Monkeying around in Southeast Asia


“I think I prefer seeing monkeys in the zoo”, I tell Marina while walking among the hundreds of curious and mischievous monkeys in Ubud’s Monkey Forrest in Bali, Indonesia.

We have been in Southeast Asia for about 2.5 months now and have managed to encounter monkeys on the road, on mountains, in parks, caves, cafes, temples, and beaches.

While I am all for monkeys living in their natural habitat rather than behind bars in a zoo, given the nature of these frisky primates I would personally prefer some degree of separation.

Nevertheless, due to the frequency with which we find ourselves surrounded by a group of monkeys, Marina and I have picked up a few safety tips from various locals.

Feeding monkeys near Hua Hin, Thailand.

For those of you planning on seeing monkeys in the wild here are a few quick pointers.

1) No Smiling:

Seriously. Even though their actions may be hilarious, it is better not to laugh, or even smile for that matter in a monkey’s presence. Since bearing teeth is a sign of aggression, you showing your teeth while smiling may send the wrong message.

2) No food or shiny objects on your person:

Monkeys are a curious and perceptive bunch and they may become particularly interested in you if you are wearing anything shiny (jewellery, sunglasses, etc.), have any food on you, or are holding something in your hand. The rule of thumb is this: if a monkey tries to take something from you, it’s best to let them have it rather than fighting them for it. Better yet, do not wear anything that might attract attention, and do not carry any food with you. Additionally, if you notice you are being stalked by a curious macaque, show them your open and empty palms and often they will immediately lose interest.

3) Keep clear of injured or dead monkeys:

On one particular occasion in Ubud, we came across a monkey that had just fallen out of a tree and was badly hurt, writhing in pain on the ground. Our natural instinct was to get close and see if we could help. Thankfully, one of the experienced park staff quickly stopped us from getting mulled by the onlooking monkeys. As was explained to us, approaching a hurt monkey is likely to incite an attack by the other members of that group. Thus, if you come across a hurt or dead monkey, best to give it space.

4) Back away slowly:

Finally, if you encounter an aggressive monkey, simply back away slowly while continuing to face them. Since turning your back is a sign of fear, such action may increase their confidence, potentially leading them to attack.

A showdown in progress.

Now that I’ve gotten you completely paranoid, please note that 99.9% of the time you’ll be absolutely fine. Despite our countless encounters (even when I fed a bucket of peanuts to a bunch of monkeys in Hua Hin’s Monkey Mountain) nothing even remotely dangerous ever occurred. And while we certainly witnessed a number of tourists freaking out when one or 3 monkeys jumped on them, no one ever got hurt. For the most part, the monkeys we came across were most often participating in any one of these 3 activities: eating, sex, or resting.

Just look at this face…



Note: As our few loyal readers may have noticed, this blog has been collecting cobwebs over the past few months. Let me assure you this silence was not due to a lack of adventures. For the past number of months we’ve been exploring Southeast Asia, and just recently settled into our next temporary home in New Zealand. As opposed to our travels through South America where I constantly updated the blog in nearly real-time, this time around I chose to experience everything as it happened without worrying how I could turn said experience into a blog post. But fear not! Thanks to my notes and Marina’s 10 000+ photos, we will be updating the blog with our most recent adventures over the next little while. Stay tuned!

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Residential Experiment #2: The Retirement Condo


One of the perks of living in various places for a few months at a time is finding out what you do and what you don’t like as your home. Given that we eventually (though, not any time soon) want to buy a home, these residential experiments help us understand what our ideal home might look like, and where it may be located. Thus, in an effort to keep track of what we’ve learned, this is one of a series of posts where we evaluate the places in which we temporarily resided.

Nickname: The retirement condo

Location: Kingston, ON

Dates: March – April 2011

Basics: 2 bedroom corner condo unit on lake Ontario within 2 km of downtown and the nearby university. The vast majority of residents were above retirement age.

