Wednesday, January 25

Nha Trang - Monkey Island

Although Hoi An was definitely a great town, we just didn’t feel like hanging out in the pouring rain, especially since one of the goals of our vacation was to escape from the Seattle weather. Vietnam is similar to California (Ha! Never thought I’d see those words together!) in that the further south you go, the more likely it is you’ll get some good weather. The north is usually cool, grey and rainy, whereas the south is typically warm, sunny and dry. So we headed south to Santa Barbara – I mean, Nha Trang:

The best way to describe Nha Trang is to tell you it is known for one thing: booze cruises. And also lying on the beach and partying, which is basically just a booze cruise on land. (See? Just like Santa Barabara.) We had yet to see the sun, so we couldn’t wait to get to Nha Trang and laze around on the beach.

Famous last words. When we arrived in Nha Trang it was raining, the wind was howling and the ocean was a silty, brownish color. So much for Santa Barbara. Actually, it was a lot like SB – in an El Nino year.

Nha Trang beach

We decided to make the best of it and started looking into things to do in the area. Our guesthouse offered one tour that looked great: it included a visit to Monkey Island, a trip to a pagoda, and a hike to some waterfalls. The description of Monkey Island promised us a "monkey show and thousands of wild monkeys.” We were a little apprehensive about the "monkey show" part, but we found a review in the Lonely Planet online travel forum that said Monkey Island was “top class” so we decided to check it out.

Don't I know you can't believe everything you read online? If “top class” means depressing and disturbing, then they were right on. But I’m getting ahead of myself: The journey to the island was actually kinda nice (if only the journey had been the destination). The boat departed from a wind-swept fishing port surrounded by gorgeous scenery.

No, no, that's not the boat we took to the island. That's just a very cool round bamboo boat.

None of these are the boat we took to the island either - these are some of the fishing boats moored near the departure point for Monkey Island.

Even when we saw the dilapidated pier on Monkey Island, we weren’t really worried. Missing a few boards? Who cares, that’s what makes this a fun adventure!

No dock? No problem! (And yes, the boat in the background is the boat we took the island.)

The entrance to Monkey Island

As soon as we set foot on the island we were lead to a makeshift circus ring, and that’s where things got bad. The show involved a bunch of monkeys and dogs trained to do “amusing” things like count to five and roll a barrel around the ring. This wouldn’t have been that bad, except that the only unleashed monkey in the show kept trying to make a run for it. The first couple times that he ran off they’d re-capture him, swat him once on the belly, and then continue the show. It wasn’t fun to watch, and honestly I don’t know why we didn’t leave the ring right then. When the monkey ran off for the third time, upon recapturing him they took him straight backstage. We didn’t see anything, but we heard loud repeated THWACKS, followed by equally loud, pained squawks from the monkey. It was really disturbing. At this point, we got up and left the ring. “Top class” indeed.

Monkey Island is a truly bizarre place. Other than the trainers and a few caretakers, it’s uninhabited except for thousands of monkeys. I hesitate to call them wild monkeys because they are totally accustomed to people and clearly expect you to feed them. That said, they are free to roam wherever they choose – no fences or restrictions (except for the ones in the show, of course). Tom fed a couple of the "wild" monkeys right from his hand, which was fun to watch, although looking back I wish we’d just boycotted the whole place.

Who's the monkey?

Monkeys everywhere

Mom and babe

To be honest, the island was a bit creepy. It’s hard to explain. Part of it is that the monkeys follow you everywhere. They're probably only hoping for some handouts, but it was eerie to turn around and find a dozen monkeys trailing you closely. Not all of them are cute and cuddly either – many of them were pretty aggressive and would grab at any loose items including hats, cameras, bags, and fingers. It was almost as if the whole island was on the verge of a Monkey Mutiny. And you really couldn’t blame them. After watching how the trained monkeys were treated, you sort of wished that they would all revolt. Just not while you were there.

- Jessi


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