Temple monkey in Cambodia
Temple monkey in Cambodia

In many parts of the world, monkeys are a huge tourist attraction. They’re cute, they’re tiny…and they bite!! In places like Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, India and Africa monkeys and tourists share common ground especially in high traffic areas.

On a recent trip to SE Asia, I encountered many macaques near the temples. I got very close in order to photograph them, but I remained cautious. Locals even tried to sell me food to feed them promising that they won’t bite. But, I know better. While most encounters are enjoyable and peaceful, it is imperative that you remain cautious and understand the potential danger.

Anietra photographing a Macaque - photo courtesy of David Peters
Anietra photographing a Macaque – photo courtesy of David Peters

Some things to keep in mind:

Don’t feed them! This is a sure-fire way to invite a biting incident as monkeys can become quite aggressive especially when it comes to food. I witnessed monkeys yanking food right out of tourists hands in Cambodia. Feeding them attracts even more monkeys and the competition for your goods could result in a monkey melee and a nasty bite.

Don’t grab them. I have to admit, baby monkeys are adorable and human nature makes us want to hold them. BAD IDEA! Never attempt to grab them. Even if one jumps onto your shoulders, do not try to remove it. Instead, stay calm and remain still until it jumps off of you.

Girls selling food to feed monkeys
Girls selling food to feed monkeys

Don’t smile at them. This is tough because engaging with primates is so much fun, but showing your teeth to them can also be interpreted as a sign of aggression initiating an attack. Save your enthusiasm for the car and your poker face for the primates.

If they take something–don’t try to retrieve it. Many tourists are bitten trying to retrieve something that a monkey snagged from them. They are quick and territorial. If a monkey grabs your ice cream or camera strap, let it go. The monkey is just curious and chances are it will drop the item for something else once it’s inspected it. Struggling with a monkey for your property only incites the animal into a fight and could result in a bite.

Take photos with caution. While photographing macaques in Cambodia, I had one eye looking through my lens and my other eye open keeping track of the movements of monkeys around me. The monkey’s reflection in a DSLR camera lens could trigger an attack, meanwhile curiosity from his friends can leave me outnumbered.


Stay calm. Never panic or run if a monkey startles you. They can sense your fear and it only builds their confidence making an attack more likely. Instead, if you feel threatened, try to back away from the monkey. You can also wave your arms and I suggest grabbing a stick to defend yourself if it continues to pursue you. Never turn your back on it.

Bites need quick medical attention:
If you are bitten or scratched by a monkey, you should seek medical attention quickly. Monkeys can carry diseases such as rabies and even without disease, bites can be pretty severe inviting infection due to the huge amount of bacteria in their mouths. Wash the would immediately with soap and water for 15 minutes and promptly see a doctor who will likely start you on antibiotics.

Monkeys are thrilling, interesting and entertaining. They are a joy to experience and observe. But, knowing how to manage your behavior with theirs goes a long way in ensuring a peaceful encounter.