My friends and I encountered monkeys at various places in South East Asia – the first was Monkey Beach in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, where a monkey climbed a woman and ripped an empty cup from her hands, so we knew to keep our distance.
Two months later, we found ourselves in Halong Bay in Vietnam, being offered a tour of the monkeys on the other side of the island. As we gathered to start the tour, the guide explained the rules. “Monkeys are very nice, but no touching, and don’t bring any food.” Yep, we already knew that one.
As we start climbing rocks, the guide let us know more details, “Oh, and don’t smile. And don’t stare at them, just glance. Because they might fall in love with you.” Ok, no food and no smiling. A little further up as we walk into the ‘sanctuary’, he added, “Ok, we’re about to enter. Close your mouths! Don’t make sudden movements.” These monkeys don’t sound very nice after all. Don’t move quickly, no smiling, and don’t even look at them. Feeling a bit apprehensive, we walked into the monkey area, trying not to make eye contact. A couple of small monkeys started to follow us. I saw one pickpocket a member of our group and found nothing. As we approached a path that twisted back down to a beach, packs of them lined both sides, inspecting us.
The guide bribed the largest, red-faced female monkey with some fruit as we passed and I snapped a photo of her. She and the rest of the monkeys followed our group down the trail. As we paused, I saw that all of the monkeys were watching my friend. One reached out and grabbed her bag and long hair. And then the monkey queen grabbed her arm and chomped down HARD! My friend yelled out, and the guide threw a banana. All the monkeys, including the queen scattered toward the fruit.
We continued down the beach and inspected the bite marks on my friend’s arm. They were pretty deep, and difficult to tell if skin was punctured. We walked back through the monkeys to get to our side of the island, and this time everyone was ready to defend my friend if a hominoid war broke out. But we made it back safely and then the guide tried to reassure us that the monkey queen was jealous of my friend, and they probably don’t have rabies. We got back to the mainland and headed to the International Clinic in Hanoi, where they gave her an injection and informed us of the symptoms of rabies. Apparently, rabies is preventable, but once it becomes active, it’s fatal. I could see my friend go pale and stop listening, so I took notes after that. When she got back to Australia, she had to have a special flight of vaccinations around the bite. It’s been a few years and I’m happy to report that she hasn’t started foaming at the mouth… yet.