Driving in a foreign country can be difficult for many reasons. You may be learning to drive for the first time, driving on a side you are not used to, driving a different type of vehicle (a motorbike instead of a car), and there can exist differences in rules and road habits from the ones back home. Though, it is also very freeing being able to drive where you want and not needing to rely on transportation apps.
If you go to Bali, expect motorbikes everywhere. Public transport is not easy to come by except for buses between larger cities. Alternatively you could rent a car, but unless you want to deal with tight roads and heavy traffic, unpredictable drivers, and driving on the left side (this is more of a problem if you are used to driving on the right), you may decide to learn to ride a motorbike instead.
Renting a motorbike is quick, cheap, and renters do not ask for a valid driver’s license. Technically you do need an international driving license, which you have to apply for in your home country. You can get a temporary Balinese tourist driving license, only if you hold KITAS/ long term Indonesia visas. Having rented bikes from four separate people/businesses, I was never asked for a proof of license of any kind or if I even knew how to drive. They did take a picture of my photo ID to keep track of what bike I rented. You could be stopped by police and fined if you did not have the proper license, but in my experience having been there nearly six months I never got a ticket nor even stopped.
Renting a Motorbike
Renting a motorbike is inexpensive and the longer you rent the cheaper it is. It is also a weird time with Covid-19 as prices have been reduced among most motorbike, car, and home rentals. I paid 500 000 IDR for my bike per month (about $50 Canadian) and paid about $3.00 CAN to fill up my tank every few days.
Learning to Drive
You can either teach yourself or hire someone to teach you. If you decide on the self-taught method, here are my recommendations:
- Start slow and stay on quieter, wider roads with lots of space to make mistakes. Give it time. It was difficult to balance when I started, and adjusting to using my hands to accelerate and break felt unnatural. It quickly became second nature, so keep at it.
- Do not practice with someone on the back.
- Focus on controlling the motorbike with your weight and leaning side to side when going around curves.
You cannot predict what is going to happen no matter how good of a driver you are. Accidents happen and taking the proper precautions can mean the difference between life and death in some situations. Be prepared and aware. You can be confident in your driving abilities; however you can still sustain injuries at the fault of something else. With that in mind, here are some precautions to take while driving a motorbike (with specifics to Bali).
- Ride with a helmet. Unfortunately, drinking and driving does happen in Bali. People go out and have a few Bintangs (the popular local beer here) and choose to still drive. It is an unfortunate reality so be aware when you are driving, especially in the evening.
- Wear glasses or a helmet with a visor. This will protect your eyes from dirt, rocks, bugs, rain, and wind in general. If your eyes get dry or you wear contacts, carry eye drops with you.
- Keep purses and valuables under the seat. Petty theft is a common occurrence and becoming more common since the pandemic began. Bali’s economy is 80% reliant on tourism so many people are out of jobs due to the lack of tourism. Some have become desperate. Victims become a target when they have phones in their hands, long purses, or anything else easily grabbed. Women are especially targeted. Most recently, women have been getting pushed or pulled off their bikes and searched then robbed of their valuables. Some women wearing shoulder purses have been dragged behind a motorbike when the purse strap does not break, pulling them alongside the bike.
- Indonesia is a left-hand drive country, something to be aware of if you are used to driving on the right.
- Road conditions can be bad. It’s not uncommon to hit potholes, or come across gravel roads, stones, rain, etc., all of which make it easier to slide your bike.
- Narrow roads make it difficult to pass larger vehicles; you may need to squeeze to the side at times.
- Many roads are not well lit which can make it difficult to see what is ahead of you. Animals can show up on the road, dogs can chase you. Many accidents happen when animals unexpectedly make an appearance on the road.
- Navigating heavy traffic can be overwhelming. Large swarms of motorbikes can suddenly come to a standstill, people switch lanes or turn without signalling. People will speed by you even if it’s a small space and be almost handlebar to handlebar beside you.
- Honking signifies that someone is overtaking you, pulling out of a street, or to catch your attention to make sure you do not run into them. You should get into the habit of honking as well as it is the best way to make those around you aware you are there/about to do something.
- There are a lack of road signs. In the previous point it was mentioned honking is common. Many intersections lack a stop or yield sign and so by honking, you signal that you are coming up to it.
- Processions or ceremonies will lead to closed off roads. This can make it difficult if it is a path you normally take but either use your phone or ask for directions from other people.
- Speed on normal roads in villages tend to not be faster than 40km/h and on main roads like Sunset Road 60-80km/h is common.
If you are inexperienced or do not feel comfortable driving just yet in Bali, do not worry. GoJek and Grab are both similar versions of Uber. With these apps you can call a motorbike, or a car and it will set you back almost nothing. Most motorbike rides for about 15 minutes will cost you $1.50 Canadian. If you are going longer distances with more people you could catch a car ride for about $10.00 Canadian for a 45-minute drive.
Making a Decision
In the end you know yourself best. Stick to what feels safest and most comfortable for you. Motorbikes can be intimidating at first, so a good way to decide if you want to learn to drive one is to catch some Grab or GoJek bike rides and get used to being on one first!