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Bali

Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

Travel Alert: Following a number of deaths resulting from the consumption of local arak contaminated with methanol, travellers to Bali are advised to be extremely cautious when consuming local liquor. Check the FCO website for details.

It’s important to note that compared with many places in the world, Bali is fairly safe. There are some hassles from the avaricious, but most visitors face many more dangers at home. Petty theft occurs but it is not prevalent.

Security increased after the 2002 and 2005 bombings but has tended to fade after a while. The odds you will be caught up in such a tragedy are low. Note that large luxury hotels which are part of international chains tend to have the best security.

As for all destinations, you might want to check your government’s travel advisories before you depart, and listen to local advice when you arrive.

A few other things to note: outside the Mataram/Senggigi area on Lombok, emergency services may be nonexistent, or a long time coming. Don’t expect an ambulance to collect injured surfers from the southwest coast. The Gili Islands don’t have a formal police force. Bangsal, Mawi and Kuta have problems worth noting.

TRAVEL ADVISORIES

Government departments charged with foreign affairs maintain websites with travel information and warnings for specific countries and regions. It’s a good idea for travellers to check the following websites before a trip in order to confirm local conditions. But note that the advisories often are general to the point of meaninglessness and are guaranteed to allow for bureaucratic cover should trouble occur. Once in Bali, travellers may be able to get updated information through the local consulate or from embassies in Jakarta.

Australia Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)

Canada Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)

UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk)

US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)

Activities

Don’t assume that activities operators are looking out for your well-being. Travellers have died with the sports activities operators in Tanjung Benoa and dive mishaps occur everywhere. The iconic volcanoes claim trekkers, especially Gunung Rinjani on Lombok. The moral: keep a healthy scepticism about you if others bear responsibility for your safety.

Begging

You may be approached by beggars in Kuta, Legian or Ubud – typically a woman with one or more young children. Pause and they might literally latch on.

Drugs

Numerous high-profile drug cases in Bali and on Lombok should be enough to dissuade anyone from having anything to do with illicit drugs. As little as two ecstasy tabs or a bit of pot has resulted in huge fines and multiyear jail sentences in Bali’s notorious jail in Kerobokan. Try dealing and you may pay with your life.

You can expect to be offered pot, ecstasy, shabu-shabu (methamphetamine), crystal meth (yabba), magic mushrooms and other drugs in nightclubs, beaches and while walking along tourist-area streets. Assume that such offers come from people who may be in cahoots with the police. That some foreigners have been able to buy their way out of jail by paying enormous fines (US$50,000 and up) should indicate that nabbing tourists for drugs is a cottage industry.

It’s also worth noting that clubbers have been hit with random urine tests.

Hawkers, Pedlars & Touts

Many visitors regard the persistent attentions of people trying to sell as the number one annoyance in Bali (and in tourist areas of Lombok). These activities are officially restricted in many areas but hawkers will still work just outside the fence. Elsewhere, especially around many tourist attractions, visitors are frequently, and often constantly, hassled to buy things. The worst places for this are Jl Legian in Kuta, Kuta beach, the Gunung Batur area and the over-subscribed temples at Besakih and Tanah Lot. And the cry of ‘Transport?!?’, that’s everywhere. Many touts employ fake, irritating Australian accents, eg ‘Oi! Mate!’ Pirate DVDs and CDs often don’t work.

The best way to deal with hawkers is to completely ignore them from the first instance. Eye contact is crucial – don’t make any! Even a polite ‘tidak’ (no) encourages them. Never ask the price or comment on the quality unless you’re interested in buying, or you want to spend half an hour haggling. It may seem very rude to ignore people who smile and greet you so cheerfully, but you might have to be a lot ruder to get rid of a hawker after you’ve spent a few minutes politely discussing his/her watches, rings and prices. Keep in mind though, that ultimately, they’re just people trying to make a living and if you don’t want to buy anything then you are wasting their time trying to be polite.

Scams

Bali has such a relaxed atmosphere, and the people are so friendly, that you may not be on the lookout for scams. It’s hard to say when an ‘accepted’ practice such as over-charging becomes an unacceptable rip-off, but be warned that there are some people in Bali (not always Balinese) who will engage in a practised deceit to rip you off.

Most Balinese would never perpetrate a scam, but it seems that very few would warn a foreigner when one is happening. Be suspicious if you notice that bystanders are uncommunicative and perhaps uneasy, and one guy is doing all the talking.

Here is a rundown of common scams.

Car Con

Friendly locals (often working in pairs) discover a ‘serious problem’ with your car or motorcycle – it’s blowing smoke, leaking oil or petrol, or a wheel is wobbling badly (problems that one of the pair creates while the other distracts you). Coincidentally, he has a brother/cousin/friend nearby who can help, and before you know it, they’re demanding an outrageous sum for their trouble.

Easy Money

Friendly locals will convince a visitor that easy money can be made in a card game. Anyone falling for this one is a prime candidate for what happens to fools and their money.

High Rates - No Commission

Many travellers are ripped off by moneychangers who use sleight of hand and rigged calculators. The moneychangers who offer the highest rates are usually the ones to look out for. Always count your money at least twice in front of the moneychanger, and don’t let him touch the money again after you’ve finally counted it. The best defence is to use a bank-affiliated currency exchange or stick to ATMs.

Swimming

Kuta Beach and those to the north and south are subject to heavy surf and strong currents – always swim between the flags. Trained lifeguards do operate, but only at Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur and (sometimes) Senggigi. Most other beaches are protected by coral reefs, so they don’t have big waves, but the currents can still be treacherous, especially along the coast running north and west from Seminyak. Currents can also cause problems off the Gilis.

Water pollution can also be a problem, especially after rains. Try to swim well away from any open streams you see flowing into the surf.

Be careful when swimming over coral, and never walk on it at all. It can be very sharp and coral cuts are easily infected. In addition, you are damaging a fragile environment.

Theft

Violent crime is relatively uncommon, but there is bag-snatching, pickpocketing and theft from rooms and parked cars in the tourist centres. Don’t leave anything exposed in a rental vehicle. Always carry money belts inside your clothes and bags over your neck (not shoulder). Be sure to secure all your money before you leave the ATM, bank or moneychanger. Also, beware of pickpockets in crowded places and bemo (small minibuses).

Hotel and guesthouse rooms are often not secure. Don’t leave valuables in your room. Thieves will often enter through open-air bathrooms, so be sure to fasten the bathroom door. Most hotels offer some form of secure storage, such as in-room safes or central safety deposit boxes for guests – use it.

Many people lose things by leaving them on the beach while they go swimming.

On Lombok, theft and robbery are more common. Certainly there are hassles in Kuta, east of Kuta and west of Kuta around Mawi.

Traffic

Apart from the dangers of driving in Bali, the traffic in most tourist areas is often annoying, and frequently dangerous to pedestrians. Footpaths can be rough, even unusable, so you often have to walk on the road. Never expect traffic to stop because you think you’re on a pedestrian crossing.

The traffic is much lighter on Lombok than in Bali, but there is still a danger of traffic accidents.