Imagine strolling through a lush, green forest, engulfed in a sea of leafy tree branches hanging low to the ground. You can hear water gushing in the distance and the air smells sweet of exotic flowers. As you round a corner, you are suddenly standing in an open space. But you are not alone.

Around you, there are more than 50 monkeys sitting on the pavement, swinging from trees, perching on rocks and zipping around from one location to the next. Some of them are calmly peeling tiny bananas, others seem to be screeching in argument, and a mother is delousing her baby while the rest of the monkey family sits around watching. Before you know it, one of the monkeys is already running towards you at an alarming speed, going straight for the bundle of mini bananas in your hand.

Welcome to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali.

The sacred monkey forest sanctuary, also known as Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana, is just a short walk away from the centre of Ubud, and, being one of the main tourist attractions, it is almost impossible to miss.

Before you enter, make sure any food or drink you have is safely tucked away inside your bag- same goes for sunglasses and other loose items you may be carrying. The little macaque monkeys are definitely not as sweet and innocent as they look!

Apart from their curious and slightly thievish nature, however, there is not much to fear.

After you pay your entrance fee (about 20,000 rupiah when I visited, that’s a bit more than €2.00), you’re free to wander around the forest at your own leisure. However, it is advised you stay on the paths for safety reasons.

Don’t worry, the monkeys will come close enough- maybe even too close for your liking!

My friend Rosario and a little macaque sharing an intimate moment

In total, the forest is home to an estimated 350 – 500 long-tail macaque monkeys, which are divided up into four troops. Each troop inhabits its own area of the forest, and monkeys from different troops usually don’t mingle with each other.

What I didn’t know before my visit to the monkey forest is that believers of Balinese Hinduism see monkeys as an embodiment of both positive and negative forces. A monkey stealing a farmer’s harvest would be considered a negative force, for example. But monkey troops inhabiting sacred forests and Balinese Hindu temple sites are thought to protect these sites from evil spirits and thus are respected and cared for.

Take your time to stop and marvel at the beautiful scenery around you. There are flowers to smell, bridges to cross and waterfalls to discover. The sacred forest also contains three temples which you can visit.

Don’t forget that the usual rules for visiting Balinese Hindu temples apply: no entrance for anyone wearing inappropriate clothing or who are bleeding (and yes, that includes menstruation).

Visiting the sacred monkey sanctuary in Ubud was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. My friends and I still recount hilarious anecdotes from our visit there, and the image of wide-eyed baby monkeys munching on bananas is forever ingrained in my memory.

I believe there are other, similar monkey forests in different parts of Indonesia, so by all means, go and check one out.