I’ve driven a scooter around Bali for over three years, so I know a thing or two about the experience—good and bad.
Not only have I had my own accident and survived, but I’ve also nearly ran over a dozen dogs and chickens, and have the tales to tell.
In this article, I’ll give you my top tips that I think you must know before driving a scooter in Bali.
This will prepare you for all the wild things you should expect. Let’s get on to the list.
1. Start out with a Honda Scoopy
My first tip is that if you’re starting out with driving a scooter in Bali, the best choice you can begin with is a Honda Scoopy.
They come in different variations, but all look mostly the same. Some are named Stylish and others not so.
There are even much more expensive ones that are all nice and shiny.
But, in my experience of driving around Bali for 3+ years straight, I found the humble cheapest Honda Scoopy from your local bike rental to be the best for regular use.
It’s much better than the commonly-rented Honda Vario for steering, acceleration, comfort, brakes, and flexibility.
If you’re not planning on traveling far, then the Scoopy works great for daily casual needs.
It has a good-sized seat that can fit two people on it comfortably and it has enough power to handle it on most roads.
Bonus: The Scoopy is also one of the simplest/best solutions for riding your Bali dog around the island with you! Easier to train and has the most floor space for them to stand comfortably.
It’s also one of the cheapest options you’ll find.
2. You can easily get ripped off on price
Continuing on the Scoopy as the ride of choice.
Pre-2020 the Scoopy would cost around 650,000 IDR per month. Between 2020-2022 it could be easily rented for 600,000 IDR per month.
These days, in 2023, prices have skyrocketed and it varies between 900,000 IDR ($60 USD) and 1,500,000 IDR ($100 USD) for a complete rip-off.
The post-pandemic tourist boom in Bali caused prices to explode across everything from scooters to rentals and even cafe food prices.
If you’re traveling to Bali for the first time, try not to be a typical tourist and push up the prices for everyone else by paying whatever they ask for.
While it does sound cheap to pay a hundred bucks for renting a scooter for an entire month, you have to realize that you’re paying WAY over market value.
By over-paying you’re potentially contributing to an imbalance for locals (who cant afford it) and those that choose to call Bali home. Think on it!
3. Be prepared for ANYTHING
You absolutely should be prepared for everything and anything when scootering on the roads in Bali.
Seriously, any strange thing you could imagine has been seen on the roads:
- Drunk tourists swaying between lanes while not wearing a helmet
- Chickens run lightning out in front of your scooter
- Dogs run right out in front of you or just plain chase you
- Opposite driving locals driving directly at you on your right of way
- Accidents on the regular, especially between cars that can’t see bikers in their blind spots
These are just a few examples.
The point is that you should expect to be surprised and try to prepare that driving in Southeast Asia, generally, is one of the wildest areas of the world to ride.
There may be laws and rules of the road in some books but that has little to no influence on what actually happens when driving.
That being said, the automatic human ability to find routes and pathways in between the worst traffic jams you’ve ever seen is in some way magical at times.
4. Beeping the horn in Bali
In most Western or ‘civilized’ countries, beeping the horn is more commonly a sign of aggression or frustration.
In the UK, for example, it’s only really used in extreme scenarios as it’s considered rude otherwise.
In the US, depending on the state/city, it can be more common, particularly in hot spots.
But in Southeast Asia, and Bali specifically, the horn beep is more like a way to communicate on the road.
Its quick beep can mean many things:
- “I’m coming up behind you”
- “I’m on your left/right”
- “I’m just beeping because I want people to know I’m here”
- “I’m overtaking you now”
- “I’m undertaking you now” (yes, this is a thing)
- “There’s lots of traffic!” BEEEEEEP
- and many more
With the traffic being so often densely compacted with both cars and scooters, the beep is the last option to be seen.
With so much noise it’s really hard to be seen because there are hundreds of vehicles around you at times.
So the beep becomes your extra method of being SEEN. So, use it! BEEP!
Don’t worry, you won’t offend anyone.
5. Using blinkers/indicators the Bali way
In Western countries, you probably have certain expectations about what the blinker is for and when it should be used.
In the UK, I know that the rulebook says it should be used momentarily before and while you are making a turn. Where we also call it the indicator.
But in Bali, it either isn’t used at all and you should absolutely expect traffic to take mild or even extreme turns at any time without a signal blinker/indicator on at all.
The blinker can also be used for some strange scenarios.
Like this one for a large vehicle.
The large vehicle might begin blinking/indicating left and you’d think “Great, I can start overtaking because it’s about to turn left” but you’d be making a mistake.
A large vehicle that is blinking to turn left will all of a sudden start veering to the right.
If you begin overtaking then the large vehicle likely won’t see you—especially since they’ve indicated (in their perspective) what they are about to do—so you can end up running into them on the right side.
What is actually happening is that because side roads are often very small there isn’t enough space for a large vehicle to simply take an immediate turn.
The larger vehicle, sometimes even a minibus, needs to veer to the right to create enough space to be able to turn left.
So how do you deal with that? Well, don’t trust what the blinkers appear to be saying; wait and watch.
This is also true of perhaps two thirds of blinking situations. Whatever it looks like they are about to do, there’s a good chance it’s not what you think.
Blinkers can be left on very easily on scooters before the driver realizes and you’ll see them blinking to turn right while they drive far on the left lane and you’re uncertain about overtaking them for several kilometers.
This is the way in Bali.
6. You might not need a license
Now this will likely be a shocker, but many people get away without having a driving license and riding a scooter in Bali.
The laws say you do, and if you get stopped by a policeman, they’ll say you do.