After our experiment in reasonably rural living at The Cottage, we decided to finish off our stint in Kingston while staying a bit closer to civilization, and particularly closer to the university where Marina was working.

We were well acquainted with this condo property as our good friends, Ian and Katie, lived here for a number of years while we were all in graduate school. We had very fond memories of this property so we jumped at the chance to temporarily live there ourselves.

In contrast to our prior home, here we had 2 bedrooms. However, we generally found we had no use for the second bedroom as once again I settled in at the dining room table as my office space. Of course, if we were settling here more permanently, the 2nd bedroom could have easily been turned into an office, thus clearing our dining room for more appropriate activities – such as dining.

Peter's office space

Being quite a bit closer to work meant Marina was able to walk to work on most days (weather permitting) instead of taking the bus (the norm at the Cottage). Also, we were close to a park, a convenience store and a Tim Horton’s coffee shop. While this was a significant improvement in the proximity of the essentials from our last place, we still felt fairly isolated.

One of the highlights of this place was the lake view (see above), which would have been particularly spectacular in the summer time – had we stayed long enough to see it. Every morning, as Marina got ready to go to work I would transfer from the bed to the couch and soak up the sun that would stream through the large windows overlooking the water. This was a wonderful way to start the day while sipping a cup of tea.

Peter's morning wake-up couch

Being close to a park also meant that we had some nice running routes to take advantage of. Additionally, all day long I would see people from my “office” window running by and this certainly was a nice motivator to get off my butt.

In contrast to the Cottage, which we found to be great for hosting dinner parties, the kitchen/dining/living room arrangements at the Retirement Condo were less conducive to having people over. The kitchen was very small, with little counter space, which made making cooking a nuisance. Since the dining room could only hold 4 people, our dinner parties had to be small. Finally, due to awkward seating arrangement and lack of adequate living room furniture, even having a few people over for a chat and a drink was much less natural than at our previous home.

This residence came with a fairly budget television but a reasonable number of cable channels. I found that merely having that television meant that more often than not, we would automatically turn it on during meals, or when vegging out, rather than reading, talking, or doing something else more productive. This once again suggested to me that not having a television, and specifically not having cable or satellite is the way to go. Having the option to turn it on and tune out was just too easy and I felt as though we wasted much more of our time passively consuming poor quality content. Having a television for purposes of watching a movie or documentary every once in a while is fine, and I think this may be the way to go when we settle down. But having a large selection of channels simply steals hours of your life. I’d rather do something more productive.

On a positive note, given that this was a condo, I didn’t need to worry about shoveling snow (which took up many hours at the cottage), or mowing grass, or remembering to take out the trash at specific hours. This was all taken care of, and when the garbage became full, I simply walked it over to the garbage shute and deposited it regardless of the time or day.

Here is a detailed summary of items that either improved or tarnished our experience at The Retirement Condo.

The good:

–          Great view

–          Communal pool

–          Morning sun exposure

–          Proximity of running routes

–          Ability to walk to a select few places (convenience store, Tim Horton’s)

–          No need to worry about garbage disposal/snow shoveling/grass mowing

The bad:

–          The presence of cable television

–          Small kitchen with limited counter space

–          Uncomfortable and small dining area

–          No dishwasher

–          No air ventilation in washroom = very steamy showers

–          Poor fridge design (left side freezer full length of fridge)

–          Awkward entrance (door opened in a direction making getting in and out more difficult than necessary, especially given the small foyer)

–          Outdoor parking


Feeling less isolated from civilization, particularly when you work from home is very important. Simply knowing that I could walk to the coffee shop or convenience store, or to downtown (in 30 or so minutes) made me much less anxious about being isolated. Nevertheless, there were still only a few things in our vicinity, and I would have still preferred living closer to a city centre. Living in a condo is certainly easy as most things are taken care of on your behalf – you pay a condo fee and forget about maintenance hassles. Maybe if I was a more handy person, I would have preferred to do these tasks myself, but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit I would much rather spend my time doing something else. Finally, the lack of neighbors in our age range made making new friends a bit tough.


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