Of all of the animals that inhabit the Khao Lak countryside, monkeys are one of the most popular among tourists. There are several opportunities for tourists to see monkeys in Khao Lak. The most common monkey experience for tourists is a visit to the Suwankuha Temple in Phang Nga. Usually included in most James Bond Island tours, the temple is located in a wide cave system and is home to an impressive reclining Buddha which is ‘guarded’ by a large troop of macaque monkeys. Although these monkeys are technically wild, being visited by so many tourists each day has taught them to associate people with food. You can buy packets of peanuts and corn to feed the monkeys outside the cave for just a few Baht, so of course people do. Feeding the monkeys can make a great photo opportunity, but be aware! These monkeys are no longer nervous and scared of people, so they will steal anything that interests them. Last time I was there one of them stole my coffee, straight out of my hand. It had been an early start that morning and as you can imagine, I wasn’t impressed. However I know that it is not worth fighting these monkeys. If they try to take something, just let them. If it isn’t something they can eat or drink they will soon get bored of it and they don’t usually go far. Each year several tourists end up paying for expensive rabies shots after getting bitten by these monkeys. Most bites occur when people refuse to let go of what they are holding, or when they are trying to tempt the monkey to pose for the perfect photo using peanuts.
Macaques are the most common species of monkey in this area. Thailand is home to six different species of macaque. The crab-eating macaque and the Rhesus macaque are usually the most common. Found throughout Southeast Asia, these monkeys are the third largest population of primates in the world. Behind only humans and rhesus monkeys. In recent years they have said to have already evolved to reach the ‘stone age’, they have learnt to use stones and rocks as tools to help them open shells and nuts or to peel roots and bark. Macaques will mostly live in large groups called “troops”, each troop will usually be made up of up to about 20 females and only a few males. The troop leader will usually be a dominant female. Males and females can be differentiated by their size and facial hair. Although females will also have whiskers, only males will have moustache. Males will also usually be larger in size. They have a lifespan of about 15-30 years.
Despite their name, crab eating macaques do not normally feed on crabs. They are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they will feed on a range of animals and plants whenever they can. Normally about 60%-90% of their diet is made up of seeds, fruits, flowers, bark and leaves. However, they will also feed on smaller animals such as young or nesting birds, lizards, frogs and fish. In certain areas, the Khao Lak Mangroves included, these monkeys have become good enough swimmers to dive for crabs and other crustaceans.
The monkeys in the Khao Lak Mangroves live a much more ‘natural’ life. They travel between the surrounding plantations and mangrove forests in search of food and shelter. They can often be seen as the tide drops making their way to their favorite hunting grounds where they will search for shellfish, crabs, shoots, nuts and leaves. They are much more wary of human activity in this area as they are often considered a pest by local plantation owners and crab collectors. However it is possible to kayak in among the troop and watch their activities without disturbing them provided you have an experienced guide.