People ask me all the time, is Bali safe? My short answer is simply this: Yes, if you want it to be. I’ll put it another way, your trip to Bali is only as safe as you make it.
Up until October of 2017, which is when I met this beautiful Javanese woman online, I had never really thought about visiting Indonesia.
There was one person I went to junior high school with who owned a surf camp in Uluwatu, but other than that, I was on my own.
“I mean, who ever heard of traveling 9200 miles to meet someone for the first time”? my inner skeptic cried.
“She’s probably not real or she just wants money, or she’s trying to get to the United States through marriage, it’s gotta be a scam. ” he grumbled.
If you can’t already tell, my inner skeptic is a little bit of an asshole.
Yet for some reason, I stopped trolling through dating apps. We spent countless hours communicating back and forth via video chat, texting and countless late night phone calls.
I suppose I came to that pivotal time time in my life. I was trying to find the woman of my dreams — I wanted a healthy relationship. And a happy one at that.
After months of preparation, planning, and a bit of hesitation for which I — as well as many travelers, are known to do, I finally decided enough was enough and took the plunge.
I packed my bags and left for Bali, and met the woman of my dreams. We’ve been married almost five years now, living happily together in Bali.
The story I just told you is relevant to the rest of this piece and may address your question about Bali’s stability. And if I had listened to my inner skeptic, I would probably still be back in the USA with the wrong girl, the wrong job, and living the life I dreaded waking up to.
At the time, I wondered what people were protecting themselves from in the first place: wildlife, drugs, terrorists, violence, starvation, poverty, or natural disasters? The world had thousands of distinct destinations, each with its own set of dangers. To be frank, there has never been a place where you were completely safe from everything. There is risk everywhere, in all forms, but if people were always worried about it, they would never leave the couch.
Why are people skeptic of Bali? After all, it is known as one of the best nomadic epicenters in South East Asia. Sure, it might be overrun, yet it continues to attract visitors from all over the world. From surfers and backpackers to honeymooners and luxury visitors, they all come for their own reasons, and what does overrun mean anyway?
In 1966, the Indonesian government constructed the most necessary infrastructure — water, roads, waste management, electricity, communications, schools, and a few hotels— and shared it with the locals. They would establish a French designed tourism enclave for the entire island, limiting tourism growth in select areas to conserve Balinese culture–at least that was the plan.
Since Bali’s construction boom and launch of Ngurah Rai International Airport, it’s fair to say that the island has become overrun, compared to having only three hotels in the 1960’s. In fact, international travel skyrocketed from 11,278 visitors in 1969 to 436,358 in 1989, and then 1 million in 1994.
The number of international visitors to Bali has continued to grow thereafter until 2019 due to COVID: (2013) 3,278,598 (2014) 3,766,638 (2015), 4,001,835 (2016) 4,927,937 (2017) 5,697,739. In 2018, the number of arrivals at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport reached 6,511,610, with nearly 6,300,300 million direct foreign tourist arrivals in 2019. Even in 2020, when the pandemic consumed the majority of the year, the island welcomed 1,000,000 tourists.
However, just 45 international tourists visited Bali in 2021, which hurt. Especially when travel accounts for more than 50% of the Indonesian island’s economy. Here’s what happened on Bali when the money stopped flowing, according to people living here.
Most people who work in tourism have been forced to return to their villages, and the infrastructure of those villages is inadequate to accommodate the inflow. As a result, they’re coping with widespread food shortages. After being laid off from hotels, several people established odd small businesses to make ends meet, selling eggs, fruit, vegetables, eggs, tissue paper, and whatever else they could think of.
The clubbing sounds, street hawkers, as well as the laughing and welcoming smiles of the locals, all came to a halt—it truly is a very desolate and grim scene.
Almost all stores and restaurants were forced to close for the time being, if not permanently. The majority of the locations that were formerly crowded with thousands of travelers are now deserted. And so were the jobs that kept them running.
Indonesia’s crime rate is not as high as you might think, and its murder rate is 163rd out of 174 countries (Japan is 168th, Thailand is 82nd, and the Philippines is 42nd), making it a safe compared to other Southeast Asian countries.
Currently, there is not enough data to indicate any significant increase in crime during the pandemic. However, social media and forums have been flooded with reports of everything from burglaries, taxi robberies, left-behind theft, and petty theft, such as stolen wallets, phones, and luggage.
The Denpasar Police Department, on the other hand, has stated that the crime rate in Denpasar has more than doubled since the Covid-19 outbreak began, and they are constantly reminding people to be extra vigilant and cautious, especially during times when shady individuals are more likely to commit criminal acts in order to survive.
Natural disasters also play a big role when it comes to safety in Bali. Indonesia and its volcanoes are located directly on the ring of fire, and the island of the Gods has three active volcanoes. Modern technology allows scientists to predict when an eruption may happen, but, that being said, there’s nothing they can do to stop them.
Then there’s the human element such as human trafficking, con artist and smugglers and one’s own drunken stupidity.
Typically, Bali only reports fatal and near-fatal traffic accidents, making it difficult to obtain an accurate figure. Nonetheless, you will hear or read about one almost every day. Usually due to human error or the riders’ risky behaviors such as speeding, drunkenness, fatigue, drowsiness, attentiveness, drug and medicine consumption, and not wearing a fluorescent jacket or helmet.
