Some of my greatest travel memories and experiences have been forged in Cambodia, and they will live long in the memory. And almost all of them good. There was one incident, however, that was far from good. In fact, it was one of the scariest moments I’ve ever been in, and I’m not exaggerating to say I genuinely feared for my life. I’m now going to try my best to explain what happened, but without video evidence, I’m asking you to use your imagination to appreciate the scene.
Being an Indiana Jones wannabe, I wandered off the tourist trails to try and find some solace and atmosphere among the ruins and away from the throngs, and came across this beautiful old pyramid. As you can see, there were zero other tourists around, and was the perfect place to sit back, enjoy a beer and take in the magnificent jungle all around. And of course, spy on the monkeys.
From my vantage point atop the lonely and isolated pyramid I had a great view of the native monkeys, doing what monkeys do…eating, playing and basking in the quietude of the human-less jungle. After about thirty minutes I was ready to head back to the main trail and continue exploring the Angkor area. The monkeys had for now disappeared, all except one older male. He didn’t seem that interested in me as I stood about twenty yards away, so I took a few snaps. Trying to capture a photo of the old male with the pyramid in the background became a game. I didn’t want to get too close, but I edged several yards forward. Of course, he moved forward too, preventing me getting the shot I wanted. I tried again, angling around a little. He did too. And then again.
At this point, I think he was tired of my attempts. I have to insist, I didn’t get close, and I was in no way being one of ‘those’ tourists. I have a good zoom lens, and I was a decent distance away. However, the old monkey suddenly sent out a couple of fairly aggressive grunts and calls, and I knew it was time to get out of there. I backed away a little and then turned. My heart stopped. Lined up ten yards away were about eight large monkeys and several younger ones. Bollocks. I tried to take a few steps left, trying to edge around them, but, and I have no doubt that it was coordinated, they moved over and blocked my way out. Then, one of the larger ones took a quick dart forwards, threatening me. I just didn’t know what to do. I stole a glance behind me, and saw the old male sitting there, a harsh look on his face, his eyes on mine, unwavering. Beside him were a few other monkeys, large males I’m guessing, the epitome of bodyguards. Looking back at the others, they began to call and shriek out, and everywhere I looked monkeys were moving towards me from the jungle. I was under no illusion that they were going to attack, and if they did I would have no chance. They were big, some of them the size of a large dog, and they were many. I was by myself. There were no other humans within a few hundred yards. Shouting for help wouldn’t have brought any. The jungle was thick and deep, and dark beneath the trees. I was in this alone.
So I ran.
I ran as hard and fast as my flip flops would allow on the uneven, stone strewn floor of the jungle. And the monkeys chased me. At one point at least two of them had their jaws on me, one on my shorts and one on my bag that swung wildly from my arm. My new camera, my pride and joy, was also swinging about, and as I didn’t have a moment in which to put it safely in its case, I fully expected it to fly off and smash, never to be seen again. But I kept on running, probably over a hundred yards in total, and…then my flip flop came off. I turned, facing up to the pack, and swung a foot at the nearest monkey while my bag narrowly missed the head of another. They shrieked and lunged, and hissed and grabbed, but I slipped my foot into the flip flop and turned and ran again. Thankfully, this time they didn’t follow. Another twenty seconds of hard running and I was again back out onto the main tourist road, heart pounding, legs shaking, but safe. I appraised my arm, and realized that there were several scratches, probably from monkey claws as they tried to grab me as I ran.
Once I knew I was safe, it took many minutes for my heart rate to slow down and my legs to stop shaking. I know what happened. I had wandered a little too far from the main trail, and ultimately, the elder monkey just lost patience with the stupid human. I insist I didn’t do anything wrong, just lingered a little too long. But it was a terrifying experience, and I believe I was lucky to get out of there with nothing more than a few scratches and a story to tell.
When I finally looked at my photos, weeks later, I found this one of a mother and baby. I didn’t notice the baby when I was there, but I assume that I was considered a threat, and the monkeys did what they had to do, and chase me the hell out of their territory.
Here are a few other monkey images, taken before things went bad.
I guess the lesson I learned, from what for me was a frightening experience, is never take nature for granted. These monkeys were wild, and although I didn’t do a lot wrong, it was too wrong for them. I’ve seen thousands of monkeys in many different countries, and although they are sometimes a little aggressive, I’ve never actually seen an attack. I think I was lucky. If I had fallen, they would have been on me, and they were big, strong and determined enough to have done me some serious damage. If I had dropped my camera, it would have been lost. There was no way I would have dared go back to get it, and there was no one around to help. Yep, lucky.
So next time you see a wild monkey, wherever you are, think twice about hanging around too long. They may just attack.
If you like monkeys, check out my post from The Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali, a much more peaceful story.