Is Bali drivable?
January 16, 2013 12:25 PM   Subscribe

We're planning a trip next year and will be staying (for free!) near Lovina on the North-central coast. We'd like to rent a car for the week and day-trip to see the other parts of the island. Is this realistic and/or advisable? How are the roads in reality?

Google driving directions suggest about 3 hours to Lovina from Denpasar and Ubud, and the same to the west and east sides of the island, too. That's 50 miles divided by 3 hours.... 17mph. Hmm. Pretty slow going.

In the past, we're rented scooters in Thailand and a Jeep in Costa Rica, so I feel like we're not totally inexperienced in this sort of thing. Both were a lot of fun. Can we expect something similar in Bali?
posted by scottatdrake to Travel & Transportation around Indonesia (8 answers total)

I've driven all over the world. I would not drive in Bali. It's crazier than crazy. As a used to western driving style/techniques, if you get behind the wheel you'll be dead in twenty minutes. It makes Thailand look look like Switzerland.

Taxi's are cheap and plentiful.

There's also guys all over standing around asking if you want a driver. Ten years ago we paid them maybe 20 bucks a day (?+/-?). They'll drive you anywhere and wait while you do whatever. If you're staying overnight they'll be happy to get you for your return.

There's no need for a private vehicle in Bali, and the PTSD you'll return home with will offset any savings.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:58 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also would not drive in Bali, especially at night. The roads are confusing and windy around Ubud and sometimes there are illegal checkpoints (we had to stop at one with our driver) and it is very good to have a local who speaks the language and knows the protocol in those situations.

You can ask your hotel to hook you up with a driver (this is what we did) to visit other parts of the island. It's cheap and takes a lot of the stress off you.

PS- airport to Ubud was about $60 two years ago.
posted by rmless at 2:27 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I made the mistake of renting a motorcycle in Bali. I rode it for about 20 minutes before deciding I value my life too much, and returned it. While I found driving there somewhat less harrowing than riding a motorcycle, I'd agree that it's the craziest place I've ever seen when it comes to driving, and I've been a few places. No one respects lanes at all, the number one thing that made me nervous was killing someone on a motorcycle or bike with my car as they were coming at me in all directions it seemed. If you have any trepidation whatsoever I would pass.
posted by ill3 at 3:02 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

PS- airport to Ubud was about $60 two years ago.
Ripped off. It was $25 for me last week. I could have got it for $20 but I wanted the hotel guy to get his commission.
Yeah, don't bother hiring a car, drivers are cheap to hire. The roads to and from Denpasar are a mess at the moment because they are doing massive upgrades. I saw 2 kilometres long traffic jams.
posted by unliteral at 3:07 PM on January 16, 2013

I suspected that, unliteral, but I was happy to pay it because they picked us up at 1am or something crazy like that :)
posted by rmless at 4:11 PM on January 16, 2013

We went to Bali for about two weeks, about 4 years ago. During this time we stayed in Ubud, drove to Singaraja (which is very close to Lovina) and back, and also explored some other parts of Bali. We rented scooters for the whole trip and had a blast.

That's not to say that it is easy. Driving in Bali is definitely crazy. Roads are poorly marked and chaotic. Lanes are nonexistent, vehicles pass with essentially no regard for oncoming traffic, and driving at night is challenging/terrifying. As my Balinese friend said to us, there are only two rules of the road in Bali: you are responsible for the entire road in front of you (e.g. expect to be cut off routinely), and Bigger Car Wins (e.g. if a truck is coming at you on your side of the road, get the fuck out of the way). That said, speeds are generally slow to moderate. While navigating by yourself is impossible, we found that we could stop at an intersection and ask the nearest person "Singaraja?" or "Ubud?" and they'd point us in the right direction.

On balance, its not the safest driving in the world. But if you've had some experience driving in non-Western environments (as you have), you're prudent, and you're in a car, its doable.
posted by googly at 5:10 PM on January 16, 2013

You can get a car with a driver for not too much, so that is an option. Various members of my extended family have rented cars with no issues (I mean, yes, the roads are a bit crazy). But yes, it will take longer than you think to get places because there are roads that are small and winding and you'll be stuck behind a truck for half an hour. Night driving is going to be a bit dodgier (poor or non-existent street lighting and various hazards being animals, huge potholes etc etc).
posted by AnnaRat at 1:27 AM on January 17, 2013

Heh, we were just in Lovina last weekend and while it is quieter than the south (Kuta, airport), you still have to cross the mountains to get there. The tricky thing, as others have pointed out, is passing. The roads are much narrower with no shoulder so cars are frequently parked on the road blocking your lane which necessitates waiting for oncoming traffic to clear before passing.

In addition, street lighting is a joke. Most of the illumination comes from nearby shops and when they close, it is very very dark. So cars tend to keep their headlights on high beams at all times. The latest trend is to have 4 to 6 headlights.

By comparison, roads in Thailand (at least around Chiang Mai) are straighter, well-maintained, and have wide shoulders.

Fortunately, transport drivers are readily available and very reasonable to hire.

If you need more info, memail me.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:27 AM on January 17, 2013

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