With its luxury villas, relaxed lifestyle and ‘booty-ful’ beaches, Bali has long been a popular tourist destination for Australians. But as you scoot between Kuta’s throbbing nightclubs and Uluwatu’s peaceful cliffs, you would do well to keep the statistics in mind.
In 2017, four Australians died in scooter accidents in Bali, while thousands more acquired critical injuries. And that’s not to mention Kuta’s BIMC Hospital waiting room, which is in a permanent state of disarray as tourists drenched in blood, with broken bones and fractured skulls, are trundled in and out on stretchers.
Some get away with a story and a scar; others never make it home. Suffice to say, when you’re riding around Bali, you need to be switched on. This includes understanding insurance (and how certain actions can void it), learning the road rules, and listening to the local “do’s and don’ts”. We’ll get into that at the end of this piece.
But first, take a pew and listen to a travel horror story that could save your life. Submitted to TripAdvisor by a user called James R, this is a piece of travel advice you rarely find in a forum dedicated to food and hotel reviews.
Entitled, “Learn From Someone Who Almost Died In A Road Accident In Bali,” James explains how he was badly hospitalised, and the one crucial tip he has for other scooter riders that saved his life. We’ll allow him to take it from here.
In August 2017, I was hit head on by a small truck that didn’t look before it swerved across my lane from the other direction to take a right turn. It happened about four minutes from Seminyak on a main road. They hit me at about 30mph, and I was probably doing 25… I was sure I would be killed. I knew I was going to hit the truck head first, and it was probably going to be a neck breaker.
It didn’t happen in slow motion, there were no bright lights; all I remember is seeing the truck, shouting “NO” and then hearing the noise of my body hitting the the truck before blacking out.
By pure luck I survived & woke up in the middle of the road.
To give you a taste of the kind of injuries you can get from this kind of accident, which in relative terms would be a slow speed incident on a motorbike: I was blind in my right eye, I was concerned that I might have a bleed on my brain—or perhaps something had gone through my eyeball itself. My vision was black. I had broken my right cheekbone and my nose, my left forearm bone had gone through my upper arm, and parts had also gone through the back of my elbow.
My wrist was 180 degrees rotated and badly broken/dislocated. I had a tear to my right nostril, and a piece of glass had gone through my upper cheek to the bone. I also had a shard of metal that had punctured my back to the left of the base of my spine. The surgeon said 1-2mm to the right and my spinal cord would have been severed. I had lots of glass lacerations to my legs and arms, and a large hole to the bone in my right leg below the knee.
It was a truly horrible experience.
I travel alone on business, so I had no one to call. If I had remained unconscious I dread to think what would have happened to me, where I would have been taken or even if I would have received any help . I WAS insured and checked that i could ride a bike, but if you are unconscious no one knows who you are or if you have insurance – (I NOW WEAR A MEDICAL ID WRISTBAND WHEN I AM THERE).
But the INSURANCE company still took 14 hours to agree to pay for ANY treatment, despite knowing I had open fractures. My real worry was blood poisoning, my cuts were full of road grit and who knows what else. I sat in a hospital entrance for the entire time, slowly gathering a pool of blood at my feet. During that time I had no pain relief and no help. I rang my insurers on the hour every hour and still they tried to find reasons not to pay. There is also no ambulance service in Bali, so you get yourself to hospital or die at the scene.
I was pulled across the road by locals, who removed my split helmet and poured water over my face. I remember been stood up twice and passing out both times—I will say that everyone who was there seemed to be trying to help with the best of intentions—I also had a large amount of cash under my motorbike seat as I was off to pay a deposit on a shipping order… A Balinese gentleman came over with my money and put it in my pocket and told me to keep it safe (Balinese people are in general so kind and warm hearted).
“If you read this, then take one thing away from it: wear a crash helmet and do it up. If the helmet they give you is rubbish—(and) most of them are—go to a helmet shop and buy one that fits properly and does up easily and quickly.”
I was wearing a brand new one when this happened. I also ride a large motorbike in the UK and know to ride defensively and be aware of the dangers. The accident was 100% the other party’s fault.
The number of pretty surfer girls riding along with their hair blowing in the wind is really scary. Whilst I was in hospital a girl came in after hitting a kerb head first when she came off the moped; she died in the reception of the hospital. I was at the hospital for 6 days after surgery, during that time a man from the EU had also been bought in dead after a crash. I read that he was wearing a helmet, but it wasn’t done up and this caused severe brain damage that lead to his death a day later.
