Gangs of Ulu Watu

Ulu Watu Temple

Every travel guide I’ve read has a short section about crime and personal safety in the places you’ll travel, from pickpockets and scooter-driving purse snatchers to bus ticket scams and dodgy taxi services.  But I can’t remember an instance when the attraction itself proved a hazard to holding on to your personal belongings.

Today we visited Pura Luhur Ulu Watu, one of Bali’s more important temples.  The temple is dedicated to the spirits of the sea and is appropriately perched on the Bukit Peninsula high up on a sheer cliff.  The Ulu Watu temple is noted for its scenic beauty, especially during sunsets when the temple’s silhouette

Cliffs at Ulu Watu

against the Indian Ocean and colorful sky can be breathtaking.  Although we visited during the morning to avoid the crowds, I can easily picture how beautiful and serene this place is after taking in an evening Kecak dance at the adjacent ampitheatre.

The temple is definitely an important one, but the real action here are the monkeys who share these sacred grounds.  According to our guide, there are 3 gangs totaling about 400 monkeys who occupy the area around the temple.  Their presence in the area precedes the construction of the temple in the 16th century, so this truly is their turf.  And believe me, they know it.  Many of these monkeys are not afraid to grab anything shiny, bright, tasty or just interesting from less vigilant tourists.  They roam the site freely and have few fears about approaching humans or sharing your personal space.

Gang members chilling out with us while the rain passed

They only appear to be minding their own (monkey) business

This offering has been "tagged" by an Ulu Watu gang

During our one hour Ulu Watu visit, we witnessed nearly a dozen thefts or attempted robberies.  Sunglasses, cameras, hats, purses, food…one lady lost not one, but both of her flip-flops to one naughty monkey!  It was definitely pretty

Happy travelers who purchased "safe passage" insurance

amusing, but it could easily have been quite upsetting had we been victims rather than witnesses.  Luckily, we had read up on this curious hazard (thank you, Lonely Planet) and we also hired a guide at the entrance to show us around.  The guard (I mean guide) costs 100,000 IRP (9 EUR), and in my opinion he would have been worth his fee even if he knew nothing about the temple!  Because the guide knows each gang and the shady and not-so-shady characters among them, he’ll keep the little critters at a safe distance from you, your children, and your belongings.  And he’ll point out who the really naughty ones are.  If for some reason a monkey does take something from you, these guides will know how to get it back (by paying a ransom in food in exchange for the item’s return).   We’ve been to several tourist attractions where we have declined the services of a guide, but my advice should you visit Pura Luhur Ulu WatuIf you want a less stressful passage through the turf of the Ulu Watu monkey gangs, hire the guide!  It’s a cost you’ll feel even better about because part of  the tour guide’s fee is required to go towards buying food to keep the monkeys fed and happy.  Think of it as a travel visa to tour their little gangland.


2 responses to “Gangs of Ulu Watu

  1. Hi guys! thinking of you and just caught up on your adventures. Sounds great!!! All’s good in california– a bit of skiing at tahoe, headed to costa rica for surfing at spring break… and the normal, homework, sports, work, bar mitvah coming up etc.

  2. What naughty monkeys? What kind were they? Glad they did not cause any trouble for you. Happy Early Birthday!! Although I think it is your birthday were you are 🙂 And Happy Chinese New Year – remember to eat long life noodles.
    Have fun, Natasha

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