In the beginning it felt like they were out to kill us in one foul swoop… cars, dogs, scooters, chickens, trucks, buses and bikes all sharing the one lane road coming at us in every direction.
It’s easy to get distracted by the five year olds riding the scooter three up, no helmets, no fear…
Or worse still… trying to dodge the family of five in front, all sharing the same helmet and carrying live chickens.
Then there’s the man with the mobile restaurant attached to his scooter who almost knocks out my knees as his wide load passes me at breakneck speed.
And what about the rice farmer who carries at least 50 extra kilos, weaving in and out of the traffic.
The first thing you notice when you land in Bali is the large amount of scooters on the road.
In the safety of your private ride, there’s school kids three up in school uniforms, to entire families of five, to ladies in miniskirts and high heels weaving in and out of the traffic… and somehow everyone is making order out of the chaos.
They overtake left, right or wherever there is a little space, they take it.
Were we really going to ride a scooter amongst this?
Everyone rides a scooter in Bali, so yes we’re going to join the scooter chaos for our time living in Bali.
We’re staying in a little village just outside Ubud and we ask our landlord about where to rent a scooter.
We’re greeted with a typical Balinese response.
‘No problem, we can help you with that’ – when do you want? says Ketut.
Maybe now? we say.
A quick walkaround, keys and a handshake and we’re done. I love this way of doing business in Bali.
So we jump on this Vario, helmets on and off we go.
We head into the village to get a sim card for the phone.
Just finishing up with the sim card, it started to rain… no wait, it poured vertical, like a waterfall. The road became a river within seconds; and here we were stranded… no coat or poncho and a strange scooter in a new town.
With the road now a raging torrent, we had our first scooter drama on our hands.
We waited and waited but still it rained… feeling really silly we phoned Ketut and explained that we shouldn’t ride the scooter in the rain yet, as we weren’t familiar with the bike.
Kindly he offered to come and pick us up in his car, bringing his young daughter to ride the bike home for us.
It was quite a light bike and very soon we realized that there was no way I could ride on the back of here. It was just too light, wobbling all over the road. Just not designed for our kiwi weight.
We thought the solution might be for me to ride one myself, but this posed a couple of problems.
Firstly I don’t have a motorbike license in N Z, so that would invalidate my travel insurance.
Secondly I’m not an experienced motorbike rider.
Ok, but I’ll be careful then, in other words I’ll take the risk.
Getting a little practice in, I took the little Vario for a spin up and down the driveway. Ketut saw me stopping and starting and I’m sure he thought…Oh good lord NO – don’t let that girl ride one of my scooters.
Next minute he presents us with a brand new somewhat sturdier ‘Honda Scoopy’ with only 122 kms on it and says…
‘This is your bike now’.
It’s a much sturdier model and it works way better two up, although I am still not allowed to move, an inch while Des is driving. I must sit perfectly still, don’t even move your feet on the footrest.
Now we were set with our fancy new bike…we made lists of ‘scooterable places’. With our friends Ellen and Doug, we ventured out into Bali exploring the villages, temples, beaches, mountain roads, alleyways and tracks.
Initially we only rode to places up to about 30 minutes before we got ‘scooter bum’ and ‘helmet hair’ I wasn’t so worried about helmet hair but scooter bum was serious!
From Ubud this meant we could easily go to a load of places without having to hire a driver, or get a taxi all the time.
Among our scooter adventures we visited; The Elephant Cave – Goa Galah, Loads of Temples, Mengwi Markets and Royal Temple, Sangheh Monkey Forest, Kemenhuh Butterfly Park…
…Batubulan Stonecarving Village, Mas Woodworking Village, Celuk Silversmiths Village, Kintamani, Tegallulang Rice Terraces, Gunning Kawi Temple, Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple and many more
Apart from traffic exhaust fumes in my eyes, the occasional swallowing of foreign bugs – the combination of blasting through the hot breeze, past the rice fields and through the stunning mountains, beaches and villages… this was making for an absolutely epic experience. Loving this scootering business.
As our confidence grew we became more adventurous and soon enough we started going out at night!
This was big – now we could go to Ubud for dinner and to Cupid for Pork Ribs!.
Eventually we went as far as Canggu (1 hour) in the south to the beach and as as far north as the Mother Temple (1 ½ hours). Scoopy became our very best friend apart from Lucky (more about Lucky later).
Out on the road there’s very few signs, so you need your trusty google maps or maps.me app if you don’t have a sim card with data.
I used my iPhone with google maps GPS and this worked pretty well except of course when it rained.
