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The Planet of the Apes: The Monkey Temple in Kathmandu

It took me 28 years to learn the difference between apes and monkeys. I always thought it was based on size: King Kong > gorillas > apes > monkeys. Apparently I was wrong, and it took a text book for five year old Singaporean children to teach me that. Apes don’t have tails but monkeys do, gorillas are big and live in Africa and King Kong lives on Skull island but probably isn’t real (take note any aspiring educators – that was some top notch teaching).

I’m a big fan of anything monkey (or ape, etc) related, so after missing the new Planet of the Apes movie I figured the next best thing was to go to Swayambhunath, the monkey temple in Kathmandu. According to the taxi driver there was a festival on, so he had to charge us more than usual. I had just begun to think he had made it up when the streets closed in on us and the most extreme 30 minutes of traffic, pedestrian dodging and horn honking unfolded. It would have been a lot faster to walk, but it was one of the more memorable taxi rides I’ve been on so I’m glad I experienced it.

You couldn’t accuse the monkey temple of falsely advertising itself to draw tourists in. If anything they undersell just how cool it really is. You’d assume from the name it’s only one temple, but there are countless small shrines, stupas, monuments and temples to explore, as well as a rooftop restaurant, a monastery and small shops jammed full of trinkets and carvings. It’s really a small village, but before you see any of that you’ll have to climb an imposing set of stairs.

A monkey on a temple at the monkey temple in Kathmandu, NepalPrayer flags at the monkey temple in Kathmandu, NepalA gold and white temple at the monkey temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

You’ll see a lot of monkeys at both the bottom and the top of the stairs, but not so many in between. I guess they are pretty smart; people that are struggling up hundreds of steps aren’t all that likely to stop and give monkeys food – they have more important things on their minds. In all honesty the climb isn’t that hard, and if you’re really unfit you can go to the other side of the hill for a far easier climb.

Humans and monkeys have a bit of a love hate relationship, which is eloquently portrayed in all of the Planet of the Apes movies (even the Mark Whalberg one which everyone but me seemed to hate). When visiting the monkey temple, what you carry determines whether you’ll have a fun or frieightening experience. I saw someone get manhandled (or monkeyhandled, but my computer tells me that isn’t a real word) by a hungry monkey. He made the mistake of carrying a bag of food, or something that resembled food (I know I said monkeys are smart but they’re easily fooled), so if you want to avoid being mugged then you should keep everything in your bag/pockets.

A sleeping monkey and baby at the monkey temple in Kathmandu, NepalPrayer wheels at the monkey temple in Kathmandu, NepalThe view from the monkey temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

The monkeys at Swayambhunath are pretty entertaining and the area is surpisingly large – you can spend at least a couple of hours there and not be bored, assuming you like monkeys and temples. If not, there are plenty of other interesting things to see in Kathmandu (actually most of them involve temples in some way so you might be screwed).

A monkey relaxing at the monkey temple in Kathmandu, Nepal

Have you been to the monkey temple in Kathmandu? Are you a Planet of the Apes fan? Was that link too tenuous to base a whole post on? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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  1. October 4, 2014 at 4:45 am — Reply

    I’ve never really known the difference between apes and monkeys either, but I have always liked monkeys a lot. They’re just so cute! You got some terrific photos 🙂

    • October 6, 2014 at 4:31 pm — Reply

      Cheers Cory, glad I’m not the only one!

  2. October 4, 2014 at 7:12 am — Reply

    That’s really cool! I would love to go and see the temple…and the monkeys! It sounds like a really entertaining day regardless 🙂

  3. October 6, 2014 at 4:32 pm — Reply

    It was a great introduction to Nepal!

  4. October 7, 2014 at 2:40 am — Reply

    The monkeys at Swambhunath didn’t surprise me too much, because I’m from Bengal–the most original planet of the apes! The monkeys are dwindling though, in Nepal and India’s urban areas, and it’s not like they’re going back to the forests, which are also being cut down. They’re prohibiting feeding the monkeys in all these places, and when I was living in Delhi, the poor starved creatures walked right into my apartment demanding food.
    Whatever happened to living in harmony, people!

    • October 11, 2014 at 12:26 am — Reply

      There’s a town in Thailand where people and monkeys seem to live in harmony, it probably helps that they are a bit of a tourist attraction though!

  5. October 7, 2014 at 9:41 am — Reply

    Jon, great article and love your photos. Monkeys look so cute but can be quite scary for some tourist due to their bad habits, like stealing. In Bali we went a temple where that day 6 tourists had been attacked by monkeys. They are a brilliant photo opportunity and great entertainment value… I just keep my distance.

    • October 11, 2014 at 12:30 am — Reply

      Yeah they are pretty dangerous, it’s usually only if you’re carrying food or something though!

  6. June 14, 2015 at 7:15 am — Reply

    Really cool post! I enjoy your humorous writing style, it really brings the place to life. The temples look beautiful and it is so nice to see the native monkey population being allowed to live there and interact with the tourists. I hope that this Temple and its monkeys are still in good health after the recent earthquake. My heart goes out to all those in Kathmandu and the rest of Nepal and I wish for a speedy recovery, for humans, buildings, and monkeys alike. – Emme @ Green Global Travel

    • June 14, 2015 at 4:47 pm — Reply

      Thanks Emme, it’s a fun place to explore and write about it!

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