Unfortunately Bali is in the news for all the wrong reasons more and more often of late. There’s the more typical issues that come with concreting over paradise — over-development, pollution and trash disposal and, of course, the traffic — but there are also more troubling issues such as a rise in petty crime, theft, druggings and corruption. Then there’s the dodgy liquor that can send you blind or kill you, illegal drugs, maniacal motorbike drivers with a foot in their grave, police and other officers who may not have your personal best interests at heart, and a generous dose of crazed expats who should have gone home (or grown up) a decade ago. On top of these you’ve got dengue fever, rabid dogs, thieving monkeys and open drains that can sweep you away in the monsoon.
Get all the above, roll it into a Channel 7 diatribe, and hell, even Thailand will look decent!
Not that we’re trying to make light of a serious and concerning issue, but it goes without saying that the vast majority of visitors to Bali, while they may rightly gripe about the traffic (especially those bloody buses using small streets) and the trash on the beach, they will leave this glorious island in one piece. By keeping the following advice in mind, you should be able to as well.
Petty theft and robbery
Bali, particularly the heavily touristed south Bali beach areas, and Ubud in the hills, has seen an upsurge in bag snatches and assaults, particularly aimed at female travellers after dark. The thieves are typically on motorbikes and snatch the bag off the unsuspecting victim’s shoulder. In some cases victims have been dragged down the road and injured, or knocked over and subsequently beaten by the thieves. A friend who lives in Ubud told me she feels safer walking late at night in Brooklyn than she does after dark in Ubud. In an especially tragic recent case in the Seminyak/Legian area of south Bali, a young South Korean traveller was killed instantly when she was robbed and pulled off the back of a motorbike she was travelling on and thrown under the path of an oncoming car. We’ve personally been robbed twice in Bali and know plenty of others who have likewise lost valuables either in a snatch and grab or a house robbery.
Travellers should exercise caution when walking in the evening. They should always carry their shoulder bag or purse on the side away from the road and moving traffic. Use footpaths when available. In particular, they should never try to hang on to a purse or bag being snatched as they’ll more likely be dragged down the road (or worse) than pull the thief off the bike.
When it comes to belongings in your guesthouse/hotel/villa or rental house, if there is a safe, use it. Don’t leave laptops, fancy cameras and expensive smartphones laying around within sight from outside. If you’re in an open-plan villa, keep your expensive stuff in a room that can be locked. If you’re unfortunate enough to have your house robbed when you’re in it (most likely asleep) pretend to stay asleep. Do not risk a confrontation with the thieves who will invariably have far more to lose than you should they be caught. If you do wake and there is a confrontation, do not make eye contact, stay still and give them what they want. A laptop is far easier to replace than an eye.
When you are heading out, always make sure all the windows and doors are locked — this can be quite an undertaking as villas are often not designed with much security in mind. Think carefully about what valuables you are taking out with you. Do you really need to take the MacBook, iPhone, D90 and the crown jewels with you when you go to lunch?
If you are robbed, Ubudnow and then has some excellent advice on what to do and how to report it.
While there has been plenty of media coverage of tourists who have drunk dodgy liquor and died or gone blind, this is sadly a prevalent problem across Indonesia — with stories of locals dying or going blind not uncommon. Unfortunately there are two main possible scenarios here, either due to ineptness where the liquor (most commonly arak) has been distilled incorrectly in a backyard and has ended up with methanol content, or that the drink has been deliberately spiked with a drug to incapacitate the drinker.
The easiest way to avoid the former is to avoid drinking very cheap liquor (particularly arak). Spirits are heavily taxed in Indonesia and if you’re paying 10,000 rupiah (about $1) for a double gin and tonic, it is extremely likely that the only real part of your drink is the glass. Stick to beer and or more sensibly priced cocktails. Watch how much you drink and try not to drink too excessively.
Regarding people deliberately spiking a drink, keep an eye on your drink — stay in control and don’t drink alone. This is sadly a problem across Southeast Asia (and around the world for that matter).
It pays in Indonesia to keep your paperwork in order. Don’t overstay your tourist visa without an extremely good reason. If you’re riding a motorbike, wear a helmet. If you’re riding a motorbike, have a license. Would you ride a motorbike unlicensed and without a helmet in your own country? In all of our dealings with the police in Bali, we’ve found them to be polite and helpful — though we do wish they could direct the traffic a bit better. If you do find yourself having dealings with the local police or immigration officers, be polite and keep your head. Never, ever, hit a police officer (some people really are that stupid — hopefully, not our readers, but still…).
Keep your feet on the ground
Indonesia has extremely strict laws regarding drugs. While it may sometimes seem like drugs are acceptable — like when a guy offers to sell you a bag of pot on Kuta beach — rest assured they are not. Penalties for carrying even the smallest amount of a drug can be extremely severe. Stick to yoga and Bintang. You’ll notice “Magic Mushroom” shops around south Bali, sometimes described as a “poor man’s acid” — mushrooms have a bit of a grey legal status. The effects can be extremely and uncomfortably strong — and can lead to you coming to the interest of the police for unrelated reasons.
Every monsoon dengue cases in Bali surge. From personal experience, we don’t recommend catching dengue fever. The mosquitoes that transmit it bite during the day and have white bands on their legs (if you can get close enough to see the bands on its legs we suggest killing it anyway). If you tend to get bitten make sure your bed has mosquito netting and use repellent. If you return to your home country and start demonstrating symptoms of dengue, do tell your doctor you have been to a dengue affected area — as otherwise they may just think it is the flu (we heard one case of doctors insisting our friend must have malaria — Bali is considered to be malaria free, only further east in Indonesia).
While Bali’s rabies problem isn’t as bad as it was a few years ago, the island is not rabies free. Keep your distance from all dogs, and we’d suggest considering having pre-rabies shots, especially if you are travelling with children.
Keep your head
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you are, you’ll just be unlucky. But the easiest way to minimise your risks are to be sensible and use your common sense. And do remember that bad things can happen anywhere.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
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