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Sunday, 6 June 2010

Driving a motorbike in Bali

   In addition to general things which you should know about arrival and transport before you go to Bali, I thought I'd go into a bit of detail about actually being on the road here on a motorbike (the cheapest & easiest form of transport) and a few things to remember.

   Firstly, in Indonesia, they drive on the left - remember it!! (Here's a map of countries that drive on the left in blue, those that drive on the right in red) It's fine for us Brits, Aussies & Kiwis but for people coming
from North America or mainland Europe this is something to bear in mind!

A typical scene on any road in Bali!
 Once you have your bike ready to go, remember to wear a t-shirt! So many tourists drive around with their surfboard on their bike rack in just their boardshorts but they are just a magnet for corrupt policemen seeking a quick buck. It is an offence to drive without a shirt in Indonesia but it's always a sure-fire way to get stopped.

    It should go without saying but lots of tourists don't care about this one either - get a decent helmet not a stupid one with horns on! (see below) These 'hilarious' helmets will only get you the unwanted attention of the police. My advice would be to avoid them like the plague! Plus, your head won't thank you if come off your bike as they are basically thin plastic covered with fake leather - like some cheap & nasty fruit bowl!

Tourist helmets
 (or police magnets, depending on which
 way you look at it)

   As far as international driving licence goes, I would highly recommend getting one before you come as, if the police do a random spot check (sometimes they do roadblocks 'coincidentally' in major tourist areas) and are stopping everyone, they cannot say anything to you if you have one.  If you DON'T have an international licence, you could end up paying more than the cost of getting one at home just to get the police off your case (more than once).  If you find yourself in Bali without one, you can get a fake one here in 24 hours at the cost of $20 but you need to ask around for that one once you get here.  Also, an international licence is needed if you want to get the ferry to Lombok or Java as they check your documents before getting on the ferry (again, a small payment is needed if you don't have one - get the idea?!).

    Another thing I would highly advise is keeping your bike keys on some sort of key chain or lanyard as, since the rental bikes here are so old, keys quite often fall out of the ignition while you are driving.  It has happened to a few people I know and is a pain in the rear to solve - especially if you only notice after you have stopped and turned the engine off, effectively leaving you stranded!  Put the keys on a chain and fasten it to your bike any way you can (most people loop it around the right wing-mirror) and you shouldn't have any problems.

   So you've got a bike, a helmet, a licence, a key chain fastened to your bike and are covered up - you are ready to go.  Petrol is your next concern.  A motorbike costs 10,000 - 20,000 Rupiah to fill up ($1-$2 US), which varies depending on what bike you have, at a 'Pertamina' petrol station.  You can buy petrol on the street from lots of little places for around 5,000 Rupiah (or 50 cents) per litre (prob a third more than from petrol station).  This is slightly more expensive but also more convenient as these places are everywhere (see photo below!).
    If you decide to go to a Pertamina petrol station, DON'T ask for a full tank - ask for the amount that you have in your hand (i.e. 5,000 or 10,000).  Why? Because if you say full and your tank is full at, let's say, 8,032 Rupiah - they will take your 10,000 off you and not give you change - Ok, big deal, 20 cents - but if this happens and you only have a 50,000 Rupiah note on you, you will be left to count your masses of (short)change whilst they also try to hurry you along & out of the petrol station to make way for the next person. This is an easy way to confuse & bewilder you into not counting your money there & then and letting the petrol pump guys make a bit of cash.
    Another of their tricks is to NOT reset the pump meter to 0 after the last person & try to tell you they have given you petrol that they haven't - check your tank before leaving and don't let them make you feel rushed!
    And finally, keep your eyes firmly fixed on the meter the whole time they are filling up as sometimes they will simply charge 10,000 Rupiah for 5,000 worth of petrol in order to pocket a bit of cash.  Make sure you check the readings and only give them money AFTER they have filled up.
     Part of the problem is that these poor guys are probably only earning $100/month (if that) and so they are very keen to make any extra cash in any way they can.

A roadside petrol 'outlet' - don't confuse it for alcohol,
despite it being in Absolut Vodka bottles!!
Taken from

Would you go without a helmet in traffic like this?

PS I forgot to mention before that when you are driving, be mindful of the fact that a) very few people have brake lights that work b) very few have indicators (they usuall wave their hand behind them on the side they want to turn) c) undertaking is as common, if not more so, than overtaking - people will be cutting you up all the time so be warned!!!

See this article about road safety in Bali - Foreign Easy Riders Dancing with Death in Bali - which states that on average, 3 people die each day in road accidents in Bali. It also states that that is only the amount of recorded deaths and pales in comparison to the amount of people involved in serious accidents which are not fatal. Be safe, wear your helmet!


  1. Indonesia is such a good place. They have many tourist spots to visit on.

  2. And I thought this thing was illegal. Here in our country, petroleum bottles are sold in a formal manner because these chemicals are very harmful.


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