I’ve been bitten by mosquitos, flies, and bugs. I’ve been stung by bees, jellyfish, and hairy caterpillars. But never have I ever had a monkey chew on my hair. Not until we went to a monkey forest in Ubud.
Two monkey forests, actually, but only in one of them we made such a splash. Monkeys climbed our bodies like palm trees, rummaged through our hair looking for lice, ate sweet potatoes on top of our heads, and simply refused to be shaken off. Was it scary? A little. But was it fun? Oh yeah.
Whatever monkey forest you choose to go to, the one in Sangeh or the Sacred Monkey Forest, it’s going to be one of the coolest things you do in Ubud. And if you’re not sure which one to choose, here’s my honest comparison.
The Sacred Monkey Forest sanctuary
Sacred Monkey Forest sprawls across a hilly area with 14th-century temples, hanging bridges above the valleys, and a magical-looking banyan tree. And of course, monkeys.
How far is the Sacred Monkey Forest from Ubud?
The Sacred Monkey Forest is smack in the middle of Ubud, just down the Monkey Forest street.
How to get to the Sacred Monkey Forest
You can easily walk from the center of Ubud: unlike many places in Bali, Ubud is actually walkable. Of course, you can ride your scooter, too. There’s a parking lot not too far from the forest.
If you’re staying in Canggu, Uluwatu, or elsewhere in Bali, you might not be comfortable riding your scooter this far. In that case you can book a guided tour to see Sacred Monkey Forest and other spots around Bali:
Going on a tour feels more, well, touristy. But you get to talk to the local guides, ask them whatever you want to know, and better understand what you’re looking at. Most Balinese people that work in the industry speak decent English, so ask away!
What’s the entrance fee?
The Sacred Monkey Forest entrance fee is 80K IDR ($5.4) as of February 2020.
How much time do you need there?
An hour is more than enough for Sacred Monkey Forest. And go as early in the morning as you can, or you’ll have to elbow your way through hordes of tourists taking photos with and of the monkeys.
Sangeh Monkey Forest
Sangeh Monkey Forest is a dreamy forest with tall nutmeg trees circling a moss-grown temple. Apparently, these trees can’t be found anywhere else in Bali, and why they happen to grow only here remains a mystery. The temple was built for a 17th-century royal family called Mengwi, and now Sangeh villagers take care of the grounds.
How far is the Sangeh Monkey Forest from Ubud?
Sangeh Monkey Forest is roughly 10 miles away from Ubud, and it’s actually on the way if you’re headed to the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces or the waterfalls up north. It’s a 20-to-30-minute ride away from the center of Ubud, by scooter or by car.
How to get to Sangeh Monkey Forest
The easiest way to get to Sangeh — or anywhere else in Bali, for that matter — is to rent and ride a scooter. But if you can’t or don’t want to ride one, you still have options.
A Go-Jek (Indonesian scooter taxi) from central Ubud to Sangeh Monkey Forest will cost you about 35K IDR ($2.4), and a car through the same app — 128K IDR ($8.7).
If you’re not staying in Ubud and don’t feel like riding a scooter for an hour, you can also sign up for one of the guided tours that include Sangeh Monkey Forest and a bunch of other sights:
📍Tanah Lot Sunset and Monkey Forest Tour – from $31
Another option for non-drivers like myself is to hire a car with a driver and put together your own itinerary. As long as you can fit it into 8 hours, the driver will take you where you need to go:
📍Bali Private Car Hire with Experienced Driver – from $22.5
What’s the entrance fee?
The price for an adult ticket to Sangeh Monkey Forest is 50K IDR ($3.4) as of February 2020.
How much time do you need there?
Even if you’re super into monkeys (and I’ve met those people), an hour is more than enough for Sangeh Monkey Forest. It gives you plenty of time to roam around, take photos, and have the monkeys dine on your head.
So which monkey forest is best?
If I had to choose one, I’d go with Sangeh Monkey Forest. It felt more natural, less touristy, and we couldn’t believe how peaceful it was in the morning. The forest with swaying trees was magical, but most importantly — the monkeys seemed interested in just hanging out. They were a little on the clingy side, but not aggressive. So if you want to be a human playground for a couple macaques, this is your spot.
The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud had prettier grounds, more room to walk around, more architecture and sculptures. But it also felt more like a tourist trap, and kind of smelled like a zoo.
A few tips for a safe monkey forest visit
Now, the question on your mind is probably “Is going to a monkey forest a safe thing to do?” And the answer is yes — if you’re smart about it. Monkeys are wild animals, and you’re literally in their habitat, but they’re not looking to harm you. So follow the rules, be respectful, and you’ll be just fine.
What to wear to Monkey Forest
Monkeys are notorious thieves. After they stole my sunglasses in the Uluwatu Temple, I learned the number one rule of monkey forest dress code: no sunglasses! Especially not on your head! I’d also skip jewelry and big earrings, because I think the monkeys will be tempted to tug at them.
In Sangeh, monkeys will be all over you, so I say cover up your back, shoulders, and legs so that you don’t accidentally get scratched. Make sure you don’t have anything in your pockets, and go with a fanny pack (or no bag) rather than a shoulder bag or a backpack. And keep an eye on your belongings: monkeys are good at untying and unzipping. I had to protect my backpack like a mama bear with a cub.
How to behave in Monkey Forest
The staff and the signs at both monkey forests will give you a quick briefing. But here’s the full list of safety tips I accumulated on my visits:
- Don’t bring food. The monkeys will smell it, they will come for it, and they will not rest until they find it. And even after they eat it, you’ll still smell like food, so the whole ordeal will never end. Plus, some foods are bad for the monkeys, and the rules generally ask you not to feed them.
- Don’t look monkeys in the eye. They perceive it as a threat and can get aggressive.
- Don’t show teeth. You have to be careful when you laugh or smile. Monkeys show teeth as a way to intimidate others, and they’ll think you’re trying to do the same. Thus, aggression.
- Don’t freak out. Even if a monkey is hissing at you or jumping onto you, try to stay calm. If you move abruptly, you might scare him, and he’ll protect himself the only way he knows how — by biting.
- Stay away from the babies. The mothers are very protective, and if you try to touch or feed a baby, they might see you as a threat to their young. You don’t want to be a threat to anybody’s young, trust me.
- Bend down to shake off a monkey. If a monkey climbs onto you and you’d rather he didn’t, bend down and he’ll hop off. At least that’s what they tell you. My monkey went through a full-blown rodeo, refusing to jump off no matter which way I bent.
What to do if a monkey bites you
Monkeys in either of Ubud’s monkey forests won’t just randomly attack you. But, like I said above, they might if you rub them the wrong way. So what do you do if a monkey does bite you?
According to WHO, here’s how you treat a monkey bite:
- Clean up and disinfect the wound.
- Consider antibiotics to prevent infection.
- Get rabies post-exposure treatment, if the monkey hasn’t been vaccinated. In monkey forests, they add rabies medication to the monkeys’ food, but it’s better to double-check with the staff.
- Get a tetanus vaccine, if you haven’t already.
Basically, you should clean up the wound and go see a doctor. They’ll walk you through the next steps.