Vietnam: When Monkeys Attack
We set sail for the mystic pillar-shaped islands of Ha Long Bay on a wood-crafted junk boat. I was surrounded by good company; a small group of worn yet ambitious travelers who were ready to karaoke by night and anxiously sought out the next great adventure during the day.
On the second day of the junk boat cruise we arrived at an island with bungalows perched on the beach where we would be spending the night. After being greeted by our young resident guide, we were assigned our first activity; a hike to visit the island’s resident monkeys. For whatever reason, I had a bad feeling about this particular trek. Letting FOMO (fear of missing out) get the better of me I ignored my gut feeling and met with the group just in time for the hike.
Everything started off fine; it was your average hike up a mountain which began to reassure me that my fears were irrational and unfounded. It wasn’t until ten minutes into the hike when our tour guide who was leading the way turned around to inform us, “When you see the monkey, don’t show your teeth.” Fair enough, I could see how monkeys may find that threatening. We kept climbing, but the sinking feeling in my stomach started coming back. Five minutes later and nearly halfway to the top our tour guide turned around again and said, “And do not look at the monkey.” I looked back at my friend and we exchanged confused stares. This presented the obvious issue of hiking up a mountain to see monkeys we can’t look at. It was about three-quarters to the top of the mountain when the guide turned around, yet again, and told us not to speak at all from now on. The sinking feeling grew and I wanted nothing more than to be off this stupid mountain. We were nearly to the top when he started turning around again. Our tour guide (who I now hate) says, “Oh, and if monkey climb on you don’t move!” I’m about two seconds away from a full-blown panic attack.
Just as I tried to calm myself down I saw one in the distance. I looked at the ground in my best effort not to look at it. I contemplated climbing back down alone, but felt that at this point being in a group was the safest bet. More monkeys started to emerge through the brush and follow us as we walked down the trail. Our situation was obvious; we were the jungle equivalent of “breaking and entering”.
Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a baby monkey climb across a branch that extended over the trail, and subsequently right above my head. The monkey grabbed onto my hair, but let go as I continued to walk. In the periphery I saw a much bigger and meaner looking monkey head toward me. The monkey grabbed my right wrist with one hand and my bag with the other. I stopped and stared straight forward when the monkey bit into my forearm. OH.MY.GOD! A million thoughts of how to escape the situation ran through my head, but I only managed to let out a scream. Even though making any sound was against the rules I figured once a primate is attacking you all rules go out the window. The tour guide turned around, drew a banana from his bag and threw it. The monkey let go of me immediately and went after the banana. I couldn’t help but notice in that moment the simplicity of conflict-resolution in the animal kingdom.
Everyone in the group had seen what had happened, but not being allowed to talk they remained silent. They didn’t need to say anything; the stunned looks on their faces said it all. I didn’t even care about how bad my arm hurt; I was solely focused on all the potential incurable diseases I had just contracted.
When we got to the bottom of the mountain the guide washed my wound out in the ocean. He proceeded to tell me that he had been bitten by the same monkey and so did a family of four a few weeks ago and he was pretty sure they were okay. This was apparently supposed to make me feel better.
Even though the monkey assault put a damper on my Ha Long Bay experience, I did learn some valuable lessons and tips that made me a more thoughtful and skilled traveler:
- The International S.O.S. Clinic in Hanoi is equipped with the rabies vaccine
- Be vigilant when traveling in countries where people may sacrifice safety for profit
- Always follow your intuition – and carry a banana just in case