Monkey Forest, gets 10,000 visitors a month and although that doesn’t reach the level of the Disney parks, Disney is exactly what I thought of during our visit. A 31-acre nature preserve in the tourist enclave of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, is home to over 700 Balinese long-tailed macaque monkeys, 115 species of trees and three 14th century temples.
The sanctuary’s mission is education and conservation as seen through the Hindu philosophy Tri Hita Karan or “Three ways to reach physical and spiritual well-being.” For me, it was all about the Hita, happiness, making Monkey Forest, the happiest place on earth.
There aren’t any rides or ice cream stands at Monkey Forest, only banana stands, so the similarity is more of a feeling. But as any sizable public place where upon entry a few ground rules must be agreed upon, usually via a very large, very straightforward sign. As you enter the Monkey Forest, there is said sign explaining, via text AND pictures, what not to do, we are entering into the monkeys home, after all. Like any visit to Disney you will encounter someone blatantly ignoring the rules. Tourists.
From there you head down “Main Street” to the main square where the labyrinth of paths begin and is where the character performers hang out. But, instead of Mickey and Minnie, it’s Hungry Monkey interacting with visitors for fun and games and food. Of course, the more food you have the more fun and games will be had. Monkeys will climb up you, sit on your head or simply hold you and your stack of bananas and that plastic water bottle you tried to sneak in hostage.
Throughout the sanctuary, other monkeys prefer to blend into the scenery lounging atop buddha figures and dragon statues and watch from above.
There is also a 100-year old banyon tree that sits proudly, near or on, (I’m not sure as the tree and the temple have become one) one of the temples that reminds me of the Tree of Life that sits above Animal Kingdom.
The best performance came during what I call “The wild wild west Bali side show.” I’m not sure what happened before the macaques came into sight but one darted through a group of us visitors before collapsing as if he was shot dead, then another macaque came to the rescue and resuscitated him. We looked around at each other. No one sure what to do. Was he really hurt? Should we get one of the staff? We got our answer when he raised his head, looked around (as if he were making sure people were watching) before laying back down to continue to be “tended to”. These guys are professionals. They know how to put on a show…in return for bananas, of course.
At the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, visitors contribute to the preservation of the land and rituals unique to Indonesia while enjoying nature and its inhabitants. It also seems the inhabitants are enjoying us too.