Driving in a different country certainly comes with its challenges. When we started driving here in Bali it all seemed like chaos, and after our first adventure of driving the wrong way down a one way street we have quickly learned to navigate the streets a bit better, and adjust our driving to the ‘Bali style’. There is definitely some method in the chaos that seems to work very well. Yes really!!!
Make sure you get familiar first with the system before tackling driving, we had a driver for a couple of weeks first before taking the plunge. Thankfully for us, the Balinese drive on the left-hand side (generally), which was a familiar start for us. Otherwise, it is a totally different way of driving.
This discussion is about driving a car on the roads, it is definitely a whole other story when it comes to riding a motorbike.
At first glance, it may seem like there are no rules on the road. There are probably written regulations, but it’s the many unwritten rules that you need to know to survive.
Might is Right – always give way to larger vehicles than yourself. Pedestrians give way to motorbikes, motorbikes give way to cars, cars give way to trucks, trucks give way to buses. And by give way, I mean get out of the way!
T-Intersections – At many T-intersections there are large statues, at which our initial instinct when turning right is to go left around like in a roundabout. However, the Balinese cut across the right of them, looking out for straight moving traffic. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but when you follow the first rule above it all works out OK.
Flashing lights – when an oncoming car flashes its headlights at you, it means “I’m coming through”. It might be done when there is an obstacle on the road, and they need to move across to your side to pass it, so they need to let you know they are coming, not waiting. This is the opposite to back home in Australia, where flashing lights are used to indicate that you are allowing the other driver right of way (or warning that there are Police ahead!).
Hazard lights – the use of hazard lights while driving is also an interesting one, indicating that you are going straight through an intersection. It makes sense – not turning left, not turning right, going straight ahead.
Beeping Etiquette – beeping is commonplace. It is used to warn a driver in front of you that you are coming past. If a driver has stopped, and you want to pass, give a tittle toot so they don’t move, and you can pass safely. You can also use the beep for pedestrians walking on the road, if there is not enough room to get through, it’s a way of letting them know to move aside!
Overtaking – no rules here… just pass on the left, the right, the outside or the inside, at any time, as long as you beep. To accommodate just drive in the middle of the road, ignoring the lane markings because no one actually follows them anyway, leaving room for motorbikes to overtake on either side. Motorbikes can squeeze into some pretty tight spaces when there is a large tourist bus coming!
When driving on the roads of Bali you need not be surprised about the road hazards you will come across. Drivers with large loads, ceremonies parading with priority, and construction sites where the piles of dirt are just dumped covering half the road. Yes, you are expected to slowly make your way around the hazards. There is usually a sign telling you to Hati Hati (be careful). Other obstructions include regular potholes, narrow roads, and very steep drop-offs. Slowly slowly!
On longer trips outside of Ubud, we always have the co-driver (Rob) as chief navigator for directions, leaving the driver (Clare) to navigate around the road hazards. We have worked out to never rely on Google maps, as they are not always accurate, for addresses and even streets. Carry a printed map, in case you are out of reception or out of batteries.
There are several one-way streets (in Ubud anyway) to help the flow of traffic (apparently). One way streets do not apply to motorbikes though, only cars.
We rarely come across traffic lights in Bali. There is only one set around Ubud, many more at the busier intersections in the south. In most cases, they are not necessary when you follow the Balinese way of driving. Here, intersections are just ‘give way’ signs, give way to a few cars then they give way to you. Everybody gets a turn, bit by bit, and there will always be a gap, you just have to squeeze into it. I wish it was this way back in Australia. I don’t miss having to wait at a red light when there is no other traffic around. That would never happen here.
Seat belts are mandatory for the front seat of cars, though usually not present in the rear at all. It is rarely enforced, and locals often don’t bother. The kids are enjoying it, taking advantage of the lax rules about wearing seat belts or having car restraints here. Although in our car we do insist on the seat belt wearing, we only have one booster seat that Casper uses.
The other popular spot is sitting in the very back of the car, there are often squabbles about who gets the back seat! That’s why we downgraded to a smaller car with fewer seats to fight over.
A foreign driver in Bali needs to have an International Driver’s Licence as well as a current licence for their home. We have fortunately not been pulled over, but we hear it is common to be checked. The police may try to find something wrong with your car or your driving, but if you have all the paperwork in order you should be able to stand your ground and avoid a fine. If you can’t get away from a fine, we have heard it is best to take the rap and pay on the spot.
If you plan to drive here, these are some of the lessons we have learnt so far:
- Drive with one hand on the gear stick and the other on the steering wheel, with one hand ready to flash your lights or beep the horn.
- Beep your horn sparingly, never in anger. A gentle beep is all it needs to let someone know you are overtaking.
- Drive cautiously – the roads can be dangerous, even though the traffic is slow-moving. People may step out or bikes turn in front of you unexpectedly.
- Be courteous – let people in, you need them to do the same for you. It’s not hard to stop when you are only plodding along at 20km/hr.
- Be assertive – it may seem counter to the advice to be cautious and courteous, but you also need to be assertive to take the opportunity when there is a gap, to keep the traffic flowing.
- And most of all, as always in Bali, keep smiling no matter what …