It's important to note that compared to 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. There have been some high-profile cases of visitors being injured or killed on Bali, but in many cases these tragedies have been inflamed by media sensationalism.
Boat travel carries risks. Take precautions.
Outside of reputable bars and resorts, avoid arak, the locally produced fermented booze made from rice or palm. Deaths and injuries happen – especially on Bali and the Gilis – when unscrupulous vendors stretch stocks with poisonous chemicals.
Numerous high-profile drug cases on Bali and 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 have resulted in huge fines and multiyear jail sentences in Bali's notorious jail in Kerobokan. Try smuggling and you may pay with your life (remember the Bali Nine?). Kuta is filled with cops posing as dealers.
Hawkers & Touts
Many visitors regard hawkers and touts as the number one annoyance in Bali (and in tourist areas of Lombok). 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, Lovina and the temples at Besakih and Tanah Lot. And the cry of 'Transport?!?' – that's everywhere. Many touts employ fake, irritating Australian accents ('Oi! Mate!').
Use the following tips to deflect attention.
- Completely ignore touts/hawkers.
- Don't make any eye contact.
- A polite tidak (no) actually encourages them.
- Never ask the price or comment on the quality of their goods unless you're interested in buying.
Keep in mind, though, that ultimately they're just people trying to make a living, and if you don't want to buy anything, you are wasting their time trying to be polite.
Bali has a number of 'fake' orphanages designed to extract money from well-meaning tourists. If you are considering donating anything to an orphanage, carefully research its reputation online. Orphanages using cab drivers as hawkers are especially suspect.
Kuta Beach and those to the north and south are subject to heavy surf and strong currents – always swim between the flags. Trained lifeguards are on duty, but only at Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur and (sometimes) Senggigi. Other beaches can have strong currents, even when protected by reefs.
Be careful when swimming over coral and never walk on it. It can be very sharp and coral cuts are easily infected. In addition, you are damaging a fragile environment.
Water pollution is a problem, especially after rain. Swim far away from any open streams you see flowing into the surf, including the often foul and smelly ones at Double Six Beach and Seminyak Beach. The seawater around Kuta is commonly contaminated by run-off from built-up areas.
Violent crime is uncommon, but bag- and phone-snatching from motorbikes, pickpocketing and theft from rooms and parked cars occurs. Take the same precautions you would in any urban area. Other common-sense tips:
- Secure money before leaving an ATM (and don't forget your card!).
- Don't leave valuables on a beach while swimming.
- Use front-desk/in-room safes.
Traffic & Footpaths
Apart from the dangers of driving in Bali, the traffic in most tourist areas is often annoying and frequently perilous to pedestrians. Footpaths can be rough, even unusable, and sometimes motorbikes will recklessly swerve on to them. Gaps in the pavement are also a cause of injury. Carry a torch (flashlight) at night.
It's hard to say when an 'accepted' practice such as overcharging becomes an unacceptable rip-off, but be warned that there are people in Bali (not always Balinese) who will try 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 person is doing all the talking.
Locals (often working in pairs) discover a 'serious problem' with your car or motorcycle – it's blowing smoke, leaking oil or petrol, a wheel is wobbling or a tyre is flat (problems that one of the pair creates while the other distracts you). Coincidentally, a brother/cousin/friend nearby can help and soon they're demanding an outrageous sum for their trouble.
Many travellers are ripped off by money changers who use sleight of hand and rigged calculators. Always count your money at least twice in front of the money changer, and don't let them touch the money again after you've finally counted it. The best defence is to use a bank-affiliated currency exchange or ATMs (although there has been a rash of fake card skimmers attached to ATMs, so check authenticity and cover your hand as you enter your pin number).
Government Travel Advice
Government advisories often are general and guaranteed to allow for bureaucratic cover should trouble occur. However, the following sites also have useful tips.
New Zealand (www.safetravel.govt.nz)