Thailand (Part 4) Phuket Monkey School… A Seriously Uncomfortable Experience

Phuket Monkey School… My daughter had the right idea from the start.

Following our trip to the Big Buddha, and our little Elephant Trekking experience, our taxi driver suggested that I might like to take my daughter to visit the Monkey school.  Since we had almost been attacked by wild monkeys at the Big Buddha who were trying to steal our food, I decided that it might be nice to restore her faith in monkeys.  

I asked if it was a nice place, and that the monkeys were happy.  He replied “yes, very nice, very fun, monkeys are very funny and like to play.”  SOLD! ...To the idiot-tourist-without-her-brain-in-gear!  …So we pulled up at what looked like a house with a bunch of shacks around it.  I was dubious; but I cast my concerns aside, reasoning that being Thailand, I should not expect it to look stunning from an architectural perspective.  I paid, and offered to take the taxi driver’s son in too. He declined, but after we paid and went in, he appeared inside shortly afterwards too (I am guessing he was collecting a commission whilst I went in).  

Before we entered, the staff brought a long tailed Macaque on a leash over to have a picture with us.  They suggested I hold it, and although something inside me was telling me that it didn’t feel right, I knew that my daughter was terrified after our experience with the monkeys at the Big Buddha and wanted to reassure her-so I posed… She would not. Once inside, I found a concrete pond in the middle with a metal frame around it, there was a table immediately to the left where you could buy bags of bananas to feed the monkeys with and beyond that there were rows of benches.  to the right were cages on either side of the path way.  I bought some bananas and walked through.  They pretty much all contained long-tailed macaques, highly intelligent monkeys.  As I went to feed them with over-priced bananas, some grabbed and snatched at the food, whilst others just held out their hand patiently and hopefully.  

I fed them all on my way, but soon ran out. I felt awful-as there were still monkeys staring at me longingly and accusingly with their pitiful, hungry eyes.  I couldn’t bare the thought of not feeding them, even at 200 Baht for a measly basket of the fruit (about £4/$6 (USD)), which is a total rip off by Thai standards (and by any standards actually).  

These monkeys did not seem remotely happy and I felt miserable for them being trapped in their little prisons.  I went back to buy more food, but nobody was there yet (they were probably too busy negotiating the taxi driver’s commission)… So, I took the bananas any way (I was willing to pay, but if there’s nobody there, what’s a girl to do to feed these poor monkeys? )

You can see this poor Gibbon was miserable

The sad, lonely gibbon who I fell in love with.

I fed all of the monkeys and then at the end of that I reached a separate block of cages at the far end of the benches from where I had started that had Gibbons in it.  This literally broke my heart.  One of the gibbons extended his hand through the bars of the cage and held it out.  I offered a banana, but the hand didn’t want the banana… It wanted to hold my hand instead… He wanted affection.  A few of the other gibbons took bananas, but this one, just held my hand and stared right into my eyes with the saddest, pleading expression.  

I think I had tears in my eyes, and I just held his hand.  Then he pushed his back up against the wire bars of his cage so far that all of his fur was poking out… I honestly know that he just wanted to be petted and stroked so I stroked his fur for him and he stayed there until I stopped. When I stopped however, the hand re-appeared again… And again, he was not interested in food-only to hold hands again.  I could have stayed all day with that gibbon, lost in his sad, longing gaze… He was SO human in his expression.  But a massive blue-bottle fly landed in a cut that my daughter had, and she started screaming.  Knowing that we were probably not in the most sanitary environment I had to prioritise cleaning her cut so that it would not become infected.

After the commotion I asked the taxi driver to enquire about the gibbon for me, and off he trotted. When he came back, he said “yes, I think that one must be sick.’  Heart broken, I wanted to leave, but the ‘monkey show’ was about to begin and I really did want to cheer my daughter up… They got the long tailed macaques to perform a series of tricks including counting numbers (finding a card with the appropriate number for the number of fingers they were holding up), selling monkey balm, throwing basket ball hoops, playing catch with the audience, riding a tricycle and diving into the pond to retrieve somthing they threw in.  

If you’re desperate to see this stuff.  Please let these pictures be enough:

I have never been more relieved to leave a place before in my life.  Not only did they fleece me for a lot of money by Thai standards, but I thought that it was a really horrid place, and that they were totally exploiting these wild animals.  I do not believe the animals were cared for properly, and I do not think they were happy. If you are ever planning to go to Phuket-I would urge you not to go.  Yes they are cute, and yes they are funny, but it doesn’t seem like a nice environment at all, and don’t just take my word for it-take a look at this review from ‘Crafty Fox’ someone who by their own admissions has worked with primates for years:

and here is another similar review.  I wish I had also left half way through like they had: These reviews for me really sum up the experience.  The monkeys are adorable, but they are wild animals and should not be caged up in tiny boxes.  I felt a sense of uneasiness for the entire duration of our stay there (which was less than 30 minutes).  I really TRIED to see the good in this, and to have a nice time, but to be honest-I was cringing inside the whole time-it just felt WRONG.

My advice is DO NOT support this. It is cruel and the monkeys are being unhappily exploited.  I am ashamed to admit that I contributed to the tourist trade this appalling outlet does and would actively encourage you not to do the same!

If you want to see monkeys in Phuket safely, I suggest you go on the John Grays Sea Canoe excursion, where you will see short-tailed macaques living wild on the beaches, and not being encouraged to engage with tourists or to change their natural behaviour.  That post is coming up next.

Other Posts you might Like:

Thailand (part 1)… Evason & Bon Island, Ruwai and the South tip of Phuket

Thailand (Part 2) The Big Buddha, Phuket

Thailand (Part 3) Riding an Elephant in Phuket

Thailand (Part 5) Caving in a Sea Canoe in Thailand with John Grays

Thailand (Part 5) Caving in a Sea Canoe in Thailand with John Grays

Thailand (Part 6) Visit the Island of Phi Phi

Thailand (Part 6) Visit the Island of Phi Phi

Bungee Jump – PHUKET!

Visit Maldives for the 1st Time

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17 Comments on “Thailand (Part 4) Phuket Monkey School… A Seriously Uncomfortable Experience”

  1. March 14, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    Wow – what a tragic account! Terrible that they have been exploited so cruelly.

    • March 14, 2012 at 1:46 am #

      Very sad… It honestly made me feel like an awful human being just bearing witness to it. I was quite surprised though as other tourists there appeared to think it was great! I could see the cute side of enjoying the entertainment factor, but looking around, you could see that it came at a hefty price for the monkeys, namely hunger and captivity. I didn’t like the monkeys having to pay for it so heavily 😦

  2. March 14, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    What a sad post! Too bad you couldn’t release the depressed monkey when they weren’t looking…

    • March 14, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

      I know, I think if my daughter hadn’t started crying I would have ended up paying to set it free or something… Maybe I will look into seeing if there is someone I can report the situation to; someone who might be in a position to send it to a monkey rehabilitation centre.

      He was clearly mentally disturbed and depressed. It’s making me sad just thinking about it actually.

  3. mariasusan294
    March 28, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    ‘Big Buddha’ is seems interesting place! I don’t think monkey may become so violent though it’s been known as wild species. They like to make lots of fun with the visitors. Lifting food is that type of characteristic of them. Good luck for your baby.

    • January 9, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

      I just wouldn’t recommend anyone to go there. I felt like I was participating in animal cruelty and was torn between walking out, and wanting to stay and hold the sad gibbon’s hand

  4. June 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Oooh gosh, what a sad, horrible place. My heart goes out to those poor animals 😦 The gibbon that just wanted to hold your hand breaks my heart.

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