Thailand is home to many different species of primates, but the most common monkey you’ll see when visiting is a macaque (pronounced “ma kak”), a small, gray or gray-brown animal that usually hangs out in trees or other foliage.
The average Thai macaque is about two feet tall and weighs approximately 15 pounds, but just because these monkeys are small doesn't mean they can't harm you. In fact, macaques in Thailand can be quite aggressive—injuries from these primates that require hospital care are reported yearly, and authorities have even put up signs warning people to beware, but incidents continue to occur.
If you're traveling to Thailand, it's important to be prepared for interactions with these primates as they are especially common in tourist areas and improper interactions could lead to serious injury or even theft.
Don't Feed the Animals
In some tourist areas, including during group tour visits to Koh Phi Phi's Maya Bay and Monkey Beach, visitors are encouraged to feed the monkeys peanuts, bananas, or other snacks, and the macaques are so used to getting food from visitors that they frequently snatch it out of people’s hands, grab for it, or otherwise act aggressively when the food isn’t forthcoming.
People who turn away (often in fear) or try to stop them from taking food are sometimes scratched or bitten. If your tour guide gives you bananas for the monkeys, you can decline to participate as it’s just as fun to watch the monkeys from a distance.
If you do decide to feed the macaques, do not let small children interact with them, and be sure keep your guard up and pay attention to where all monkeys in the area are.
The safest way to feed these creatures is to throw the food toward the monkeys instead of waiting for them to take it out of your hand, as you would with any wild animal, and make sure to be aware of your surroundings so other monkeys don't try to sneak up behind you.
Be Cautious With Baby Macaques
Baby macaques are by far the cutest of the primates living in Thailand, and though they may appear to be quiet friendly and non-aggressive, petting these young monkeys comes with its own set of risks.
These primates are very protective of their young. Do not approach or try to touch a young monkey or approach a mother monkey while she's nursing her baby. Because macaques are highly social creatures, if they sense a threat to one of their pack, they'll come to the defense of one another.
Since baby macaques are more trusting, less aggressive, and appear to be friendlier than their older counterparts, tourists will often try to approach these smaller creatures first. However, if an older monkey feels like you are threatening one of the young, you might be attacked by the entire pack!
For this reason, you should err on the side of caution when it comes to interacting with packs of these creatures. Even if your tour guide encourages play with the little ones, be wary and respectful of their safety.
Other Dangers of Monkeys in Thailand
Bodily harm isn't the only thing to be afraid of when interacting with Thai macaques; in Ubud, Bali’s Monkey Forest, macaques are known to steal from tourists.
Although losing your sunglasses to a pack of monkeys might seem like a fun memory, it can still be dangerous and result in you getting scratched or bitten in the process, and if you are bitten or scratched, you need to get a tetanus shot and have your wound cleaned.
More serious injury can occur—especially during the macaques' mating season when males are hyper-aggressive. In 2007, a pack of monkeys attacked the city's deputy mayor in his home in New Delhi, India, and as he was trying to fight them off, he fell from his balcony and later died of his injuries.