When Hanuman, the monkey king of the Ramayana, attempted to lift Mount Meru to quash the evil giant, Rahwana, a clump of the cosmic mountain landed in Sangeh complete with a troupe of holy simians. Entering the shaded avenue of soaring “Pala” trees at Sangeh Monkey Forest, this is an easy tale to believe, and besides, the cool, dark forest certainly oozes a mystical atmosphere.
The 14-hectare forest at Sangeh lies about 15 kilometres by road northwest of Ubud and is inhabited by roughly 700 long tail macaques (Macaca fascicularis) banded in three troupes. Pala translates in Indonesian to nutmeg, however the tree species here, Dipterocarpus trinervis aka Dipterocarpus retusus differs from the edible nutmeg native to Banda in Maluku. The lofty strait-trunked trees grow to 40 metres, and 2,000 here are interspersed with other species including mahogany, guava, and sapodilla.
Within the sacred forest, the moss-covered, towering nine-level meru at Pura Bukit Sari is diminished by the surrounding growth. Dedicated to Vishnu, the 17th century temple, the largest of four inside the sanctuary was built by the Mengwi kingdom, and the trees planted as a royal garden. Wide flat paths lead throughout the impressive forest, and one running alongside the main gate continues to the river, which local guides mentioned as a good spot for a swim, though it is a bit steep and slippery on the way down.
Due to its (albeit short) distance from the popular tourist centre of Ubud, Sangeh doesn’t attract the crowds of its busier cousin, Ubud Monkey Forest, and the monkeys here seem considerably more benevolent. In the past Sangeh’s monkeys had a bad rep as aggressive pickpockets and we were a little wary visiting, but over the years these traits have been bred out and local guides manage any mischievous behaviour (from monkeys and humans), discouraging outside guides from encouraging the animals to climb on tourists for photos.
Nonetheless, don’t try to feed them, and as you should around any wild animal, keep your wits about you. If you do get scratched or bitten, wash the wound well and seek medical advice, as monkeys can carry diseases fatal to humans including rabies (although the Sangeh Monkey Forest website states that the monkeys are vaccinated).
Sangeh Monkey Forest is considered a sacred area, and a sign requests that menstruating women don’t enter and that you should “dress decently before entering the holy place”, which in Balinese temple talk means to wear a sarong and sash. You’ll need to bring your own, alternatively a row of souvenir stalls would be happy for you to part with some cash.
Several warungs in the carpark sell food and drinks, and we like the tasty food at the somewhat dodgy looking Depot Selera on Jalan Raya Sangeh, the main near the turnoff to the monkey forest. Combine Sangeh Monkey Forest with a trip to nearby Tirta Taman Mumbul Sangeh, an attractive water temple for a half-day trip from Ubud.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 19th February, 2017.
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