Especially on Bali, the best way to get around is with your own transport, whether you drive, hire a driver or ride a bike. This gives you the flexibility to explore at will and allows you to reach many places that are otherwise inaccessible.
It’s worth noting that many pricier restaurants in places such as South Bali and Ubud will arrange free transport to/from the establishment. Just ask.
Public transport is cheap but can be cause for very long journeys if you’re not sticking to a major route. In addition, some places are just impossible to reach.There are also tourist shuttle buses and these combine economy with convenience.
Taking the boat is more contemplative than the hassle of flying between Bali and Lombok and fast boats make it competitive time-wise.
Public ferries (adult/child 28,000/18,000Rp) travel non-stop between Padangbai and Lembar on Lombok. Motorbikes cost 85,000Rp and cars cost 550,000Rp – go through the weighbridge at the west corner of the Padangbai car park. Depending on conditions, the trip can take three to five hours. Boats supposedly run 24 hours and leave about every 90 minutes, but the service is often unreliable – boats have caught on fire and run aground – and oversubscribed (trucks can wait around Padangbai for up to three days).
Anyone who carries your luggage on or off the ferries at both ports will expect to be paid, so agree on the price first or carry your own stuff. Also, watch out for scams where the porter may try to sell you a ticket you’ve already bought. Lembar is worse for this.
Perama (www.peramatour.com) operates a daily boat service from Padangbai in Bali to Senggigi (300,000Rp, six hours). There’s also a daily Perama boat from Senggigi to the Gili Islands (70,000-100,000Rp, 60-90 minutes) at 9am, which means you avoid having to deal with Bangsal.
There are several fast boats operating between Bali and Lombok’s Gilis.
Blue Water Express (0361-3104558; www.bwsbali.com) They leave from the harbour in Benoa in Bali (690,000Rp, 2½ hr).
Mahi Mahi Runs from Serangan (near Sanur) to Gili Trawangan (580,000Rp, 2½ hr).
The dive schools on the Gilis operate speedboat shuttles (from 120,000Rp per person) from Bali and Senggigi most days – contact them in advance.
Distances in Bali and on Lombok are relatively short, so you won’t have cause to ride many large buses unless you are transferring between islands or going from one side to another.
Larger minibuses and full-size buses ply the longer routes, particularly on routes linking Denpasar, Singaraja and Gilimanuk. They operate out of the same terminals as the bemo. Buses are faster than bemo because they don’t make as many stops along the way, however with more and more locals riding their own motorbikes, there have been reports of looong delays waiting for busses to fill up at terminals before departing.
Shuttle buses are quicker, more comfortable and more convenient than public transport. They are popular with budget and midrange travellers. If you’re with a group of three or more people (or sometimes even two), it will probably be cheaper to charter a vehicle
Perama (www.peramatour.com) has a near monopoly on this service in Bali. It has offices or agents in Kuta, Sanur, Ubud, Lovina, Padangbai and Candidasa. At least one bus a day links these Bali tourist centres with more frequent services to the airport. There are also services to Kintamani and along the east coast from Lovina to/from Candidasa via Amed by demand.
Fares are reasonable (for example, Kuta to Lovina is 100,000Rp). Be sure to book your trip at least a day ahead in order to confirm schedules. It is also important to understand where Perama buses will pick you up and drop you off as you may need to pay an extra 5000Rp to get to/from your hotel.
Note that shuttle buses often do not provide a direct service – those from Kuta to Candidasa may stop en route at Sanur, Ubud and Padangbai, and maybe other towns on request. And like the bemo, the service is ossified, resolutely sticking to the routes it ran years ago and not recognizing the emergence of new destinations such as the Ulu Watu area or even Seminyak (eg a run from Seminyak to Ubud would be packed out daily).
Renting a car or motorcycle (almost always a lightweight motorbike) can open up Bali and Lombok for exploration and can also leave you counting the minutes until you return it. It gives you the freedom to explore the myriad of back roads and lets you set your own schedule. Most people don’t rent a car for their entire visit but rather get one for a few days of wandering. In Bali, it’s common to get a car in the south or Ubud and circumnavigate at least part of the island.
If you plan to drive a car, you’re supposed to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). You can obtain one from your national motoring organisation if you have a normal driving licence. Bring your home licence as well – it’s supposed to be carried in conjunction with the IDP. If you don’t have an IDP, add 50,000Rp to any fine you’ll have to pay if stopped by the police (although you’ll have to pay this a lot to exceed the cost and hassle of getting an IDP).
