I've always had a particular fascination for wildlife whether at home or travelling, so this sanctuary, nestled in the heart of Ubud, was on the top of my list as a place to visit while in Bali. The sanctuary is home to over 700 Balinese long-tailed monkeys. These playful creatures are entertaining but also have significant spiritual and cultural importance in the region. Come meander with me on a walk through the 12 hectares of a lush green forest while I visit the home of these mischievous primates.
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is an easy walk from Ubud center and is open every day from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, For those who don't wish to walk, taxis are widely available and there is parking at the site. I would suggest planning to spend at least a couple of hours there to fully appreciate the monkeys and the various areas within the sanctuary.
The admission fee for the Monkey Forest Sanctuary is IDR 80,000 (approximately $8 CAD) for adults and includes access to all areas of the sanctuary, for the full day, as well as the chance to interact with the monkeys.
The monkeys here are wild animals. There are many signs advising visitors how to avoid issues with the monkeys. Visitors are not allowed to feed or touch the monkeys, nor should you look the monkeys in the eye or show your teeth as this is considered a sign of aggression. Be careful with your belongings and tuck everything away. Do not bring food as they will know you have it and you open yourself to the likelihood of being unexpectedly jumped upon. These cheeky beasts will steal hats, sunglasses, and items from the pockets of backpacks. One actually stole the face mask that I had hanging on my wrist! Another tourist had a plastic container of mints stolen from her backpack pocket.
If you follow the rules, you shouldn't experience any difficulty. While the monkeys are wild, they are used to humans. They are monitored for health issues and fed three times a day at feeding stations. Apparently, their favourite is sweet potatoes.
As I approached the Sanctuary I was greeted by a stunning display of sculptures and statues lining the pathway leading up to the ticket booth. Once at the ticket area, there are signs that explain the significance of the statues you see. I visited without a guide but there are many tours available, should you choose. I found that the signage was good and various staff were very helpful in answering my questions -- and I always have a ton of questions!
I was surrounded by the sounds of chirping birds and rustling leaves. I was surprised how the chaotic city outside the gates completely disappeared. The dense foliage of the forest is a shield from the harsh sun, making it the perfect escape from the tropical heat and humidity. The air was cool and refreshing, with the ever-present subtle scent of incense from the nearby temples.
Every design element has great cultural meaning, including the bridge, pathways, water elements and statues. The entire design is based upon Tri Hita Karana, which means ‘three causes of well being” and is all about harmony with others, with nature, and to the deities.
The most beautiful statue at the entrance area, in my opinion, is this triple statue of what I believe is the Goddess Sri (Lakshmi) who represents fertility to the world through wealth, prosperity, health, beauty, and good fortune. Her smile and milk supply are believed to guarantee a good harvest. (My apologies to any Hindu readers if I have misidentified these lovely ladies.)
The boar and komodo statues represent the beast that welcomes souls into their first journey of the afterlife. The next journey is represented by the bridge that leads through divided stone gate (Candi Terbelah) which symbolizes a mountain with forest and animals. There are so many little animals, especially monkeys, and plant forms that it is well worth lingering over. The owls and huge snakes at the base are the messengers of death.
From here, the next design element is the Dergama cave which continues the journey into the afterlife. The reliefs on the left side show a ritual procession that welcomes the arrival of the Gods. On the right side, is the farewell. As you make your way around the Sanctuary, you will go both ways through this tunnel.
The sanctuary is divided into several areas, each very unique. There are three temples, including the main 14th-century temple, the Holy Spring Temple and the Cremation Temple. Beautiful moss-covered statues of various Hindu deities are found throughout the Sanctuary. This is a sacred place for locals, and visitors should remain respectful. Do not climb on the statues or enter the temples.
The Temple areas are serene and tranquil. There are 3 temples within the sanctuary. All the temples are for worshipping the god Hyang Widhi, but each is personified by a different deity. The main temple, Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal, is personified by Shiva.
The Main Temple
Puri Beji is the Holy Spring bathing temple and is personified by the goddess Gangga. It is used before religious ceremonies for purification and physical cleansing.
The Holy Spring Temple
The Pura Prajapati temple is personified by Prajapati. The Cemetery area includes a small graveyard where locals are buried until Cremation Day (about once every 5 years).
The main area is the Central Forest, which is home to most of the monkeys. Here, I was able to watch the monkeys as they swing from tree to tree, groom each other, and play with their young ones. It is possible to buy a "selfie pass" which will allow you to get a selfie with a monkey. This must be done under the supervision of one of the staff who will keep you and the monkeys safe. The staff will lure the monkeys with treats and, if you are comfortable, will even encourage them to climb on you.
While in this area I learned that the monkey population is split into several groups, each with its own territory and hierarchy within the park. I was fascinated by how the monkeys interacted with each other, and how they seemed to have their own social structures and rules. There were many babies when I visited and the mothers were very protective of their young -- not so much from the human visitors but from the male monkeys outside their family groups.
The Conservation Area on the edge of the sanctuary is dedicated to conservation efforts and education. There is a monkey hospital where unhealthy monkeys are carefully monitored and given veterinary care. Here I learned all about the sanctuary's efforts to protect the monkeys and their natural habitat, as well as the importance of conservation efforts in general.
Nearby is the Gift Shop and Cafe that offer a range of handicrafts, souvenirs, and refreshments. The gift shop features a range of traditional Balinese handicrafts, including wood carvings, textiles, and jewelry. The cafe offers a range of snacks and drinks. I did not visit the cafe so I am unable to vouch for the quality of their fare.
If you're planning a trip to Bali, I highly recommend a visit to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud. And if you're interested in exploring more of Bali's hidden gems and cultural treasures, be sure to subscribe (for free!) to follow my adventures.
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