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12 things you need to know about driving in Bali

You may have read about the horrors of driving in Bali but it really isn’t bad! If you’re in tune with the following, all will be “super-good” (as our manager at Villa Tau likes to say)!

1. How to hire a car in the first place

The international car companies like Avis and Hertz are represented on the island but the difference in price between hiring from them and the local car hire companies is big (around Rp1 300 000 per day versus about Rp200 000 - Rp300 000 per day). The advantage of the big international companies is that you can more easily hire an automatic car (which is very useful in Bali traffic, or if you're used to a left-hand drive) and you can pay for insurance cover. At the local companies, which are plentiful and easy to find, you will not have a big choice of cars and it will be less easy, but not impossible, to find an automatic - which should cost about Rp350 000 a day. You might be able to buy insurance but it is difficult to work out what it covers. Most often, if you are in any kind of accident, it is accepted that you will pay for the damage (which costs significantly less than in most Western countries) and everyone will be happy.

If you're hiring from a local company, make sure that you check the condition of the car because they can have issues like no tread on the tyres or windscreen wipers that don't work. You can always swap it out but rather check it upfront. If you're staying at one of our villas, our staff will organise a car on your behalf and have it delivered to the villa, and fetched from there at the end of your stay.

2. Driving with the correct licence

There is lots of information on the Internet that says you should have an international driving license to hire a car but, in our twenty odd years of hiring cars there, we have never been asked for one. As long as you have a driver’s license from your own country available to show them, everyone is happy. The international car companies like Avis and Hertz might require one but the local ones won't.

Driving in Bali

3. Find your Zen!

The number one reason why driving in Bali is completely manageable is that nothing happens fast on the island, and that includes the speed of cars! This is partly due to traffic, and partly due to the innate Zen attitude with which people drive. The sooner you key into that, and emulate it, the sooner you’ll settle into the rhythm of driving in Bali.

4. Drive on the left hand side of the road

Remember to drive on the left hand side of the road. Not a surprise for some people but for much of the world it does mean a switch of brain hemispheres! And, if you’re used to driving on the right hand side of the road, remember that you’ll need to get used to changing a gear stick with your left hand.

Driving with motorbikes and scooters in Bali

5. You need the eyes of a chameleon

Motorbikes/scooters are everywhere. In itself this is not a huge problem, except that in Indonesia it’s legal for motorbikes to pass on the left. That means you need to keep an eye out the whole way around the car. No moving left to give someone more space on the right – you might well be knocking a biker over (who is often so close you can hear them breathe)! It doesn’t help that the Balinese either have no concept of lanes, or don’t really think they’re worth sticking to – either way, you will be amazed by how many lanes you can make out of a small two-way road.

6. Triangles are circles...don’t worry, you'll get it!

Traffic circles in Bali work differently to many other countries. In fact in Bali there are no circles per se (although the concept is the same). Instead there are “triangles”. As you reach a triangle (thankfully there aren’t very many of them!) both directions of traffic will pass on the side of the triangle closest to the direction you're going in which requires a small leap of faith, and a lot of looking left and right as you cross over the traffic. Again it very rarely happens at any speed so you’ll be fine. Once you get the logic of it, it makes perfect sense!

Cars and motorbikes are blessed

On Bali, spirituality is deeply embedded in every part of everyday life and that includes driving. This is a culture that has an annual day where cars and motorbikes are blessed, and thanked, for allowing the owner to make a living with the vehicle’s help (with offerings placed on the front grille of the car or the motorbike’s handle bars). This then is clearly not a culture that is given to road rage. As a tourist, this works 100% in your favour. You might be driving like an idiot but nobody is going to be rude enough to draw your (or everyone else’s) attention to it! Return the favour and don’t get angry with the locals either!

8. The car hooter is your best friend

Which brings me to the car hooter. Your hooter should (will, must...) become your friend – never for road rage, but rather to indicate things like your presence as you approach a blind corner, or if you're about to overtake somebody and just want to let them know you're coming. A lot of the time everyone in the queue at a traffic light will toot their hooter politely to let the person at the front of the queue know that the light has changed (in case they need the help - and even if they don't). None of this is done aggressively - the hooter is used for plenty of things while driving in Bali - but never for road rage!

Dont get road rage when driving in Bali

9. Keep your eyes on the road.

Possibly because things generally don’t happen at particularly high speeds, Balinese drivers seem to have a blind faith in something that you, as a foreigner, need to be constantly vigilant of. They subscribe to the theory that “if I have seen you then you have definitely seen me”. This is most frequently used when overtaking. So when a large, slow truck packed full of sand decides to overtake into the smallest gap ever as you head on a direct course to hitting him – he “knows” you’ve seen him and therefore you will slow down, move left or just stall with fear in the middle of the road (kidding!) Jokes aside, you need to keep your eyes on the road at all times for this reason - there’s a lot more happening on the road than you might be used to!

10. He who hesitates is lost!

Know this to be true - if you’re unassertive you’re going to be stuck at the intersection until your flight home! The Balinese are not about graciously letting you into the traffic. Each driver – politely, quietly, but determinedly – will inch their way into the traffic because they want to get home in time to sleep in their own bed that night. You therefore have no choice but to follow suit or you will sit through umpteen traffic light changes (and a lot of horn honking)!

When driving in Bali keep your eyes on the road

11. Maps is a must!

Bali is not big on road signs outside of southern Bali and, if you’ve hired a car from a local car rental company, you’re unlikely to get a GPS. If that’s the case I would suggest you get a local tourist SIM card for your phone and load data. They’re cheap as chips, easily available everywhere and you can then use Waze or Google Maps anywhere on Bali. Remember to ask specifically for data because it's bought separately to voice airtime.

12. There's a good alternative to self-drive

If all else fails, the ride-hailing services in Bali are Gojek and Grab. Both offer motorbike and car alternatives. They are plentiful, and generally much cheaper than regular taxis in Bali, and very much cheaper than many other places in the world. You will need to download the apps on your phone from either the Apple App Store or Google Play (and often you can only do it once you're in Bali). You can pay cash with both companies.

Gojek and Grab are widely available on the island although there are certain areas that allow you to be dropped off but won't allow you to start your journey there (in an attempt to protect the business of the local drivers in those areas). It's difficult to know exactly what those areas are until you're there, but the rule of thumb is that the more built up areas like Ubud, and those around southern Bali, have plenty of drivers.

Google maps is essential when driving in Bali

So driving in Bali is really not bad! And - when all else fails – make like a tourist. Wind down your window, stick out your hand in a stopping gesture, say “thank you, thank you, thank you” loudly - and with a benign smile on your face - as you edge into the traffic, over the traffic or onto the correct side of the road, and you will see that the kind Balinese (all be they a bit long-suffering), will let you get to where you need to go. Just remember to keep your karma good!


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