monkeys in the Ubud forest and tend to keep their distance. This forest was called Sangeh Monkey Forest, which on a moped was only about half hour outside of Ubud.
So Fran and I hopped on our moped and set off for the day to Sangeh. When we got there it was absolutely deserted, all there was, was a little booth at the entrance with a number of local guides sitting around waiting for customers to show around their beautiful forest.
We paid the small entrance fee and our guide picked up his walking stick and off we went. It was so peaceful there, you could hear all the sounds you’d expect from a forest and every now and then a monkey would call out. I felt super relaxed, unlike when I attempted to visit the forest in Ubud.
The guide took us to the main temple and explained that it was for the monkeys, before taking us further into the forest to find the monkeys.
At first, when we came across a few monkeys they were very wary and hesitant of us, but once the guide had brought out some snacks they slowly approached us, the guide kept an eye out in case and monkeys attempted to jump on us as we had explained that we would not be comfortable with monkeys on us – there were only a few times that happened and the guide simply made a loud clapping sound which diverted the monkeys attention and stopped them from jumping on us. Again, I felt super relaxed and like I was in safe hands.
We carried on the path round the forest observing the monkeys playing until we got to an opening where you could sit down and if you wanted to, have a monkey climb onto your shoulders (without any human intervention ie. The monkey was not put on your shoulders, if the monkey wanted to get on you he would, if not then tough luck).
By this point I had relaxed so much I thought I’d give it a go to see if any monkeys wanted to sit on my shoulders…. Shaking like a leaf I sat down on the bench and waited… bloody typical, only the biggest boss monkey decided he liked the look of my shoulders and jumped on.
Jesus he was massive and bloody heavy! Even the guide started to freak out a little and tried to coax the monkey down off my shoulders, luckily the monkey was much more interested in the snacks the guide had in his hand and eventually removed himself from my shoulders.
My heart was literally in my mouth, but I was so excited that I had finally faced my fear and managed to get that close to a monkey, it will certainly be an experience I will never forget! I even have a picture of the big boss monkey on my shoulders and my facial expressions just say it all, a mix of absolutely shitting myself and also pure excitement!
Eventually even Fran braved it and let the monkey sit on her shoulders, I think she freaked out a lot more than me though…
So in answer to the title, no for your own safety and also for the safety of the monkeys please do not visit the monkey forest in Ubud. But if you do decide to throw caution to the wind, please be sensible. Have your rabies injection before you go, don’t take anything expensive in with you and certainly do not buy any food to give to the monkeys. Try to move slowly through the forest and simply observe the monkeys rather than trying to interact with them.
However, what I do recommend is taking the small half hour journey out to Sangeh Forest and visiting the monkeys there. You will have a much more peaceful and meaningful visit without the worry of being attacked, bitten and chased out!
But promise me one thing… don’t tell too many people about this beautiful place 😉