There is also the chance of methanol poisoning, which will end your drinking career—indefinitely. Scamming can happen in the way of dodgy money changers, rip-off markets, greedy motorbike rentals, and credit card fraud in ATMs.
According to the provincial traffic police, approximately 1,500 people are killed in traffic in Bali each year. Eighty percent (1,200 people) of those killed were on motorcycles. In Indonesia, fatigue-related mishaps factors such as long duration of driving, road geometry, road condition, roadside variability, and riding time are responsible for 48 percent of motorcycle accidents.
On average, every two years a destructive tsunami occurs in Indonesia following an earthquake, the sea current is not to be underestimated, people dying from COVID-19, churches and clubs get blown up, airplanes crash and the sky rains cats and dogs…you get the point.
Meanwhile, Bali’s temples, gardens, old world monkeys, and surfing beaches miss you. Not to mention Bali’s locals, I would say, they miss you the most. But at the end of the day, I have no problem saying, from personal experience, that Bali is very safe.
Everything I’ve said here applies to any part of the world; however, if you use this guide, do your own research, and use common sense in all areas of Bali, and when you’re on your own, it’s important to trust your instincts—if something seems off, it probably is; if someone appears shady, they probably are.
Still asking, is Bali safe?
The basic rule of thumb is that the higher the number of tourists, the more pickpocketing and petty larceny there will be. Everything should be fine as long as you are careful and keep an eye on your belongings.
However, there are a few places where I wouldn’t hang out late at night. Keep an eye out for the following spots:
Oberoi Street – There are many nightclubs in Seminyak, particularly on Oberoi Street. As a result, there is a higher likelihood of impaired drivers or drunk visitors walking down the street, so exercise caution. Be especially cautious after midnight on weekends, and if possible, take a GO-JEK or Grab home.
Batu Bolong is known for Old Man’s Bar, which is located in Canggu. It is also one of the busiest neighborhoods, therefore small crime is rather common. Make sure you don’t leave anything expensive on your motorbike, learn pencak silat, and don’t forget to lock your helmet under the seat when you go into a bar or restaurant.
Sunset Road – Starting in Seminyak and running all the way down to the airport, Sunset Road is Bali’s main road. Because Bali’s traffic laws are like the wild west, this roadway can be extremely difficult and dangerous for new riders. If you’re going on a trip down Sunset Road, be prepared for anything!
Bumbak/Umalas – following the outbreak of pandemic in 2019, this area has become a hotspot for pickpocketing and theft, with very small roads and little surveillance. Make sure your belongings are hidden and, if possible, avoid these areas alone at night.
- Say no to drugs – The minimum term for drug possession in Bali or anyplace else in Indonesia is 12 years in jail, and the maximum fine is Rp 8 billion. If you are found selling drugs, you might spend at least 15 years in jail and pay a Rp 10 billion fine. On the jail island of Nusa Kambangan in 2015, two drug dealers were executed by firing squad.
- Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes—there‘s no way of knowing when it will happen, but being prepared and knowing what to do when one strikes can make a big difference. Keep a digital plan on your phone, pay attention to your surroundings, always let people know where you are, and never panic.
- Stay current with local politics – As in any other nation, things may escalate very quickly in Indonesia with little to no notice. However, there are several serious social problems that go untreated, including poverty, corruption, nepotism, collusion, scandal, crimes against humanity, civil unrest. instability, and violence in various regions of Indonesia. Often, tourists are advised to stay away from Central Sulawesi and Papua due to civil unrest. Always check travel advisories.
- Treat police with respect – Never pay a bribe to the police; instead, treat them with respect as you would in your own nation.
- Don’t gamble on a cheap booze –Arak, often known as Balinese moonshine, has high levels of methanol, which may cause alcohol poisoning. However, you are unlikely to be offered arak at a nice hotel or club. Both ethanol and methanol are colorless and have a faint chemical odor. Don’t drink it if it seems too good to be true.
- Don’t become a target—Be especially cautious on your motorbike or in public areas; being a tourist is typically a strong indicator to someone looking to target you. Know your surroundings and watch your back to prevent becoming an easy target. Shooting video with a $1200 smartphone on a motorbike will feed a family for a long time, as would a handbag with one strap. Keep your money in different pockets, socks, and bags; don’t keep all of your possessions in one spot.
- Bring mosquito repellent – Balinese mosquitos are no joke and can carry dengue fever.
- Balinese monkeys are not your friends – Monkey bites are reported widespread across Bali, and in the worst-case scenario, can result in rabies or other infections.
- You are not a dolphin – Rip currents are surface currents that take individuals away from the beach. To begin with, not all beaches have flags to inform tourists of current conditions. But if there is a red flag, stay out of the water. If the current is green, test it by merely getting in waist deep and watching if it tries to pull you out. Because the currents in Bali are generally rather strong, try to buddy up or stick close to people.
- Be careful around cliffs –Accidents like this occur more frequently than you’d think while visiting places like Uluwatu and Nusa Penida. In 2018, a Mexican traveler by the name of Reinier reportedly lost his footing while attempting to retrieve his drone from Uluwatu’s 35-meter-high cliff.
Again, everything I’ve stated here is universally true, but it’s especially crucial to follow your gut when you’re traveling on your own in Bali: if something looks wrong, it usually is; and if someone seems shady, they definitely are.
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