lots of primates on monkey island in Vietnam

Life’s a Circus – Our Man On Monkey Island

This past year KMC senior editor, Tara Cunningham, volunteered to help teach creative writing to four grade 12 high-school students from Nelson’s L.V. Rogers Secondary School. Some have stories in the Summer 2016 issue, and this online contribution from Akiah Tromans, is all about his unsettling experience on Monkey Island, near the mountainous region of Khanh Hoa, Vietnam.

It took 15 minutes for a boat to carry me and my family from the mainland of Na Trang, Vietnam, to Monkey Island. Formally known as Hon Lao, the island tourist attraction received its name for the approximately 1,500 Rhesus Macaque primates that inhabit the area. Although no locals live there, visitors can spend the night to fully experience the island’s “family-friendly” activities.

Our first stop was the go-cart track. Without any rules for safety or speed, the carts roared down the track like unstoppable missiles. No one needed a helmet, and every person drove like a reckless drunkard. I ripped around the bend, crashing into the string of tires separating the track from the rundown monkey habitat of withered palm trees and scat. Everywhere I looked, a little ape was either perched in a tree or dashing through the sand, causing mayhem among the drivers. The monkeys sprinted across the track as if their existence was a frivolous game. After we swerved to avoid a few of them, we realized crashing was not worth sparing the life of an unpredictable monkey.

monkey island in vietnam

Nothing to see here kids. Just a monkey in a hot pink jumpsuit balancing on an inverted drum.

After the risky go-carts, we went for lunch at the island restaurant. When the food arrived, we became quiet as we ate, but our peace was quickly snatched away by a waitress violently screaming Vietnamese, as if she was being threatened. We saw a monkey dash across a table, vigorously grabbing a bowl of rice, spilling dirty plates and cutlery on the floor.

Without a second thought, the waitress grabbed a slingshot from her pocket and began shooting rocks at the skinny little rascal as it scampered into a palm tree to enjoy its fresh steal.

Sharing the rice with its swarm, the food vanished and the plate hit the floor, smashing to pieces. It all happened so naturally, an everyday conflict. Slightly shocked, we secured our food only to spot about 25 other scavengers perched in coconut trees and eyeing our table hungrily.

The circus act started after lunch, and we squeezed into the tent for the performance. The show involved more animals then we initially anticipated. Out came monkeys and goats in clothing, some riding miniature bicycles. Funny for some and disturbing for others, the creatures mimicked human life: Two monkeys rode a tandem bike in circles while pulling a carriage. Two goats sat strapped in that carriage dressed as bride and groom, with outfits made of forceful wire that prevented them from moving disruptively. With stereotypically goofy circus music narrating a jaw-dropping show, the trainer stood emotionless in the corner, cracking his whip at the animals to ensure their obedience. As the performance came to an end, an overwhelming flock of birds was released into the tent as a sign of closure. The endless squawking and chirping caused us to evacuate immediately.

With the sun setting on the ocean horizon, we walked back to the boat. We passed the ostrich-riding attraction, and I couldn’t help but wish we had checked it out instead of the circus. Maybe I would have had a more enjoyable experience if I could have been oblivious to the absurd and unnatural treatment of the animals. But in a sense, everything on the island was contrary to what I consider natural. My thoughts were yanked away when a herd of ostriches sprinted down the grassy field with monkeys riding their backs, primates crying noises of a jungle war call.

Author / Contributor

Akiah K. Tromans is a grade 12 student at L.V. Rogers Secondary School in Nelson, British Columbia, and a former writing intern at Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine. In the near future, he plans to work in Vancouver and eventually travel to South-East Asia and Australia to explore and write about his experiences.

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