Driving in Bali – Tips and Warnings

 In Travel

I have lived in Bali for seven years and despite my original qualms to drive, I set myself the daunting task of getting myself around Bali.

Driving in Bali – Needing the Mindset

Bali ‘s  favourite pet name is Island of The Gods. The term is loosely used especially considering that traffic is reminiscent of the roads from hell.  In truth, there must be several gods looking over their favourite island, since the mortality rate on Bali roads ought to be higher given the chaotic reckless driving. To a traveller, driving in Bali appears to be a cacophony of snakes and ladders.  To the locals, it is a structured way of getting from point to point in the shortest possible time.

This is my story of driving in Bali while I’ve been living there.

Driving in Bali requires skill, dexterity and a good dose of fierce determination.  Technically driving is on the right. In reality, driving is a myriad of shooting scooters into wherever there is any space available. Pavements are a favourite, especially during rush hour.

One of the reasons for the organised chaos is that the road infrastructure does not support the recent huge explosion in the travel industry.  A large number of new hotels and villa rentals has necessitated a larger supply chain.


Scooters that drive in Bali

Whereas in the past a scooter was sufficient, as a means of transport to an average Balinese family, today we see that the number of cars has grown exponentially. The affluence brought by this travel industry has also meant that locals can enjoy the luxury of cars on roads which were perfectly suited for bikes and scooters but which are not wide enough for two cars navigating in opposite directions.  Owning a car in Bali is a status symbol that is enviable.

The growing number of expatriates who live in Bali and who own a car and driver does not help driving in Bali.  We have to consider, that young Balinese man, who are anxious to leave school early and hit the roads, becoming a driver to a “blue” as white expats are known, is a coveted position.  Sensible bule will take this safer option for transport in Bali. The more courageous lot who brace the traffic handling their own wheel may be exposing themselves to more than they bargain for.

The fact that Bali has got very limited public transport, and this is restricted to few areas, necessitates even kids to drive around in bicycles or scooters.  It is not uncommon to see kids of an indeterminate age which could be as young as ten or less, whooshing around in the school uniforms – without a helmet (of course)

Scooters are by far the quickest and cheapest way to travel in Bali.  The locals use or abuse their bikes and peddle the very varied stuff.  You could see very heavily laden bikes selling anything from the local favourite snack, called Krupuk*  to large bottles of water to be used on dispensers.  In a rural area, you can be forgiven to think that a bicycle is riding itself off the sunset because the rider is hidden behind the heaps of long stemmed leaves which has been harvested as feed for cows.

On top of the necessary bedlam on the road, it is not unusual to come across food peddlers.  The “Bakso” sellers who have a hard life pushing their wooden kitchen up and down the steep Bali roads are similar to live bombs.  These sellers are cooking a special soup that locals and foreigners equally enjoy on the roads, naturally carrying a small gas tank in their mobile kitchen. Traffic can stand still for long minutes until the poor soul pushes his wares on the same roads as regular traffic. This does not qualify for a “safety first” rule.


Tourists driving in Bali – read this!

Beautiful Bali is one of the greenest and authentic islands in the world.  The tropical climate blesses the fertile island with copious rainfalls. Driving in the Bali rains is fairly safe in a car, but given that there is an average of fifty scooters for every car on the road, the riders make emergency stops, and don on their plastic covers.  It’s business as usual in the tropics and the heavy rains, will not be a deterrent to the pressure of travelling requirements. A tourist driving in Bali, especially at night, however ought to be warned that there are usually open water trenches on both sides of the roads, which are necessary for water drainage.  Although they cannot be missed during the day, the night could be a not so refreshing alternative.

For a foreigner to drive in Bali, the first thing that must be understood is the mindset of driving.  Although driving in Bali appears to be very disorganised, in truth nothing sudden happens on the road.  There is no road rage.  Despite the sheer force of determination of the locals to arrive anywhere, makes them head into empty pockets on the road, like sperms attacking an ovum, no one is upset with each other.  If for any reason, a car driver needs to make you turn in the middle of a busy road, there is not going to be impatience or hooting horns.  It just is.

What is important to know for travellers

One of the most important tips to be given if you are a traveller planning to drive in Bali is to avoid sudden braking.  The flow of the traffic is like dancers moving on a busy stage.  It is in unison. The movements flow, and a new driver had to forget previously written rules, and understand the unwritten rules.  If you are in ahead, do not need what is happening in the back, that will take care of itself. Heed your sides and fronts.  Getting spooked and stopping short is what probably will cause you more aggravation and possibly an accident.

Be warned.  The Balinese may be lax with road rules, and disregard wearing helmets and travel in family packs on one bike. As a foreigner driving in Bali you are expected to have an international valid driving license.  You are expected not to drink and drive and to wear your head gear.  Getting flagged down by police can be a favourite sport on a Friday afternoon, and you will not be let off the hook without paying hefty fines if you are not in line.  Surfers are a favourite target.

On another note, it has to be said, that the drivers who pose most danger in the Bali roads are the arrogant white or Bule drivers, who after the initial shock, feel that they are smarter than locals. Bikers on heavy machinery who cut traffic and push hard, are usually white alpha males, who sadly are the reason for the infrequent fatal accidents.  Drunk driving is also common amongst tourist, not amongst locals.  This too leads to largely the more serious accidents in Bali.


To conclude driving in Bali can be a challenge.  However, it also gives a traveller an opportunity to see many beautiful parts of the Island of the Gods.  Early morning or evening ceremonies can see elegant women dressed in their local kebaya of beautiful laces and colourful sarongs perched as side pillions and carrying their wicker box of offerings on their head, Husbands drive them, in their pristine white head gear and sashes and sarongs.

What to pay for renting scooters

The average daily rental rate is around rp50,000 per day which works out to be around $4 at the current exchange rate of 13,000 between the Rupiah and the U.S dollar.  The cost of car rental could vary from as much as $8 to $20 per day.  The cost of hiring a car with driver is around $40 -$50 per day excluding fuel.

Where to rent … Roundabouts… Related blogs

If you are planning a trip to Bali and want to know about highlights of the island you should read that article before you start. I can easily recommend visiting all described places. And the author makes it so vivid with beautiful pictures taken during her trip. Enjoy!

If you want to know how to make money while travelling read this article too.

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