I visited the park in Bali where tourists pay $3 to risk wild monkeys stealing their jewellery and iPhones, and I get why it's considered a must-see

Harrison Jacobs/Business InsiderA monkey could land on your shoulder.
  • The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, a town about 10 miles inland on the Indonesian island of Bali, is a nature reserve housing hundreds of wild monkeys.
  • The gorgeous forest and temple complex have been home to monkeys for hundreds of years, and the area is considered a holy place on the island.
  • Considered one of the top tourist attractions in Bali, the forest is worth a visit. When I went, I came within feet of dozens of monkeys, while I saw monkeys actually land on top of other visitors.

While most of the world’s famous temples are known for their architecture – like the Taj Mahal in India or Angkor Wat in Cambodia – there’s one temple that may be best known for its inhabitants. And I’m not talking about monks.

At the center of Ubud, a town about 10 miles inland on the Indonesian island of Bali, lies the Sacred Monkey Forest, a nature reserve and temple complex that houses about 600 wild long-tailed macaques, a type of monkey. Ubud has been known as a spiritual and mystical center to Balinese for centuries – Ubud means “medicine.”

The Monkey Forest is one of the holiest places in the area.

But ever since Bali, and Ubud, became a magnet for honeymooners, New Agey seekers, and backpackers, the forest has become one of the island’s top tourist sites. In the confines of the forest, visitors can observe monkeys in close quarters going about their monkey business: mating, fighting, grooming, eating, and, occasionally, interacting with humans.

On a visit to Bali this past spring, I decided to stop by the monkey forest for a visit. It was unlike anywhere I’d been before.

The Sacred Monkey Forest is located in the center of Ubud. In fact, a main street that runs through the town is known as Monkey Forest Street.

Getting a ticket is easy enough. It costs 50,000 Indonesian rupiah, or $US3.40. It’s best to go in the morning before it gets too crowded.

Source: Monkey Forest Ubud

There are a lot of guidelines you’ll want to follow to have a good time. The big one to remember: Don’t carry anything you wouldn’t want to lose. Monkeys are mischievous creatures.

If you insist on carrying valuables, it’s best to put all your sunglasses, jewellery, and whatnot into a lockable bag. The monkeys will snatch anything shiny off your neck.

The temple complex has been designed with the traditional Balinese philosophy Tri Hita Karana in mind. Tri Hita Karana means the “three causes of well-being,” consisting of harmony with God, with people, and with nature.

Source: Monkey Forest Ubud

You can see manifestations of the philosophy all over the 30-acre grounds, which combine gorgeous nature such as rice paddies and a forest with temples and statues to the gods.

There are statues of monkeys in the forest. The sculptures are believed to “symbolise energies supporting the power of the temples,” according to The Culture Trip.

Source: The Culture Trip

The sculptures, many of which feature gods and goddesses, are heavily influenced by Hindu teachings. Eighty-three per cent of Balinese people are Hindu.

Source: 2010 Bali Population Census

There are intricate carvings along the way to the forest.

Once I passed through the tunnel, I came into contact with my first monkey. In total, there are 600 to 700 crab-eating macaques, a species local to Southeast Asia.

Source: Monkey Forest Ubud

They are also known as Balinese long-tailed monkeys. I wasn’t kidding when I said you can get close to them.

For the most part, they eat fruit like coconut or papaya leaf. The staff feeds them sweet potatoes three times a day. I wouldn’t get close while they’re eating.

Most of the monkeys are well-acquainted with humans. This staffer had no trouble interacting with the monkeys.

The monkeys are everywhere: perched on stones, hanging in the trees, taking naps in bushes.

It’s a beautiful place to explore.

But it isn’t quiet. Approximately 10,000 tourists visit the forest every month, with more during the peak summer months.

Source: Indonesia Travel

In Balinese culture, it isn’t just the temples that are sacred but the surrounding area as well. The trees, the statues, and the monkeys are sacred, and Balinese often make offerings to them.

A deep ravine runs through the middle of the forest.

You can walk down to the stream that flows through the ravine via one of the many hiking trails.

Surprisingly, near the stream was the only place I didn’t see any monkeys.

There are more than 115 species of trees in the forest. The most important are the Pule Bandak tree, which Balinese use to make wooden masks for religious ceremonies; the Banyan tree, which is used for cremation; and the Majegan, which is used to build shrines.

Source: Monkey Forest Ubud

If a monkey snatches your phone or jewellery — which apparently happens all the time — you’re on your own. But if a monkey attacks you, which happens from time to time, a staffer will whip out a slingshot.

But so long as you aren’t carrying valuables or hiding food, you’ve got little to worry about if a monkey lands on your shoulder. They’re very friendly.

And, of course, they make for great content for your Instagram/SnapChat/Twitter/Livejournal/MySpace.

It is very entertaining to watch monkeys monkeying around. This monkey — let’s call him Jim — was attempting to crack this coconut by slamming it against the ground for a solid 10 minutes.

At the center of the forest is the main temple complex.

There are three temples in the forest, all of which were built in the 14th century. The main one is the Pura Dalem Agung.

Source: Monkey Forest Ubud

There, people pray to Shiva, the god of destruction or transformation. The other temples are Pura Beji, where people pray to the goddess Ganga and perform ritual bathing, and Pura Prajapati, where people pray to the god Prajapati and perform cremations.

Source: Monkey Forest Ubud

Outside the temple, a staff member can help you get that monkey selfie you’ve been waiting for your entire life. For a few bucks, the staffer will help the monkey onto your shoulder and make sure it doesn’t do anything too mischievous.

While there are bananas to buy if you want to try feeding a monkey, it’s best left to the professionals.

If the monkey thinks you are hiding food, being aggressive, or trying to take its food, it will bite you. Just like they do to each other. Many monkeys may carry dormant rabies or Hepatitis B. Don’t get bitten.

When you make it out, you should be feeling nice and serene, just as the Balinese intended.

Or, you’ll be like me — exhausted from the anxiety of potential monkey bites, but with some great pictures.

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