If you have a motorcycle licence at home, get your IDP endorsed for motorcycles too. If you have an IDP endorsed for motorcycles you will have no problems, which is when an IDP is really useful as otherwise you have to obtain a local license – something of an adventure.
The person renting the bike may not check your licence or IDP, and the cop who stops you may be happy with a nonendorsed IDP or bribe. You might get away without a motorcycle endorsement, but you should have an IDP or local license. Officially, there’s a two million rupiah fine for riding without a proper licence, and the motorcycle can be impounded – unofficially, the cop may expect a substantial ‘on-the-spot’ payment (50,000Rp seems average). And, if you have an accident without a licence, your insurance company might refuse coverage.
To get a local motorcycle licence in Bali, go independently (or have the rental agency/owner take you) to the Poltabes Denpasar (Police Station; 0361-1427352; Jl Gunung Sanhyang; 8am-1pm Mon-Sat) for a permit, which is valid for one year. When you arrive you’ll see a mobbed main hall filled with jostling permit-seekers. However, step around to the back of the parking lot and look for a building with a sign reading ‘Pemohon Sim Asing/Foreigner License Applicant’ outside a second-floor office. Here you will find cheery English-speaking officials who, for a sum of 250,000Rp, will give you the required written test (in English with the answers provided on a sample test) and issue the permit. Sure it costs more than in the hall of chaos, but who can argue with the service? Just be sure to bring your passport, a photocopy of same and a passport photo (although at times the office will help you with that too!).
Fuel & Spare Parts
Bensin (petrol) is sold by the government-owned Pertamina company, and currently costs about 6000Rp per litre. Bali has scads of petrol stations. In remote areas, look for little roadside fuel shops that fill your tank from a plastic container (the same as the ones they use for arak – fitting). On Lombok, there are stations in major towns. Petrol pumps usually have a meter, which records the litres and a table that shows how much to pay for various amounts. Make sure to check that the pump is reset to zero before the attendant starts to put petrol in your vehicle, and check the total amount that goes in before the pump is reset for the next customer. Regular unleaded fuel for vehicles is labelled Premium; diesel is labelled Solar. Tyre repair services can be found in almost every town.
Very few agencies in Bali will allow you to take their rental cars or motorcycles to Lombok – the regular vehicle insurance is not valid outside Bali.
By far the most popular rental vehicle is a small jeep – they’re compact, have good ground clearance and the low gear ratio is well suited to exploring back roads, although the bench seats at the back are uncomfortable on a long trip. The main alternative is the larger Toyota Kijang, which seats six. Automatic transmissions are unheard of.
Rental and travel agencies at all tourist centres rent vehicles quite cheaply. A Suzuki jeep costs about 150,000Rp per day, with unlimited kilometres and very limited insurance. A Toyota Kijang costs from around 180,000Rp per day. These costs will vary considerably according to demand, the condition of the vehicle, length of hire and your bargaining talents. It’s common for extra days to cost much less than the first day.
There’s no reason to book rental cars in advance over the internet or with a tour package, and it will almost certainly cost more than arranging it locally. Any place you stay can set you up with a car as will the ever-present touts in the street.
Shop around for a good deal, and check the car carefully before you sign up. Rental cars usually have to be returned to the place from where they are rented – you can’t do a one-way rental, but some operators will let you leave a car at the airport.
Big international rental operators in Bali have a presence, but are seldom used.
Motorbikes are a popular way of getting around Bali and Lombok – locals ride pillion on a sepeda motor (motorcycle) almost from birth. Motorcycling is just as convenient and as flexible as driving and the environmental impact and the cost are much less.
Motorcycles are ideal for Lombok’s tiny, rough roads, which may be difficult or impassable by car. And, once you get out of the main centres there’s not much traffic, apart from people, dogs and water buffalo.
But think carefully before renting a motorcycle. It is dangerous and every year a number of visitors go home with lasting damage – Bali and Lombok are no places to learn to ride a motorbike.
Motorcycles for rent in Bali and on Lombok are almost all between 90cc and 200cc, with 100cc the usual size. You really don’t need anything bigger, as the distances are short and the roads are rarely suitable for travelling fast. In beach areas, many come equipped with a rack on the side for a surfboard.