It was easy enough for me to read the GPS on the back and relay the directions to Des… I did a pretty good job I think!
We would go on to love this way of getting around… making order out of chaos and getting to where we wanted to go easily. It meant you could just go, explore, stop and then just move on again, we even managed to get our groceries home on Scoopy.
For those who know us well, you’ll remember Lucky, our dearly loved adopted Pomeranian pooch that lived with us in Bali. Lucky played a huge part in our Bali life and he’ll have his very own post soon.
Lucky had his own loving family but decided the treats were good at our villa, so insisted on sleeping over and ended up staying with us.
And what’s more when he got the chance he loved to ride on the scooter up and down the driveway with Des too… it was just too cute. He jumped on as though he just belonged there.
But isn’t it dangerous I hear you say?
Yes and No. We never saw any accidents, people slow down for each other, they’re polite on the road and will let you in. The main rule is simple – respect for your fellow road user.
In places where there’s more traffic you need your wits about you.
Keep your line and ‘swim like a fish’ is what we were told and that worked perfectly most of the time.
They are patient to a point unless you are sitting at the intersection waiting for all the traffic to go by, in which case they toot and say… come on get moving man…clearly I am a back seat driver!
Yes – seriously it’s all good scootering in Bali… So if you’re going to Bali and want to see the island outside the tourist spots – I say definitely get a scooter – just do it.
Such a laugh… Can you believe it – we got scammed for 2 cups of Ginger Tea.
Here’s how it went…
Scootering along in the countryside and this guy on the side of the road yells out ‘Police’.
We go – oh yeah right, let’s carry on – we know these Balinese Police well enough by now.
Nec minute he’s up beside us on his scooter telling us we’ll have trouble up ahead if we don’t have a “Balinese License” which we don’t.
He suggests we might wait a bit and come and have a cup of tea with him.
I want to trust people… he seemed nice enough… and he had chased us quite a way. So we turned back and followed him to a ramshackle place full of mosquitos… with a so called view (not) and a dirty looking piece of paper for a menu with a tea selection on it. No prices and no other customers.
Feeling a wee bit cheated by this stage I ask how much the tea is – he tells me 20,000 IDR which is about $1.50USD – not much you say but this is in Bali and that is a lot.
Now Ginger Tea is a usually a yellow colour and his tea came out dark brown.
I know I am cheated by this stage and I refuse to drink mine fearing the worst… Des drinks his despite my protestation and lives to tell the tale and scooter me home – thank god.
We pay and leave…
Have you ever got scammed on your travels? Please tell me I’m not the only one.
All was going swimmingly until another day we came upon a police check point. A uniformed police officer was randomly stopping tourists as they passed, checking for registrations and licenses.
But in our case we were also riding the WRONG way on a street that is normally two way – but today they had ropes up, making it one way.
Problem Number One – Riding on what is now a one way street the wrong way.
Problem Number Two – We had International Licenses, but didn’t have them with us
The officer pulls out a little chart with fine amounts for various acts and it seemed we need to pay 1,000,000 IDR ($75 USD) for no license and $250,000 ($19USD) for riding the wrong way. I immediately pulled my – ‘I no understand’ trick.
A quick phone call to a Balinese friend and all this vanished if we paid the policeman $100,000 (7.50USD).
If you’re travelling Bali on a scooter make sure you keep your money notes in separate places. From what I’ve picked up talking with other locals, typically a foreigner can get away with a 50,000 IDR pay off. So have a couple 50,000 notes handy and when pulled over, play up that you speak little English; act confused, hand them money, and you should get sent on your way.
You live and learn…
As time went on we got braver and braver until finally we set off for a 90 minute ride to the Mother Temple through the mountains to the top of the island.
All was going pretty well, until we stumbled upon another temple having it’s anniversary called Odalan. We were made very welcome and invited in. It was like no other we had seen with many different god and protecter statues that we hadn’t seen elsewhere.
We stayed there a little long, and dark clouds descended as we continued to climb the steep gradient towards the Mother Temple.
Soon enough the rain was belting down on us. The first shelter was a tiny little store where two ladies were busy making ‘canang saris’ (daily offerings). The welcomed us with open arms, bought out seats for us, hung up our soaking ponchos.
A young boy came out and was able to speak English and even charged my phone for me.
We waited and waited and waited, eventually it was dry enough to continue. But sadly there was just too much rain to be able to see the Mother Temple in any sort of comfort, let alone try and take any photos.
