Mar 23 2011

Driving around Bali: Predeparture briefing

Published by at 1:39 pm under Driving around Bali

Bali is big, beautiful, round(ish) and dotted with interesting places to visit — perfect for a road trip. You can circumnavigate Bali in as little as a couple of days or as long as a couple of months, by car or by motorbike. We thought we’d zoom around the island and put together a suggested route for those looking to take in the main destinations, along with some more off-the-beaten-track spots. But before we get started, here are some general pointers to help you get the most out of the trip — and to have a safe drive around the island.

Getting wheels
We rented an old Honda Dream manual 100cc step-through for 30,000 rupiah per day for two weeks. Out the front of your hotel in Kuta rentals may be a little higher, as it will be if you’re renting for a shorter time. Check the bike thoroughly. Make sure there is sufficient tread on the tires, that both the front and back brakes work, and most importantly that the horn works. The bike should have a yellow registration form (laminated) that will be stored under the seat — don’t lose this! Your bike should come with a helmet. Wear it.

Check the bike carefully - no monkey business!

Check the bike carefully -- no monkey business!

Not getting booked
You’ve already read our piece on how to avoid motorcycle fines in Bali, right? In theory you must have either an international license for riding or an Indonesian motorcycle license. Both are easy to get. If you don’t have one and are pulled over, expect to pay a fine/bribe on the spot — 50,000 rupiah is about right, though we’ve heard stories of people paying far more. Always be polite and expedite the situation as quickly as possible. They’ll also fine you if you’re spotted riding without a helmet. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to fine people for driving without shirts.

Why Bali has so many drivers
Bali has horrendous signposting, and for years I’ve clung to the belief that it’s some kind of elaborate scheme to keep the private-driver industry in business. What few road signs you’ll see will invariably be obscured by trees, or only signpost a far distant place, like Gilimanuk, the westernmost point of the entire island. In theory there are kilometre markers every, well, kilometre, but they often are missing and when they are in attendance, are pegged with abbreviations to towns that you’re probably not actually heading to or even aware of. All in all the road signage is designed for locals and people who already know where they are going — like your friendly Bali driver who offers you “transport” every morning.

Sometimes it is easy to know where you are going

Sometimes it is easy to know where you are going

Get an atlas
Assuming you’re not planning on taking the main roads the whole way, to save yourself driving forever in circles or pulling over every 10 minutes to holler “Candi Dasa di mana?” at some startled farmer, you need a good map. The best street map, by far, is the Periplus Bali Street Atlas. The 160-odd page atlas is available at most good bookstores in Bali and retails at around the 200,000 rupiah mark. If you’re planning on getting off the beaten track it will be the best 200,000 rupiah you spend outside of petrol. One flaw with the Periplus map is that they don’t have enough line styles so there is no differentiation between a secondary road and a badly rutted trail fit only for a motorcycle.

Get a smartphone
If you have some kind of a smartphone, Google Maps is an excellent addition to this, not only because it is remarkably detailed, but also, far more usefully, it will show you where on the map you are! It does mark a lot of roads that don’t exist or are really just for goats, but in most cases we found it to be pretty good. If you are smartphone-enabled, be sure to check out our range of iPhone travel apps.

Or go with the flow
Because turnoffs are seldom marked and because your atlas most likely won’t mark street names, picking the right turnoff can sometimes be a bit of a case of taking a guess. Watch what other traffic is doing. If you’re already on a secondary road and come to a junction where the correct direction isn’t clear, look at what others are doing. In many cases, while the road goes four or five ways, most people will be going the way you are. Luckily there’s always someone standing around to ask should you be truly baffled — they’ll probably gesture the correct way before you even ask.

If only all signposting was this good

If only all signposting was this good

The big Pertamina petrol stations are all over the place, and in between them you’ll find innumerable vendors selling petrol of differing qualities out of old liquor bottles. You’ll need to try really hard to run out of gas.

Not all animals are equal
Driving pecking order in Bali (and Indonesia for that matter) works on size taking right of way. Truck beats bus beats flatbed beats car beats motorbike beats bicycle beats pedestrian. This means you’ll see drivers doing extremely idiotic things on the road. All the time. Sometimes what you see and will be required to deal with will fly in the face of what you may have been taught in your home country, but the golden rule is to drive slowly, always yield, and, most importantly, be especially aware of other motorcycles as they will be driving on the assumption that you know where they are. Don’t try to retain your lane just because it is your lane — it’s not — you’re just borrowing it from someone bigger than you.

Just about the only type of vehicle you probably won't encounter

Just about the only type of vehicle you probably won't encounter

One more note regarding pecking order. A VIP-convoy, generally led (and tailed depending on perceived self importance) by police cars, takes precedence over everything.

What’s next?
In the next entry we’ll tackle the first leg of the loop: Sanur to Candi Dasa.

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Driving around Bali: Predeparture briefing”

  1. Adam @ SitDownDiscoon 23 Mar 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Good point about who has right of way. I was tailed by a convoy of army armoured vehicles… They stopped traffic drivin both ways including big trucks and buses. I tailed them for miles and felt like a king. Pretended all the traffic was pulling over for me. :)

  2. Jeff McNeillon 24 Mar 2011 at 7:19 am

    “Don’t try to retain your lane just because it is your lane — it’s not — you’re just borrowing it from someone bigger than you.” Classic!

  3. […] starting our trip around Bali from Sanur just because that is where we happen to live, and we're aiming for Candi Dasa, a […]