Rental charges vary with the motorcycle and the period of rental – bigger, newer motorcycles cost more, while longer rental periods attract lower rates. A newish 125cc Honda in good condition might cost 30,000Rp to 40,000Rp a day, but for a week or more you might get the same motorcycle for as little as 25,000Rp per day. This should include minimal insurance for the motorcycle (probably with a US$100 excess), but not for any other person or property.
Individual owners rent out the majority of motorcycles. Like cars, it is easy to find a motorbike or one will find you.
Check the motorbike over before riding off – some are in very bad condition. You must carry the motorbike’s registration papers with you while riding. Make sure the agency/owner gives them to you before you head off.
Helmets are compulsory and this requirement is enforced in tourist areas, but less so in the countryside. You can even be stopped for not having the chin-strap fastened – a favourite of policemen on the lookout for some extra cash. The standard helmets you get with rental bikes are pretty lightweight. You may want to bring something more substantial from home or buy one locally. Shops in south Bali sell helmets with Viking horns and other fun decor. They just might not be that crash-worthy though.
Despite the tropical climate, it’s still wise to dress properly for motorcycling. Thongs, shorts and a T-shirt are poor protection. And when it rains in Bali, it really rains. A poncho is handy, but it’s best to get off the road and sit out the storm.
Rental agencies and owners usually insist that the vehicle itself is insured, and minimal insurance should be included in the basic rental deal – often with an excess of as much as US$100 for a motorcycle and US$500 for a car (ie the customer pays the first US$100/500 of any claim). The more formal motorcycle and car-hire agencies may offer additional insurance to reduce the level of the excess, and cover damage to other people or their property, ie ‘third-party’ or ‘liability’ cover.
Especially with cars, the owner’s main concern is insuring the vehicle. In some cases, a policy might cover the car for 30 million rupiah, but provide for only 10 million rupiah third-party cover. Your travel insurance may provide some additional protection, although liability for motor accidents is specifically excluded from many policies. The third-party cover might seem inadequate, but if you do cause damage or injury, it’s usually enough for your consulate to get you out of jail.
A private owner renting a motorbike may not offer any insurance at all. Ensure that your personal travel insurance covers injuries incurred while motorcycling. Some policies specifically exclude coverage for motorcycle riding, or have special conditions.
Bali traffic can be horrendous in the south, around Denpasar and up to Ubud, and is usually quite heavy as far as Padangbai to the east and Tabanan to the west. Finding your way around the main tourist sites can be a challenge, as roads are only sometimes signposted and maps are often fanciful at best. Off the main routes, roads can be rough, but they are usually surfaced – there are few dirt roads on Bali. Driving is most difficult in the large towns, where streets are congested, traffic can be awful and one-way streets are infuriating.
Roads in Lombok are often very rough but traffic is lighter than Bali.
Avoid driving at night or at dusk. Many bicycles, carts and horse-drawn vehicles do not have proper lights, and street lighting is limited.
Police will stop drivers on very slender pretexts, and it’s fair to say that they’re not motivated by a desire to enhance road safety. If a cop sees your front wheel half an inch over the faded line at a stop sign, if the chin-strap of your helmet isn’t fastened, or if you don’t observe one of the ever changing and poorly signposted one-way traffic restrictions, you may be waved down. It’s not uncommon to see cops stopping a line of visitors on motorcycles while locals fly past sans helmets.
The cop will ask to see your licence and the vehicle’s registration papers, and he will also tell you what a serious offence you’ve committed. He may start talking about court appearances, heavy fines and long delays. Stay cool and don’t argue. Don’t offer him a bribe. Eventually he’ll suggest that you can pay him some amount of money to deal with the matter. If it’s a very large amount, tell him politely that you don’t have that much. These matters can be settled for something between 10,000Rp and 60,000Rp; although it will be more like 100,000Rp if you don’t have an IDP or if you argue. Always make sure you have the correct papers, and don’t have too much visible cash in your wallet. If things deteriorate, ask for the cop’s name and talk about contacting your consulate.
Visiting drivers commonly complain about crazy Balinese drivers, but often it’s because the visitors don’t understand the local conventions of road use. For instance the constant use of horns here doesn’t mean ‘get the @£*&% out of my way!’, rather it is a very Balinese way of saying ‘hi, I’m coming through’. The following rules are useful.
-Watch your front – it’s your responsibility to avoid anything that gets in front of your vehicle. A car, motorcycle or anything else pulling out in front of you, in effect, has the right of way. Often drivers won’t even look to see what’s coming when they turn left at a junction – they listen for the horn. - Use your horn to warn anything in front that you’re there, especially if you’re about to overtake. - Drive on the left side of the road, although it’s often a case of driving on whatever side of the road is available. - Use seatbelts in the front seat.
Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport is immediately south of Tuban and Kuta. From the official counters, just outside the terminals, there are supposedly fixed price taxis. However, efforts may be made to charge you at the high end of each range (eg you’re going to the part of Seminyak that is supposed to cost 70,000Rp, and they charge you 80,000Rp), and if you say you don’t have a room booking, there will be heavy pressure to go to a commission-paying hotel.
If you have a surfboard, you’ll be charged at least 35,000Rp extra, depending on its size. Ignore any touts that aren’t part of the official scheme. Many hotels will offer to pick you up at the airport, however there’s no need to use this service if it costs more than a taxi.
The thrifty can walk from the international and domestic terminals across the airport car park to the right (northeast) and continue a couple of hundred metres through the vehicle exit to the airport road (ignoring any touts along the way), where you can hail a regular cab for about half the fare.
If you’re really travelling light, Kuta Beach is less than a 30 minute-walk north.
The main form of public transport in Bali and on Lombok is the bemo. A generic term for any vehicle used as public transport, it’s normally a minibus or van with a row of low seats down each side. Bemo usually hold about 12 people in very cramped conditions.
Riding bemo can be part of your Bali adventure or a major nightmare depending on your outlook at that moment in time. You can certainly expect journeys to be rather lengthy and you’ll find that getting to many places is both time-consuming and inconvenient. It’s uncommon to see visitors on bemo in Bali.
Bemo operate on a standard route for a set (but unwritten) fare. Unless you get on at a regular starting point, and get off at a regular finishing point, the fares are likely to be fuzzy. The cost per kilometre is pretty variable, but is cheaper on longer trips. The minimum fare is about 4000Rp.
Make sure you know where you’re going, and accept that the bemo normally won’t leave until it’s full and will usually take a roundabout route to collect and deliver as many passengers as possible. If you get into an empty bemo, always make it clear that you do not want to charter it. (The word ‘charter’ is understood by all drivers.)
Terminals & Routes
Every town has at least one terminal (terminal bis) for all forms of public transport. There are often several terminals in larger towns, according to the direction the bus or bemo is heading. For example, Denpasar, the hub of Bali’s transport system, has four main bus/bemo terminals and three minor ones. Terminals can be confusing, but most bemo and buses have signs and, if in doubt, you will be told where to go by a bemo jockey or driver anyway.
To go from one part of Bali to another, it is often necessary to go via one or more of the terminals in Denpasar, or via a terminal in one of the other larger regional towns. For example, to get from Sanur to Ubud by public bemo, you go to the Kereneng terminal in Denpasar, transfer to the Batubulan terminal, and then take a third bemo to Ubud. This is circuitous and time-consuming, so many visitors prefer the tourist shuttle buses, a driver or a taxi.
Metered taxis are common in South Bali and Denpasar (but not Ubud). They are essential for getting around Kuta and Seminyak, where you can easily flag one down. Elsewhere, they’re often a lot less hassle than haggling with bemo jockeys and charter drivers.
The usual rate for a taxi is 5000Rp flag fall and 4000Rp per kilometre, but the rate is higher in the evening. If you phone for a taxi, the minimum charge is 10,000Rp. Any driver that claims meter problems or who won’t use it should be avoided.
By far the most reputable taxi agency is Bali Taxi (0361-701111; www.bluebirdgroup.com), which uses distinctive blue vehicles with the words ‘Bluebird Group’ over the windshield (watch out for fakes). Drivers speak reasonable English, won’t offer you illicit opportunities and use the meter at all times. There’s even a number to call with complaints (0361-701621). Many ex-pats will use no other firm and the drivers are often fascinating conversationalists.
After Bali Taxi, standards decline rapidly. Some are acceptable, although you may have a hassle getting the driver to use the meter after dark. Others may claim that their meters are often ‘broken’ or nonexistent, and negotiated fees can be over the odds (all the more reason to tip Bali Taxi drivers about 10%). Recently we saw one taxi driver insist on a fee of 70,000Rp for a trip that would have cost 7000Rp in a Bali Taxi.
Taxis can be annoying with their constant honking to attract patrons. And men, especially single men, will find that some taxi drivers may promote a ‘complete massage’ at a ‘spa’. Drivers will enthusiastically pantomime some of the activities that this entails. At the very least, insist that they keep their hands on the wheel.