Best taxi driver ever
“So what you want to do here in Bali?”
“Um, I don’t know. The usual – ya know do some surfing, check out some temples, get bit by a monkey.”
Turns out the random cab driver we flagged down in front of the Bali international airport spoke pretty decent English & seemed friendly.
“Very good party here in Kuta. Lot’s of girls, crazy Australian girls who like good party,” our cab driver informed us with a grin. “Are you going to rent motobike?”
My brother and I exchanged looks in the backseat – “Definitely. Do you have any good place to recommend?”
“Yes many, but you must be careful, driving motobike in Bali is very dangerous.”
We had been in SE Asia for about 2 months at that point so we already knew “motobike very dangerous,” especially after crashing my motorbike within 15 minutes of renting it in Chiang Mai.
“Do you have international driving permit?” our taxi driver persisted.
“No, but we have our normal drivers license from home” – I told him.
“No good, no good. Police don’t care, they look for international drivers license or they charge you. Much corrupt police in Bali”
Now the taxi driver had our attention. Although international driver’s licenses are recommended to drive in any country other than your own, we had had no problems with anyone enforcing this in Thailand or Vietnam.
“So you’re saying we shouldn’t rent motorbikes? Is it not a smart idea?”
“No you should! Very fun, best way to see Bali. But police will try to pull you over. They catch people all the time, it is good business for them. But here’s what you need to do. When they stop you, they going to ask you for money if you not have license. They try to get much money, like 1 million rupiah, just take a picture of them with your phone and you will be fine.”
“A photo? Wait…that’s it? I’m not sure if I understand.”
“Yes yes my friend, just a picture of their face. They do wrong, and they know they do wrong, and if you tell them you show picture to the police center they could get in trouble.”
“Wow – are you sure? They won’t get mad at us for doing that?”
“No, they are scared if you do that! Also, you can pay them 50,000 rupiah instead and they give you paper saying you have already paid the fine and dont need pay again.”
That’s more or less how our 10 minute taxi ride into Kuta went. After a few more questions, my brother and I seemed to believe him. His confidence in this strategy was convincing, and we made a mental note to try it out if the opportunity arose.
Turns out driving a motorbike in Bali, at least around the cities/towns IS pretty hectic. What else would you expect from such a global destination? It seemed like everyone and their Australian brother had rented motorbikes. And just as our taxi driver friend told us, there were police EVERYWHERE. The police set up road blocks in the middle of the road to detain everyone on motorbikes, and many times they are unavoidable.
We had 3 close calls with the police before we finally got caught:
Traffic was jammed in Kuta, we saw the road-block ahead, and had enough space to detour down one of the Popies side alleys.
We were again stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic, saw the cops looking at us suspiciously in their truck, so we popped up on the sidewalk and sped away leaving them stuck in traffic
We were spotted by police in a road block on a one way street, and couldn’t turn around. So we once again pulled our bikes up on the sidewalk, but this time walked them down the street in the opposite direction. The on-foot police chased us, but we rounded the corner, quickly parked the bikes in a side-parking lot (still one-way street), grabbed the keys & helmets, and hid behind some ice-cream stand on the corner. The police walked around our bikes, inspected them, and waited a solid 20 minutes for us to come back to reprimand us, but we waited until they left. We jumped back on our bikes once the coast was clear.
Maybe we were lucky, maybe we were extra cautious, or maybe we’re just 2 hell-raising rednecks from Georgia who grew up riding 4-wheelers & running from the police, but we almost made it our entire Bali trip without getting caught. ALMOST.
The Unavoidable Roadblock
One day we wanted to head down near the southern-most tip of Bali to a little place called Balangan beach (highly recommended), and got mixed up with some wrong directions (“directions” in Bali means: pulling up next to a local at a red light, screaming the name of your destination & pointing in a direction). We had to turn around, and when we did, they were waiting for us.
It was completely unavoidable. We had no choice but to stop as the police had already seen 2 gringos and set up the road block specifically for us. As we rolled to a stop next to the police truck & put our kick stands down, I signaled to Casey (my bro) to get his phone ready as mine had already been stolen in Vietnam.
I held my breath as 2 large, fairly mean-looking Indonesian police officers stepped out of the truck. After giving them our Georgia drivers licenses & hoping that would somehow fool them, they told us in broken English that we owed them 500,000 rupiahs apiece (about $50 at the time).
With the fluidity of John Wayne drawing his 6-shooter in a western stand-off, in one motion Casey took his phone out of his pocket, stepped directly in front of one of the officers, and got a few good shuttersnaps in.
Their reaction was priceless. Immediately they started freaking out, asking us to give them the phone, and to erase the picture. As Casey tried to take another picture of the license plate, they jumped in front of us pleading with us not to take any more pictures. It was incredible – it was like we were the police and they were the accused. We told them we weren’t going to erase the pictures until they promised not to bribe us.
10 minutes later (that’s how long it took one of the officers to scroll again & again through Casey’s photos to make sure they were deleted), they handed the phone back. Remembering what our taxi driver told us, we paid them 50,000 ($5) rupiahs in exchange for a signed piece of paper stating that we had already paid our fine for not having an international driver’s licenses & wouln’t have to pay it again. 45 minutes later we arrived at Balangan beach, exhilarated & amazed that the taxi driver’s advice worked.
Bribe avoided. But was it smart?
Now it’s a great story to tell to friends, but looking back on it, it wasn’t really the smartest thing to do. What would have happened if the officers were really corrupt? What could they have done if they got mad at us? Something bad maybe could have happened. After all, you never want to be in a situation where it’s the police’s word vs your word. Even though we had the advice of a local taxi driver inspiring us, it’s always important to take EXTRA precautions when traveling in a different country, and to respect laws.
This isn’t a beat my chest I’M A BADASS story. Just a first-hand account of our experiences renting and driving motorbikes in Bali, a place that every person should go to, and in my opinion, explore with a motorbike. The scenery is amazing, the people friendly, the rice paddies green, the monkeys aggressive, the waterfalls thundering, and everywhere smells like incense. It’s a complete sensory stimulation riding on motorbikes, just be prepared.
Ask around and see if it’s the same story with the Balian police now – if the photo strategy still works. If people say that it does, try it out. If that doesn’t work anymore, ask for other suggestions. Ultimately it’s up to you what you do when you encounter the police in Bali, because you definitely will. Or you can just get your international drivers license before going to Bali, but where’s the adventure in that? 😉