In so many ways, Bali is heaven on earth. A romantic getaway for couples, a tropical adventure for solo travelers, a welcoming haven for expats; this little Indonesian island can capture any tourist’s heart with its sunny beaches, volcanic interior, and rich culture.
But every rose has its thorn and it must be said that many tourists in Bali fall victim to scams. Fortunately, with a bit of research here and a dash of common sense there, you can avoid these pitfalls and focus on enjoying your island holiday.
Bali, unlike many popular tourist destinations, doesn’t have much in the way of public transportation. Instead of getting around the island by bus, train, or metro, you’ll either need to drive yourself or find someone else to drive you. One of the best ways to explore the island is to hire a personal driver. They’ll chauffeur you around the island and can help you find everything from tourist hotspots to hidden local gems.
At a cost of about $30 to $50 per day, this is a fantastic way to get to know Bali beyond its beaches and major cities like Ubud, and most drivers will provide you with an exemplary service. Some drivers, however, work on commission with various merchants around the island. On the well-beaten path between Seminyak and Ubud, you might find your driver is keen to drop you off at art dealers, silver and gold merchants, or other shops and vendors. The goods in these stores are unlikely to be fairly priced, since the owners have to pay the driver their commission for bringing in tourists, resulting in a huge markup.
Be firm, but kind as you bargain – most locals aren’t out to fleece tourists
This sort of thing won’t ruin your trip by any means. And who knows? You could stumble across a great souvenir you wouldn’t have otherwise found. But the prices here can hurt your budget, so we advise dusting off your haggling hat and trying your best to secure a good deal on the driver’s fee. This will give your budget some wiggle room, so if you do end up in an overpriced shop, your bottom line won’t be hurt so badly. Be firm, but kind as you bargain – most locals aren’t out to fleece tourists. And don’t let the driver plan your whole itinerary. If a driver seems insistent you visit a particular place, that’s a red flag.
At the end of the day, if your driver’s done a good job, a nice tip is always appreciated. Tipping is not always customary in Bali, which is perhaps why some drivers feel the need to boost their paychecks with commission deals. But for hired drivers, an extra 10,000 Rupiah goes a long way toward showing your satisfaction with the service. If you’re hired your driver for a full day or more, you should increase the tip as appropriate.
Taxis in Bali are abundant and quite reasonably priced compared to the costs in Western countries. Again, due to the lack of public transportation – there are no buses or trains in Bali – taxis are a great way to get around the island if you’re not planning to rent your own scooter or car. The best practices for a taxi ride, however, vary quite a bit from country to country and when you add dealing with a foreign currency, many first-time visitors to Bali wind up spending more on cabs than they need to.
You should never agree to a fixed rate before getting in a Balinese taxi from any taxi company. Fixed rates can be as much as 200% more expensive than a metered rate to the same destination. The meter should be on and set to 6000 Rupiah. If a driver claims the meter is broken, or makes some other excuse, just get out and find another cab.
never agree to a fixed rate before getting in a Balinese taxi
We highly recommend using the Bluebird Taxi Group which has an excellent reputation thanks to its honest and reliable drivers. Their 24-hour phone line (+62 0 361 701 111) is the best way to secure a cab. If you’re hailing from the street you can check a few points to double check that you’re getting in a real deal Bluebird taxi. The car will be light blue with dark blue writing and a bird logo on the top and side of the vehicle. You should see “Blue Bird Group” printed across the windshield and a taxi identification number (such as “RB 1540”) clearly displayed. The drivers wear blue uniforms and have their ID mounted on the dashboard. Bluebird taxi drivers are obliged to use the meter (unless you make the mistake of asking for a price beforehand). Uber and GrabTaxi are also operating in Bali. However, be careful when ordering from certain districts as the Bali taxi mafia and locals have been known to .
Bali Money Changers
The more popular a destination becomes, the more currency exchange booths you see crop up on its streets. Inevitably, some of these stands are scams, pure and simple, and Bali is no exception.
Disreputable money changers will advertise a high exchange rate with no commission to attract tourists through their doors. The staff will use a calculator, but claim to have only small bank notes in the local rupiah. After counting the money in front of you, the stack of bills will be taken out of view for just a moment as the clerk puts a rubber band around it. Eager to be on your way, you might accept the stack of small bills and leave, but you should always count your money yourself after receiving it. It’s possible the clerk may have dropped some of the bills on their desk before handing the money back.
always count your money yourself after receiving it
We recommend using only authorized money changers, and even then, counting your money before leaving. If an exchange rate seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Markets and Shopping in Bali
The art markets of Ubud and Seminyak aren’t scams, per se. But because they are so popular with tourists, you’ll often see their paintings and wood carvings sold at premium prices. You’ll get to enjoy a more authentic Balinese experience and take home an Indonesian treasure at a lower price if you seek out smaller markets in Bali, where locals are likely to shop themselves.
