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Blinded by a Monkey

This is a guest post by my brother, Philip, who took the big step of quitting his job earlier this year so he could travel in Australia and Asia. Unfortunately, it seems the ‘uncoordinated’ (or at least, the ‘unlucky’) gene runs in the family…

Vang Vieng, Laos is a lovely place. There are majestic mountains in all directions, there’s a giant river that I promise isn’t brown and full of driftwood (I might be lying about that part), and there are a whole 2 main streets in the city.

Vang Vieng

The view of Vang Vieng from my hotel. Not bad.

There are all kinds of fun activities you can do there…and some don’t even involve drinking! However, with all of the fun and idyllic scenery comes danger. Terrible terrible danger. No, not drunk people drowning while tubing (drunk tubing is banned right now), but…

Devious little diseased monkeys.

The monkeys weren’t even wild. They were in a cage outside a random Korean restaurant on one of those two streets I mentioned above. After my G Adventures tour group ate dinner nearby, a member of our group named Bella said there were monkeys down the street.  Bella knew not what she set in motion. (Also, thanks Bella for actually having pictures of the monkeys so i could put them on this post.)

Better Days

Happier times in Vang Vieng as I tubed (sober) through caves. It was also a time when I could easily see everything around me courtesy of my glasses.

We arrived in front of the Korean restaurant around 9pm. It was dark. There were 3 monkeys in the cage — Large Angry Monkey, Middle-Sized Playful Monkey, and Scared Baby Monkey. We all felt bad that these monkeys were in such a small cage but were also enjoying watching them play around.

Then it happened.  Me being the genius I am, I was standing within a monkey’s-arm-length of the cage, and the cage’s mesh was plenty large enough for Middle-Sized Playful Monkey’s arms to fit through. This monkey had been jumping around the cage fairly calmly, reaching out and grabbing people’s fingers if they put them next to the cage (in a curious and cute kind of way).

The Monkeys

The Middle-Sized one is the guy with a giant tumour on his face. That’s a great sign.

At some point, that all changed as he began staring me down. Suddenly, he jumped at the side of the cage. His hand darted out through the cage mesh and snatched my glasses off, yanking them back in one quick motion as he loped into the middle of the cage. His theft complete, he then started to play.

At this point all I could think was, “Crap, I don’t have any contacts….crap….I don’t have spare glasses! I can’t see anything. Disaster. I would like to be able to see…you know, anything…for the rest of the time I’m in Laos (and South East Asia).”

While these thoughts were running through my (admittedly Beerlao-addled) mind, everybody standing around the monkey cages was struggling not to roll on the floor laughing. I was laughing too, but I was also very, very concerned.  Drunken me decided to take action…by sticking my hand into the cage and trying to get the glasses back from the monkey. This qualifies as a Bad Idea, as shown by the below picture.

Monkey Scratches

All of the lovely scratches Middle-Sized left me with.

The scene in general was ridiculous. About 10 people were gathered around the cage watching my struggle. The people from the restaurant (who I suppose were in charge of these monkeys) showed up and gave them bananas to try to distract them from my glasses. Crafty as this monkey was, it just grabbed my glasses with its feet, took the banana with its free hands, and scampered off.

Everyone was moving around the cage, trying to figure out a way to get my glasses back while still doubled over laughing.  The restaurant owners then showed up with a giant pair of tongs to try to get the glasses.  The monkeys were too fast for everything.

Large Angry Monkey put a damper on my attempts by standing close to me in the cage and deathstaring me — not something I wanted to deal with since he looked like he could do some real damage. At the same time, Middle-Sized Not-Quite-So-Playful-Now Monkey kept jumping onto the cage walls and pulling my hair in amongst the scratching and the biting.

Eventually, Middle-Sized decided it was time to liberate the lenses from their frame-prison and popped the first one out. It then became uninteresting because it was not shiny, so thankfully, the monkey paid no heed to my attempts to rescue it from the cage.

As happy as I was to have one lens, it was a bit useless without its pair, so I felt like I had to keep trying. After some more attempts to get the frames, and more scratches endured, the monkey popped out lens #2. Unfortunately, this time he took a great interest in it as soon as I tried to grab it, leading to more scratches. But I had both lenses at this point, and that was all I needed. I was done with the monkeys…even if they weren’t done with my glasses.

Luckily, I could see just enough to navigate to the nearest place selling cheap sunglasses. I got some temporary frames which looked all kinds of stylish:

The Replacement Frames

Don’t I look so happy with my replacement frames?

Looking back, sticking my hands into the cage was an absolutely awful idea which led to me getting rabies and tetanus shots. I’m starting to wonder if I should get one of those membership cards for rabies shots, since it’s the second set I’ve had.

Getting a Rabies Shot

Learning about the joys of Laotian health care while getting a rabies shot.

Also worrying about the lovely disease of monkey herpes has been a lot of fun. Nearly all macaques (the breed that scratched me) have this disease, and of the incredibly small number of humans (31) that have gotten it, 90% have died. The fact that it’s pretty rare reassures me, as does the fact that it’s been more than a month since my exposure. But was it a fun thing to think about for the rest of my trip around south east Asia? No.

So seriously, don’t touch the monkeys. Any monkeys. Regardless of how cute they are.

But really, Vang Vieng is lovely. You should totally visit…but stay clear of those monkeys.  They’re evil plotters, those ones.

What’s something you’ve done on your travels that you immediately wished you hadn’t?

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