“Please wear a helmet. Please do it up and don’t even consider riding a bike in Bali if you have no experience or insurance. You are very likely to cause or be involved in a serious accident. I took every precaution—don’t think it couldn’t happen to you.”
I still visit Bali, and I still ride a bike there. But for the main road journeys I always take a taxi, and if I go for a beer in the evening, I leave the bike at my apartment. It’s just not worth it. Do your own research into motorbike deaths on the island: it’s quite sobering.
Safe travels and I hope this message can help to save a life: perhaps it will be yours.
On that note, here’s everything else you need to know about riding a scooter in Bali.
As childcare worker, Amethyst Chrystal knows only too well that not sorting out your travel insurance before you go to Bali could leave you in upwards of $60,000 debt. Last year the Australian woman set off from Broome, hoping for a relaxing holiday in the sun, before suffering horrendous injuries from an “impulsive” scooter ride that went wrong.
Even though she was scooting round the relatively quiet area of Canggu, she ended up with, “Five facial fractures, a shattered kneecap, exposed femur, and tendons and ligaments ripped from the bone” (News.com) after colliding with a taxi.
Fortunately, her insurance company covered her massive medical costs, which—if left untreated—could have resulted in losing her limbs. Unfortunately for other travellers, like Christian Bosco, this is not always the case. As reported by The Inertia, soon after Christian arrived in Indonesia with friends for the trip of a lifetime, “What started as an unseemingly common nosebleed… turn(ed) into a full-on nightmare.”
“That nosebleed led to finding out he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. His condition is nearly impossible to properly treat in Bali, but his insurance will not cover adequate transportation back to Spain. So he remains in Indonesia, receiving regular blood transfusions while fighting for his life.”
While he did eventually get help from the surf community, who organised a go-fund-me, it’s stories like these that prove how important it is to know your rights and responsibilities when it comes to insurance. And while we highly recommend you hit up a professional company with the details of your specific journey, here are some general ‘scooter insurance’ guidelines.
- Always get personal travel insurance.
- Although most local rental shops won’t have it, if you want extra peace of mind, places like Bali Bike Rental, offer premium insurance options upon booking. These premium insurance options mean that in the event of an accident, where you would normally be required to pay a full damage deposit until repair estimates are received, this term is waived.
- Declare your pre-existing medical conditions.
- Don’t drink and drive.
- Check you’re covered for sports activities (or that your chosen insurance provider doesn’t consider driving a ‘sport’).
- Inform the rental company or police immediately if your scooter is damaged or stolen, or if you are involved in an accident.
- Buy a comprehensive (read: not the cheapest) insurance policy.
Getting A License
Although the dude in a Bintang singlet and thongs will tell you the worst that can happen is a $30 slap on the wrist, if you want to be on the right side of the law you need one. As Driving In Bali explains: “You need an international driving license, which you have to apply for in your home country. They are usually only valid together with your ‘real’ driving license, so you need to bring both along.”
“You can get a temporary Balinese driving license (tourist driver’s license) from the police station in Denpasar within a day. Check with your hotel or homestay, they will know how you can get there. The cost is about US$30. That’s one way the local police (generate) some extra income. You will have to fill in a multiple choice form (with the answers right next to you!), bring a passport picture and the money… Anybody can get it between the age of 18 and 70!”
Did you not read the story at the start? Always wear one, and if the one your rental shop gives you is dodgy or so difficult you don’t trust yourself to strap it on properly, go and buy a new one.
This classic bogan souvenir, as long as it doesn’t become third degree, is actually the least of your concerns when riding a scooter around Bali. If you want to avoid red raw legs/thighs, wear jeans.
- Check the scooter before you pay for it.
- Be guided by the locals—but don’t copy their riskier manoeuvres. While many expats claim this is the only way to learn to drive, keep in mind it could put you in more danger, not less.
- Use the horn. Think about it: would you rather mildly irritate someone, or not be run over?
- Use your signals, or get the passenger on the back to shake their hand in the direction you want to go.
- Stay calm and friendly when you get stopped by police.
- Carry a bag on your shoulder—could get grabbed, or could put you off balance.
- Drive too fast – in Bali, your motto should always be to expect the unexpected.
- Drink and drive.
- Drive too close to the edge of the road where there is often debris.
If you’re after comprehensive travel insurance, here are a few good places to start.