Driving in Bali is a choice and rewarding experience reserved for the brave and the bold. Understanding traffic in Bali, you must understand their driving pedigree. The Brits brought the whole, “driving on the wrong side of the road” bit. The Dutch left a legacy of confusing signs and directions. Regardless of foreign influence… driving in Bali is still uniquely Balinese. After our recent visit to Bali, we put together a few helpful hints that will aid you as you begin your four wheeled journey and keep you safe!
1) Be Choosy
Our first couple of suggestions starts at the rental car counter. First, pick the right car. If you are a first timer to Bali, why not rent an automatic? I know, this is a direct insult to your driving prowess. Trust us, one less thing to do while you are driving is a good thing. Car selection is also something to be choosy. Bigger is not better when it comes to the narrow roads of Bali that make quaint English roads look like super freeways. Air conditioning is a must, must, must.
We booked our car through carrentals.co.uk. We found some great rates for the island.
2) Get the Assurance of Insurance
Ok, you picked out the perfect car for your Balinese adventure. Don’t leave the rental counter quite yet. Open that wallet back up and pick up a lot of insurance. If they offer it, buy it. Driving in Bali is in close quarters. Parking lots are tiny. Scooters surround you (the concept of keeping in your “lane” if a foreign concept here). The chance of getting a scratch, bump of nick is better than average. With amazing luck, we escaped without a scratch. The other reality of driving in Bali is the number of people on scooters and motorcycles. Some scooters have an entire family on board while other scooters are carrying cargo. Seriously. The chance that one of these drivers makes a mistake, and heaven forbid you collide, you will want protection. As a visitor to Bali, the idea of exploring their judicial system would be less than pleasant. If you spend a few bucks and get the coverage, you have a guaranteed pro by your side should something unfortunate happen.
3) Be Guided
Ok, the last thing to purchase at the rental desk. Rent a good GPS. Our first fight on Balinese soil was when Mike forgot to add a GPS unit to the purchase. Off we went to try to navigate the busy city of Denpasar. We didn’t get very far before we were having a full typhoon level “disagreement” on which way we were going! We hadn’t even left the airport parking lot. We spent 45 minutes trying to get out of the city, only to give up and drive back to our hotel before we forgot how to get back. We called our kind rental company representative and added the GPS to our package. Crisis averted. But having an electronic friend isn’t the only navigator you should have: use a human too. Luci spent much of the trip as a Grand Prix announcer yelling things like: Brake! or “There’s a bike with a baby on your left, car on your left, scooter going the wrong way on the right shoulder!”
4) Hitch a Ride
Our next tip about driving is not about driving at all. There simply are some places you just shouldn’t drive. Case in point: We were planning on having a suit made for Mike in Denpasar. We had done our research and many people had commented on the quality of the suits and the difficulty in finding this exquisite tailor. What was to be done? We ditched the car, called the tailor to send us a car. Boom. There was no way that we would have found this place. Time was saved by not wandering the back roads of Denpasar and Mike is looking rather dapper in his new duds. Most fine metro restaurants in Bali are happy to send their car service to pick you up and back. It’s very common for businesses to come pick you up and bring you back to your hotel. Why waste the time? Hitch a ride. Then head to the beach!
A word about distracted driving in Bali. It is dangerous! For first timers, like we were, it is so easy to let your eyes wander from the road. Distractions are a natural hazard in Bali. The pressure of driving, following the GPS, dodging farm animals, scooters, and other cars is a lot to take in. Leave the phone off. Turn the radio off. Driving in Bali is not for the faint of heart, all kinds of things are going to come at you from all directions. Keep you focus on the road. It’s a full contact sport. Mike has driven all over the world: Turkey, Italy, South Africa, and Bali was the hardest country yet. There are no rules in Bali. First of all, they drive on the left hand side so us Yanks struggle with going the opposite directions. That’s the first challenge, but not the hardest. Cars don’t stick to their lanes, you can see the scooter driver’s nose hairs they are so close to your car. One way roads aren’t really one way, as scooters drive the wrong way towards you frequently. There are also few traffic lights and speeds are fast.
6) Take the Back Roads
Regardless of all of these do’s and don’ts … Bali is a beautiful place. People say that about a lot of places. Sometimes they really mean it. With Bali, we really mean it. It is seriously one of the most stunning couple travel destinations we have ever set foot on. It’s like a carnival to the eyes. A few times during our visit we took they back roads, granted, a few times we got lost, but what we were able to see was worth the fight. The picture below is one we took when we took a wrong turn. We came across some folks harvesting rice. If we hadn’t gotten lost, we would have never been treated to this scene.
7) Follow the Flow
We saved our best tip for last. This one is really difficult to describe. Bali has a traffic vibe. You get into a groove once you have driven a day or two there. You gain an expectation of what the other drivers are going to do and when. When it clicks for you the fun begins. Balinese are very courteous drivers if you “follow the flow.” When you upset the flow, you may get a little beep, beep from behind. The easiest way to “get the groove” is to imitate what you see for most of the drivers. You are always going to see some crazies out on the roads, but just follow what the crowd does. You will be fine.
Those are our handy tips for making you driving holiday in Bali both safe and peaceful.
We partnered with our good friends at carrentals.co.uk during our recent visit to Bali. Does this change our opinion of their great service and rates? Nope. Not one bit.
No we wouldn’t drive in Bali! We just returned from a 6-week jaunt to Bali and Indonesia. Talk about a river of scooters in Bali. And crazy crazy traffic jams. Janice is too much of scaredy-cat to get on the back of a motorcycle behind George (or anyone else). We walked everywhere, or else stayed at villas and hotels which offered complimentary van transport to, for example, Ubud or Seminyak towns.
The best tip for driving in Bali? Don’t do it. We were there for a month and hired drivers when we needed/wanted to go for a longer trip. It’s easy and cheap. They know their way around, usually speak good English, and you don’t have to worry about anything. We spent an average of about $40 or $50 per day, including tip. Well worth it, and maybe actually cheaper than renting. And, you get a guide, to boot.
Great point Tom. Driving is a personal preference. A little extra money and you can have someone else drive if you wish.
I see, carrying things on the top of your head is trendy in Bali :)
Hi guys, we’re heading to Bali in Dec so it is great to read up on some tips. Thanks! Have a great day wherever you find yourselves :)
You are going to LOVE Bali! Let us know how we can help.
I cannot imagine driving in Bali!