Bali welcomes more than a million tourists from Australia and New Zealand each year. They go in search of enchanting scenery, idyllic beaches and vibrant local culture, and more often than not they find just that.
Unfortunately, travellers to Bali can also find risk at every turn. Road deaths in Bali are common and increasing, drink spiking in tourist hotspots is a frightening reality, and scammers are a persistent threat. These hazards may be obvious and well-documented, however the list of potential dangers on the Indonesian island goes on.
Below we outline the current concerns in Bali, and how you can enjoy your holiday, free from disaster.
Bridges, boats and terrorism in Bali
It may be easy to lose yourself in the scenic beauty of the Indonesian island, however travellers can’t afford to let their guard down.
In 2016, a suspension bridge connecting the smaller islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan collapsed, killing around 10 people as their motorbikes plunged into the water below. 2016 also saw a speed-boat explosion that killed 2 tourists and injured 19 others.
The threat of terrorism has been an upsetting reality in Bali since the 2002 attacks in Kuta killed 202 people, most of whom were Australian. In 2016, Bali ramped up its national security in the face of further attacks and persistent threats.
If your destination has been deemed at risk of political violence or terrorism, there are a few precautions recommended by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Smart Traveller website currently recommends that Australians exercise a high degree of caution in Bali and choose their destinations and activities carefully. They advise travellers to Indonesia to monitor local news and pay close attention to personal security, to minimise the risk of being affected by terrorism. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cites places where Western tourists congregate as high-risk areas in Bali, including embassies, hotels, bars and shopping malls.
Government warnings are subject to change, so we urge all travellers to Bali to stay up-to-date with security alerts posted on www.smartraveller.gov.au when planning their trip. We also advise travellers to register their details with www.smartraveller.gov.au before departing.
Petty theft in Bali
Petty theft and cunning scams are rife in Bali, and almost exclusively targeted towards tourists. Snatch and grab theft often occurs in densely populated areas like markets, or in areas where travellers may take an eye off their luggage, like bus terminals. Using luggage locks, and keeping your bags in sight, securely zipped up and close to your body at all times is the best way to avoid being the victim of pickpocketing.
Other incidents of theft are more difficult to detect. Some scammers in Bali have their trade down to a fine art, and can deceive unwary travellers into practically handing over their belongings. For example, tour operators who demand a passport as a deposit can then use this all-important document as ransom before you pay them out. We advise travellers to avoid using their passport as a security deposit wherever possible.
Other scammers will threaten to involve the police (often an ordinary citizen in disguise) if you don’t comply with their demands.
Motorbike and moped rental scams
Motorbikes and mopeds are the preferred method of transportation in Indonesia, and tourists love to zip along the coast with the wind at their back. But beyond the terrifying road conditions lies another risk, the common rental scam.
This simple operation is designed to leave you no choice but to pay for damage you didn’t cause. You rent a moped from a friendly vendor, and return it as you found it. Before you know it, they’re demanding money for all sorts of damages. The “police” may be called, but only to negotiate a slightly lower price.
When you rent a motorbike or moped, inspect the vehicle closely before paying and take photos of any imperfections you see. The same principle applies to water sports equipment like paddle-boards, kayaks, and jet skis. If you are accused of causing damage to equipment, having photographic evidence that it existed before your involvement is the best way to avoid paying through the nose.
Another version of the motorbike rental scam involves the shop actually stealing the bike from you, should you leave it unattended. They then demand you pay for the missing bike, while hiding it out of sight. If you need to leave your rental bike or moped unattended, always lock it securely with a padlock.
Avoid these by only renting from a licensed operator, inspecting the bikes closely, taking photos and using a padlock if you need to leave it unattended.
Remember that some travel insurers don’t cover you for being on a moped or motorbike (even if you’re riding as a passenger). Or you may need to add optional cover to your policy, so check your terms and conditions before you rent one.
Wildlife woes in Bali
Surprisingly, some of the craftiest pickpockets in Bali can be monkeys. iPhones, sunglasses, handbags and jewellery have become irresistible to the cunning monkeys, who have reportedly learned to ransom these in exchange for food.
We’ve seen several claims from mischievous monkeys over the years, including those who have dropped and cracked phones, stolen backpacks, snatched prescription glasses and disappeared into dense forest and even reached through a barred third-floor hotel room window to steal toiletries.
If you’re planning to get up close to Bali’s plentiful wildlife, ensure your phone is kept securely zipped in a pocket and your jewellery is left in a hotel safe. We also advise travellers to exercise caution around monkeys and dogs due to the risk of rabies; a disease that killed 15 people in Bali in 2015.
Surfing and swimming in Bali
Surfing arrived to Bali in the early 1970s, when two young Australians in search of perfect waves found their oasis at Uluwatu; one of the island’s most famous breaks. When images of the long and perfectly-shaped waves reached our screens, it wasn’t long before the global surfing community were packing their bags for a piece of the action.
Surfing remains one of Bali’s prime attractions, with travellers of all skill levels enjoying the many waves the island has to offer. However, beginners and experts alike should remember that Bali’s waves can break over sharp, shallow reefs. Cuts to the feet and legs, or “reef tattoos” are common and can easily become infected.
If you’re an inexperienced surfer who is planning to hit the waves, rent your equipment from a licensed operator and stick to your skill level. If you’re a more advanced surfer embarking on a surfing holiday, ensure you pack the right equipment to protect yourself from the harsh sun, and the harsher reef.
Swimmers in Bali should stick to patrolled beaches. While empty tropical waters may seem serene from the shore, strong rips and undertows can catch even strong swimmers off-guard.
If you take the dangers listed above into consideration, chances are your Bali holiday will be one to remember for all the right reasons. With all the natural splendour and cultural delights to enjoy, the Indonesian island is very much a wonderland.