Monkey Island near Nha Trang – Getting there and visiting tips
One of the more unusual and interesting attractions in Vietnam is locally known as Lao Island, but more famously known to visitors as Monkey Island. It’s about 10 km from the heart of Nha Trang, and it can be visited in several different ways. If your time is very limited then an all-day boat trip with a quick Monkey Island visit isn’t a bad way to go, but if you want to spend more time there to enjoy more than just the shortest of visits then it’s cheap and easy to do yourself. Almost all prices in Nha Trang are very low by Western standards, and the DIY Monkey Island trip is no exception.
So what is Monkey Island?
It’s a private island about 2km off the coast just north of the beach city of Nha Trang. It’s a fairly large island and the employees there will tell you there are 1,500 monkeys living there, but I’ve never seen more than about 200 at once during mass feeding time, and more likely you’ll see fewer than 100 when you visit.
There is a lovely beach with huts and chairs for guest use and a simple water slide and some other toys out in the water. There are some interesting gardens and a few shops, but the main attractions are the colony of monkeys that are free to roam anywhere on the island and the dog and monkey show that runs three times per day, conveniently timed for when the larger groups arrive at 10am, 2pm, and 3:20pm.
Everything on the island is free to use and visit except for the weirdly incongruous go-kart track that sits adjacent to the main monkey feeding area. If you arrive on a boat tour then everything is included in that price, or if you take then ferry from the Monkey Island dock it’s included in the price of the ferry, which is 50,000 dong (about US$2.50).
Visiting Monkey Island as part of a boat tour
When you are in Nha Trang you can book a full-day tour at any of the dozens or travel agencies or even at the front desk of nearly every hotel in the city. The tours are generally the same. You get picked up in front of your hotel around 8am and a bus takes you to Da Chong Pier a bit north of the city center. Then you’ll be taken to Phi Island to see ostriches and deers, and then on to Orchid Stream Island for more nature and animal shows, and then on to Monkey Island after a lunch stop. You’ll be back at your hotel around 4pm that same day.
The price of these is around 250,000 dong (US$13) for adults and 150,000 dong (US$8) for children and they are fine if you want to see a lot in one day with a crowd of people along with you.
Visiting Monkey Island on your own
If you rent a motorbike, which is a great idea for at least one day if you are staying in Nha Trang for more than a couple days, you can take a very scenic drive up to the ferry landing on your own. Motorbikes rent all over for around $5 per day for a full automatic or as little as $3 per day for a “manual” one you have to kick into each gear, which is much easier than it sounds.
Map of Monkey Island and ferry landing
View Monkey Island, Nha Trang, Vietnam in a larger map
Getting to the Monkey Island ferry
The drive along the coastal route is spectacular and about 18 km north of the Lotus Tower on the beach in the center of the city. Most of the road is brand new and it has two lanes in each direction plus almost no traffic. The inland route is about 12 km but it’s crowded with other motorbikes, buses, and trucks that are headed out of town.
Once you are getting close you’ll want to look to your right for a large dragon decoration that towers over the entrance. It’s impossible to miss even if you aren’t paying close attention. Drive down the ramp and the motorbike parking area is past the ticket office to your right. If someone is there you’ll have to pay 2,000 dong (10 cents) to park, and they’ll give you a claim ticket as a receipt.
The Monkey Island ferry
Organized bus tours also arrive periodically so the ferry and the landing area are quite large even though few individual travelers are there at any given time. There’s a big restaurant overlooking the water with good food and reasonable prices, plus various other snack and souvenir stands.
You’ll see signs for the ticket office, and the ferry leaves every 30 minutes from 9:30am to 4:00pm.
Ferry ticket price: 50,000 dong ($2.50) round-trip, including all the attractions on the island.
The ferry is a bit slow so it’ll take close to 20 minutes to get out to the island.
Arriving on Monkey Island
Once the ferry pulls up you’ll walk down the new concrete pier and you’ll be on your own. Turn left after you pass through the gazebo and you’ll walk down a long trail that will eventually lead you to the main monkey feeding and observing area. If you turn right once you get to the main cluster of buildings before reaching the feeding area you’ll be walking toward the little show arena.
As mentioned, the shows take place shortly after the large tour groups arrive, three times per day, and if you are on one of those tours you’ll have about 10 minutes in the feeding area right after the show before you’re hustled off to your boat again.
Feeding the monkeys
The most popular thing to feed the monkeys is corn, which is sold for 4,000 dong per bag at a little shop nearby. Unfortunately, this is exactly the same stuff the monkeys are fed when there is no one around so they aren’t too thrilled by the stuff. Strangely enough, there are no bananas to be found, though I’m sure the monkeys would be thrilled if you brought some of your own.
There's a snack stand between the main feeding area and the go-kart track, and for prices starting around 12,000 dong (60 cents) you can buy various cookies and cakes and other things the monkey really like and will go crazy over. They’ll gladly eat the corn but they don’t show much enthusiasm so the cookies are the keys to their little hearts and stomachs.
If you are there as part of a group then you can feed any one of dozens of monkeys that will come up near you, but if you are there on your own or as part of a small group then you’ll notice an interesting phenomenon. When the monkeys see only one source of food then the “king monkey” will sit himself in front of the food source and then try to eat every bit of it. If you toss something to another monkey then the king monkey will race over to try to take it away. This pecking order is obviously based on many fights that took place when no guests were around.
If you buy some snacks and you wave them around then I can tell you from experience that one or more of them will sneak up on you to attempt to swipe the bag from you. They won't attack you and they aren't known for stealing sunglasses or other things to hold hostage like at other monkey places elsewhere, but they will try to get the food from you if you aren't careful.
The best part of it is a small island with a mote surrounding it that looks like it could be part of an elaborate miniature golf course. If you are there around midday then you’ll likely see loads of monkeys, including many of the babies, climbing up into the overhanging trees and then jumping into the water, over and over again, just for the refreshment of it. It’s damn cute.
The dog and monkey show
If you are there at 10am, 2pm, or 3:20pm, you’ll be able to take in the show for no additional charge. It starts out with trained dogs doing some cute things and then transitions to about 15 minutes of monkey tricks.
There’s balancing and other things you’ve probably seen before, but the highlight is probably when each monkey climbs aboard their own little bicycle and rides around in circles for a while as a big group. It’s even more adorable than it sounds.
I’d heard from a few people that the monkeys were treated cruelly, but I didn’t see any of that. A few of them are on leashes as they are led to the center ring, but after that they are unhooked to perform. They seem to like the crowds and applause, and unlike a circus where the performers might have to get back in a cage, this whole island is for them so it seems like things could be worse.