But you’re unlikely to be prosecuted in any real way for driving without a license in Bali.
The truth is that this rule, as with most rules of the law in Bali/Indonesia, they are set by governments but very loosely implemented by the actual police.
If you try to rent a bike inside of a tourist hotspot, you’ll find that some will ask for one or more of:
- a driving license
- an international driving license certificate
- your passport
They could ask or demand to keep any one of these while you hold the bike, but I of course don’t recommend you do that.
The reason is that those places have to deal with the biggest concentration of drunk tourists who will rent a bike, smash it up or just leave it in a ditch and the renter can lose several million and need to have a way of getting the funds back off you.
But if you go off the beaten path and find a more local rental place, the kind of ones that look like a motor repair shop but happen to also rent out bikes, you can find several that don’t care about the license.
At the same time, the bikes might not be the prettiest. But they work and get you around, which is all I really care about when touring around the island.
7. Police want to be bribed
Following on from the last tip, if you don’t have a license and drive then you should expect that you might have to pay off a policeman so they don’t “take you to the station.”
Traffic stops are not quite as common these days, but you will increase your chances if you are:
- Driving without a helmet
- Driving recklessly
- Driving in a way that makes you look like a complete tourist/bad driver/novice/easily bribable person
I’ve seen road stops and avoided them just by wearing a helmet, as it seems they were looking for that as a primary signal to stop drivers (but it isn’t always the only one).
Once I even slowed down to stop but the policeman waved me off as they were just picking out people without helmets.
But it’s not just about the lack of a helmet, or a license, there are a few other rule-breaking offenses that the policeman could throw at you if you get stopped.
- Not having the original vehicle ‘papers’ (your rental will often put in a copy of the vehicle’s papers, not the original, and that’ll be a reason to bribe you on)
- Not having your driving license
- Not having your international driving license certificate (from your home country)
There are more reasons a policeman will throw at you to say you must pay a “fine.”
If you get stopped, they’ll pull you over and may even take hold of your bike key.
Then they will whip out a list of what seems like a dozen laws that you must have followed. One by one, he’ll go through them on a laminated piece of paper that conveniently has both Bahasa and English language.
The first one starts at a smaller fine and the charges get increasingly worse as they go down the list and you have not met them.
They could say that you must pay these fines in full on the spot. Or you will be taken to the police station. It could be in the millions (hundreds of dollars).
But, of course, it’s often a ripoff. The “fine” is actually a demand to bribe them.
The policemen are not trying to enforce the law—they are out to increase their pay. Seriously.
So if you don’t want to be the schmuck that gets several hundred bucks taken off you while also contributing to the problem, follow these tips:
- Before you start driving your bike, keep around 200,000-500,000 IDR in a “wallet” and put it inside your bike. Don’t take your cards or other money or at least hide it in a separate hidden place. You want to have enough to encourage them to accept the bribe and let you go, without giving them too much because it’s your damn money.
- If/when you get stopped, make a big song and dance about finding your money from inside your bike.
- Say “this is all I have”.
- When they say “I’ll take you to ATM” you say “I don’t have any cards, this is all my money”.
- They should take your cash and send you off.
Sunset Road, Kuta, and near the “Kantor Imigrasi Kelas I Khusus Ngurah Rai” immigration office is where stops seem to be most common.
8. Accidents are all too common
At this very moment of writing this, I saw an accident on the same day.
A young Indonesian looking at his phone rode into the back of a van. Luckily it happened right next to a hospital. He was OK.
Just know that accidents happen all the time.
While tourists do contribute to an unreasonable amount of crashes, falling into ditches and ricefields, and drunken disorderliness—it’s locals, too.
I’ve seen kids as young as 13 driving scooters around the main hotspots of Bali.
And when I drove to the far West, near Menjangan Island, I saw children aged 5-8 riding scooters. Three of them on one at a time, laughing and waving as they went by. I’m not joking!
Be prepared you might see some nasty accidents on the roads and do your best not to contribute to them. If you’re nervous, you probably shouldn’t ride.
9. Your insurance probably won’t cover an accident (especially if you’re drunk)
While it’s good advice to have a travel insurance policy when visiting Bali, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will cover you for any eventuality.
The most common reason that tourists lose their cover is because it doesn’t specifically protect them from the accident.
And those accidents are very often because of the client being intoxicated.
But it could also simply be because they haven’t met all of the conditions to drive in another country.
I mentioned earlier that there are laws to govern most typical things in Indonesia, including the roads.
This means you are technically supposed to have your license up to scratch and potentially have road insurance, too.
But none of that is true in reality and yet if you give your insurance a reason not to cover you—they will take it!
There are sadly many stories of expats and tourists coming to Bali for a good time, even with great insurance, and not getting a cent to cover their hospital bills.
Resulting in fundraisers to help tourists get operations in the country when they are yet unfit to fly back home. You don’t want to be one of those folks.
10. Develop 360 degree senses (you’ll need it)
Finally, let’s finish off these tips with the advice that you need to try to develop what I call 360 (degree) senses.
Driving in the traffic back home is more systematic and programmed. Things happen in straight lines. Drivers turn their blinkers on/indicate. You look forward, check your mirrors, and make calculated measurements.
In Bali, it feels more like riding on choppy waters in the Sea.
You need to have awareness of everything happening around you, all at the same time!
There are many things that can happen quickly involving other scooters, cars, dogs, chickens, stuff falling off the back of lorries, and more.
So, being aware of all potential dangers is necessary and ideally being able to spread that awareness to your whole surroundings.
Do you have any wild experiences driving your scooter on the roads in Bali? Let me know in the comments!