Walking along the path to visit the famed Dayang Bunting Lake (or Pregnant Maiden Lake) in Langkawi, Malaysia, you’ll find yourself stopping constantly, like I did. It’s not because of the scenery is beautiful (though it is), or because you’re tired from hiking up and down the slippery steps (though I was), but because of the monkeys. Lush jungle borders the walkway that leads to the lake and monkeys are everywhere. They’re hanging from trees, tearing apart Coke cans, and running across the path just inches in front of you.
Just before I descended the last steep stairway to reach the lake’s docks and swimming area, I came across a bigger monkey perched on an information board meant to tell tourists about what they were seeing in the forest (pictured). He was asking for his photo be taken. So I obliged and took my fair share. And then things went bad, real fast. He came after me, reached out his long arm and grabbed onto my backpack as I took off running. I felt a slight tug before I managed to get loose – while they may look small, believe me, those primates are strong.
Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, they all have huge national parks, nature reserves, and geoparks. If you’re traveling to Asia, chances are you’ll run into a monkey or two. But before you go, you’ll want to learn the ins and outs of interacting with wild animals, namely monkeys. (They’re like squirrels in the Northeast.) Consider these tips before you go:
1. Don’t linger: Of course, I learned this the hard way, but if you linger and stand with your body facing them for too long, especially if mom has a baby in tow, get ready to experience the wrath of an angry monkey. Expect loud shrieks and the fangs to come out (trust me, the monkeys will no longer be cute after you see their teeth).
2. Don’t bare your teeth: While it might be hard not to smile around these seemingly adorable animals, I highly recommend you try to smile with your mouth closed. The primates take a showing of teeth as a threat.
3. Don’t carry around food: While you might picture a cute little monkey crawling around on the ground looking for leftovers, that’s not the case in Malaysia. These guys are ready, willing, and able to crawl up your leg and snatch that banana, Pepsi, bag of chips, or [insert food] from your hands. At the lake, it seemed as though they were building little stolen food nests, and at Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur, they were running around the cave chucking around empty soda cans or banana peels they’d stolen from people.
4. Don’t get too close: While you could push it and try to snap a photo of yourself with a nearby monkey, I wouldn’t test it. Keep at least a few feet back to give them their space. Remember, they’re still wild animals, no matter how often they’re around humans.