The Best Places to See Monkeys in Southeast Asia
One of the things I love about Southeast Asia is being able to see so many monkeys. I’m not sure why I’m so interested in them (in my defense, they do kinda look like people) but I could spend hours watching them go about their lives. Here are some of the best places to mix with monkeys in Southeast Asia.
Sacred Monkey Forest: Ubud, Bali – My favourite place to see monkeys in Southeast Asia
I like a good monkey-based tourist attraction, so it was with some excitement that I ventured into the Scared Monkey Forest in Ubud. Even the persistent drizzle couldn’t dampen my spirits and before long I was seeing them all over the place. They weren’t like the angry red-faced creatures I saw in Taiwan; they looked peaceful and almost friendly. They are obviously used to humans and aren’t shy about climbing all over people or snatching food, but they do it in a playful way. These monkeys are entertaining. Throw in a nice jungle setting, some temples and monkey-statues, and you’ve got yourself an enjoyable couple of hours.
I asked the lady running the guesthouse I was staying at in Ayutthaya if there was anywhere else worth visiting in the area. She told me to go to the monkey town. It took me a while to understand what she was trying to tell me, but I eventually gleaned that there was a town in Thailand that was overrun with monkeys, and I was close to it. This wasn’t something that I was ever going to pass up, so I boarded the train headed for Lopburi. I arrived an hour later and sure enough it was overflowing with monkeys. They were climbing on roofs, swinging from power poles and hanging out on street corners like rappers. There was a sign in my guesthouse urging people not to leave windows open because they’d break in and steal your things. I was impressed with these monkeys; they were taking care of business and weren’t to be messed with. If only all monkeys had that kind of can-do attitude, the world might be a very different place (maybe not a better place though). Lopburi also has some old temples and is a pretty decent town in its own right, so if you want to get away from the crowds and see something different, I recommend checking it out.
Semengoh Orangutan Sanctuary: Sarawak, East Malaysia (Borneo)
Monkey tourism doesn’t get any better than spotting orangutans in the (sort of) wild in Borneo. I don’t think orangutans are actually classed as monkeys, but I’m no zoologist, so I’m putting them together anyway. Just outside Kuching lies Semengoh Orangutan Sanctuary, where displaced orangutans are provided with a semi-wild existence. They still get fed, which is great to see as a tourist, but they are free to come and go as they please. They only get fed because the area can’t support the numbers that are there, so they need a bit of a helping hand. It was nice seeing their meal time but on the walk back to the visitor centre/car park area things really became interesting. A mother with some babies decided to block our path, and for about 20 minutes we were locked in standoff. The guide eventually decided to take an alternate path, but it was exciting to be so close to a huge orangutan dominating proceedings in its own environment.
Tarsier Visitors Centre: Bohol, Philippines
OK, these aren’t really monkeys at all, they look more like gremlins, but I don’t want to write a whole post on them so like it or not, here they are. Tarsiers have quickly become my favourite animals. They are tiny, have huge eyes, can swivel their heads almost 360 degrees and are really good at jumping. They are strange looking things, and they also look really nervous all the time, but if you see them up-close I’m sure you’ll fall for them too. Just outside Tagbilaran, the main city on Bohol, lies the Tarsier Visitors Centre. For a small fee you get a guide who will take you out into some open jungle (sort of) to search for tarsiers. I’ll never forget the way one of the tarsiers turned its head right around to look at me, and all up I saw three or four of them. It was a great experience and I recommend going to the visitors centre instead of going to the dodgy tarsier keepers, who make them live in cages and let tourists hold them for photos. They are an endangered species and the Tarsier Visitors Centre is doing important work to protect them and is also helping to educate people about these weird animals.
Have you seen monkeys in Southeast Asia? Let me know if you’ve been to these places, if there are any I’ve missed or if you’re a zoologist who has an issue with my less than accurate classification of simian species.