Moving to Bali – driving and road rules


I’ve been in Bali now for over 2 years and I’m only just getting around to riding a motorbike (on my own) and getting a license. And moving to Bali means you need to find an easy way to get around because there is so much to see and do! I’m always in awe, and a little bit of shock, when I see kids and tourists zipping around on motorbikes like they were born doing it. And then I think, well if they can, surely I can. First attempt, not so great. I was practicing in my gang (little street) and just when I thought I had mastered it, a car came down the gang. Obviously I need to get used to cars on the road however this was my first vehicle encounter. In my head I was going to be cool, calm and collected. In reality I forgot where the break was and went straight into the bamboo fence! I actually really only want to learn how to scooter around so I can take my dogs to the beach…I might need more practice before I’m as skilled as this guy!


But having been a passenger on a motorbike, I have observed some rules. Here’s what I’ve been able to work out:

  • if you are the last passenger on the scooter (I’ve seen anywhere from 2 people to 5 people on a scooter!), your job is to wave your hand behind you indicating which way you are turning so people don’t drive on the inside and block you off. Or drive into you as you turn.
  • honking is a form of communication. It can mean anything from ‘I’m on your right’, ‘I’m on your left’, ‘ I’m right behind you’, ‘I want to go past you’, ‘ You’re going too slow’, ‘You’re going too fast’, and honking is mandatory when coming around corners to let whoever is around the corner know that you are there. Honking can also be a hello, a goodbye, or a warning to clear people or animals off the road. Makes sense?!
  • Hazard lights on your car are NOT always hazard lights. They are also used at intersections to show you are going straight and not turning at all, which I never really understand this one seeing as though both the left and right arrow actually light up.
  • People will let you in. Just honk!
  • No one is really ever in a hurry so take your time, go as slow as you like. And just honk if you need help moving into other lanes.

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Other handy tips I’ve learnt include obvious things like make sure you have a license, insurance and a helmet. I have had a pushbike accident here and hitting the deck at the snails pace I pedal hurt enough as it was, hitting the road coming off a motorbike….no thanks.

Not-so-life-important tips include:

  • motorbikes can look the same. Get little clicker beepy things or you may attempt to pinch someone else’s bike.
  • the seat hatch is handy for handbags and a small amount of groceries. But don’t forget they are there. Handbags can go missing. And from experience leaving eggs, milk and bread in the seat hatch does not end well, for the groceries or the motorbike owner.
  • roads in Bali are bumpy so hold on and don’t use your phone even as a passenger. iPhones don’t bounce well on the road. Again, experience.
  • if you see someone seemingly talking to themselves while on a motorbike, chances are they are using their own form of blue-tooth and their mobile phone is wedged between their head and their helmet.
  • anything, and I mean anything, can be carried on a motorbike. I once saw someone moving a fridge on a motorbike!

It’s a system of organised chaos and so long as you go with the flow of traffic, you will be fine. A busy intersection looks crazy to begin with yet somehow it all works without incident…but not without a lot of honking!

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Photo credit Brett Woodhouse, Nikki Dilon

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