My first night in Bali I met several guests at the hostel I was staying at in Ubud who highly recommended exploring the local monkey forest and after scrolling through their photos, I was thrilled to go check it out. From the photos the monkeys were seemingly very friendly with the tourists which was very unlike the wild monkeys that I had seen in India and the Philippines previously. Stepping into the forest the next morning was a bit surreal as I followed the carved stone staircase leading down to mossy covered temple hidden in the forest on the edge of a river. The macaque monkeys were crawling all over the place and it literally felt like I had entered into an Indiana Jones movie as I explored several of the trails winding through the forest to the various ruins and temples.
There are over 600 monkeys living in this nature reserve which is considered to be a sacred space by the locals. The forest includes three temples or pura that were built in the 14th century and are covered by ornate carvings and statues. At the entrance to the forest, guests are warned to remove all things that the monkeys could possibly grab, which seemed a little unnecessary at the time since the monkeys appeared to be more interested in romping around in the fountain with each other than in the dozens of visitors snapping photos of them. That is until they started climbing up on people searching for food or the contraband that we had been advised to remove or hide. Visitors are allowed to bring some food into the forest to give to the monkeys, but are warned to be careful when offering it to them as they may become aggressive.
Much to my delight, a small one hopped up on my shoulder and I quickly passed off my phone to the closest person to snap a few pictures. Moments after my new little friend lost interest and scampered off, I saw another one climbing all over a girl nearby and was horrified to watch him proceed to rip out her earring. After helping her clean up I quickly followed the trail back out of the forest. Although the forest was incredibly fascinating and the monkeys were adorable, I had zero interest in having any more of them climb on me.
While I still think the Monkey Forest is a must visit for the island, I would definitely recommend being extra cautious and keeping in mind that the monkeys are still wildlife and can be very ornery. Follow the park warnings and be sure to remove everything or secure things very well before entering!