While we’re on the subject of shopping, you should also take the “50% Discount” signs you see along Sunset Road with a grain of salt. The large markdowns are only on a few items, and you’re unlikely to find a real bargain in these shops.
Bali has some gorgeous temples, but at many of these sights you should be prepared to get approached by touts. They may look official and be insistent, but if they quote a high entry fee due to a religious ceremony that day, be on your guard. There are “ceremonies” every day and this is a clever lie to get more money out of tourists.
At the same time, having a guide around a Balinese temple can be quite enjoyable. So we recommend getting that haggling hat you used for your personal driver back out, and bargaining with the guide for a lower fee. Ask for the guide’s formal identification, and then offer 25% of the asking price. They’ll be happy to get something, you’ll be happy to see the sights, and after an hour or so, you can part ways amicably.
One extra thing to note about temples: modesty is a must. Keep your shoulders and legs covered in the Bali temples, lest you incur another fee. If you don’t have your own sarong, you can pick one up in a shop near Kuta, Legian, or Seminyak. It will help you blend in with the locals and makes a great souvenir.
Popular tourist beaches like Kuta and Legian are chock full of any beauty service you could want. Manicures, hair braiding, henna tattoos. There are scores of ladies walking the beach asking tourists if they’d like a massage or a pedicure, again and again until someone caves and agrees. Persistent might be an understatement.
scores of ladies walking the beach asking tourists if they’d like a massage or a pedicure
The services themselves are lovely and you’ll be offered a cheap price upfront. But once you settle into a relaxing massage, you might find someone starts polishing your nails. You agree to pay a little more for the polish, and then they start working on a more intricate design, which of course costs more. These “upgrades” can really add up and putting up a fight will get you nowhere.
We advise just saying a polite “no thank you” to anyone offering a massage or manicure on the beach. If you do agree to a service, do your best to make sure all costs are clear and upfront with no extras, and be prepared to pay up just in case.
Who doesn’t love sampling local brews, wines, and spirits while traveling? It’s a great way to participate in a new culture, and in Indonesia, the poison of choice is Arak. This rice wine packs a serious punch. It’s inexpensive, sold everywhere, and quite tasty. Some bars, however, stretch their money by adding pure ethanol to their Arak which can be extremely dangerous.
always drink responsibly
You should always drink responsibly, but we recommend being especially careful around Arak in Balinese bars. Only pull up a stool at reputable watering holes serving brand name liquors. Try a sip of the Arak if you must, but you’re safest avoiding the stuff entirely and sticking to other drinks.
We’d love to say anyone in a uniform is trustworthy, but unfortunately, some police officers in Bali are quite corrupt. Many tourists rent motor scooters or bikes to get around the island – it’s a fun, cheap way to explore and we’d never dream of turning a traveler off to the idea.
We do, however, recommend that you avoid driving in the heavily built up areas of Kuta and Legian. Police often wait at traffic lights and stop tourists on scooters and bikes for any minor violation. It could be anything from an issue with your helmet to a request for your international license. They’ll ask you to follow them to the police station, unless you’d like to pay a fine upfront. Most tourists agree to pay the bogus fine, and these cops get a little extra cash in their pockets.
YouTube video showing a typical Bali police scam
If you’re driving in Bali, make sure you have an international driver’s license and be especially careful to follow all rules on the road. Avoid police while driving, if you can, and be prepared to get stopped if you can’t. Know that you can also try to negotiate the “fine” down.
The Bottom Line
It can be hard to read a list of scams and not feel nervous about visiting a new place. Rest assured, we don’t want to scare you! Bali is a wonderful island full of warm, friendly, and inviting people. To avoid the exceptions to the rule, simply keep your wits about you, particularly in the more touristy areas of Kuta and Seminyak. Be polite, but firm as you turn down offers or bargain with drivers and touts. Steer clear of a price that seems too good to be true. And most importantly, don’t let parting with a few more rupiah than planned ruin your trip. Give yourself some flexibility in your budget, so if you do find yourself on the wrong end of a scam, it won’t be the end of the world.
After all, what will you remember more: an incredible week touring white sand beaches, ancient temples, and lush jungles, or how much money you spent on that one taxi ride?
When booking holiday accommodation at Asia Holiday Retreats, all our guests are assigned their very own concierge to be available with help and advice during their stay.