Plus we have never had such a disgracefully, rude reception anywhere else in Bali. The aggression started at the ticket counter of the Mother Temple, they were basically telling us we ‘had’ to hire a guide and told that price they were asking was nothing. That got my heckles up and when the next 10 people also hassled the crap out of us to be our guide under the guise of being a ‘temple guardian’. I was getting pretty snappy.
It was a dreadful experience and we decided we might just scooter home again in the rain!
However, we did find a lovely little warung for lunch; it was reasonably priced and good food.
Plus the lady selling sarongs just politely answered my questions, which was such a change, and as a result I ended up buying more sarongs.
If you don’t have the perfect landlord like us and get given a brand new Scoopy, you can easily rent one on the street.
Here’s what you should know if you’re thinking about riding a scooter in Bali.
1) Scooter rentals can be found almost everywhere. Even in the smallest villages we’ve had hawkers offer me ‘motorbike? – motorbike?’ Outside of the bigger towns of Kuta or Ubud, chances are it will be a local just trying to make a couple thousand Rupiah off their own bike.
2) How much? This depends mostly on where you’re hiring the scooter. In Kuta or Ubud where there is heaps of competition, you can expect to pay about 50,000 Rupiah / day ($3.75USD). If you commit for a few days, week or month make sure to bargain. We paid $600,000 Rupiah a month which is around ($45 USD)
3) Shop around. All you have to do is walk down the street or alleyway and you’ll be offered scooter rentals. They are literally everywhere. Spend an hour walking around seeing what your options are – compare prices and quality of the scooters as they both vary greatly.
4) Be careful. Before taking off on our scooter, we made sure our travel insurance was up to date. Even in areas where there is little traffic, the traffic you do encounter seems chaotic through western eyes. Somehow it all works, and before long you’ll be feeling pretty comfortable.
5) In order to legally ride a scooter in Bali you’re required to have an International Drivers License, so make sure you get one before you leave your home country.
If your scooter runs out of petrol, don’t worry. There are ‘petrol-stations’ every 100m. Almost every stall or store on the street, even simple houses, have little wooden racks, where they sell petrol, filled up in Absolut Vodka bottles.
The petrol on these ‘stations’ vary in price, depending on where you are, it’s generally around $1 USD or $15,000 IDR a litre, but if you go to the ‘real’ petrol stations you’ll pay about half that.
Cheap either way.
1) Do wear a helmet all the time – period. Even if it’s hot and it ruins your hairdo, riding without a helmet is really taking an unnecessary risk. One fit specifically for your head size and with a visor is definitely optimal!
2) Do Check the Scooter – Before renting your scooter; make sure the brakes are breaking, the lights are lighting and the horn is honking.
3) Follow the Locals – Like you are swimming in a school of fish is what we were told, and keep your line don’t weave. When they turn the corner just follow them.
4) Do use the Horn – Toot around blind corners and when you pass someone to let them know you’re there, I loved this idea.
5) Do use the indicators – This habit is less trendy among locals, but it’s still worth mentioning that you want to turn.
6) Do give way to everything in front of you. That means slowing down to let someone in, or watching carefully for those that just pull out. Here in Bali, it’s your responsibility to give way to the traffic in front.
7) Do stay calm when you get stopped by the police. Yes, you will get stopped!
Police check points are common here, they’re looking for permits, helmets or headlights and tourists with money. The police like to take care of tourists and empty their wallets. Keep smiling when you get stopped.
8) Do have an International Drivers License, although the person who rents you the scooter won’t likely ask for this, the police will and if you don’t, then it’s excuse to fine you.
9) Do use sunscreen or a scarf. You may not feel it, but waiting 24 seconds at the red traffic light can turn you into a red traffic light yourself.
10) Do take a poncho ‘every time’ you go out. It rains without warning here.
11) Do dress for the fall not the ride – means you wear shoes and not too much bare skin showing.
1) Don’t wear plastic helmets – stylish yes but much less durable.
2) Don’t wear your bag on your shoulder. Some bad spirits are tempted to snatch bags in plain sight, and may cause you to fall. Keep your valuables locked under the seat.
3) Don’t drive too fast – Bali is full of dogs, frogs, snakes and pot holes in the road.
4) Don’t drink before taking the handlebars
5) Don’t drive too near the edge of the roadway – There’s holes, bumps, lots of sand, gravel an often the road can fall away.
1400kms later we are still alive, only a few near misses, no accidents and Scoopy is still in one piece, all be it a little dirty.
Cruising around Bali for the last four months on Scoopy was exhilarating, it was terrifying, it was freeing – and it’s something you must experience while you’re in Bali.