Safety in Bali

Stay Safe

Bali is, in general, a safe destination, and few visitors encounter any real problems.

Bali was the scene of lethal terrorist bombingsin 2002 and 2005, with both waves of attacks targeting nightclubs and restaurants popular among foreign visitors. Security is consequently tight at obvious targets, but it is of course impossible to protect oneself fully against terrorism. If it is any reassurance, the Balinese themselves—who depend on tourism for their livelihood—deplored the bombings and the terrorists behind them for the terrible suffering they have caused on this peaceful island. As a visitor, it is important to put the risk in perspective: Bali's roads are statistically far more dangerous than even the deadliest bomb. It may still be prudent to avoid high-profile western hang-outs, especially those without security measures. The paranoid or just security-conscious may wish to head out of the tourist enclaves of South Bali to elsewhere on the island.

Bali is increasingly enforcing Indonesia's harsh penalties against the import, export, trafficking and possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin. Several high profile arrests of foreigners have taken place in Bali since 2004, and a number have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms or (very rarely) execution. Even the possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use puts you at risk of a trial and prison sentence. Watch out for seemingly harmless street boys looking to sell you drugs (marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, etc.). More often than not, they are working with undercover police and will try to sell you drugs so that they can then get uniformed officers onto you. The police officers will (if you are lucky) demand a bribe for your release, or, more likely, look for a far larger payday by taking you into custody. Just avoid Bali's drug scene at all costs.

The unfortunate people who are caught and processed will find there is little distinction between personal use and dealing in the eyes of the Indonesian legal system. 'Expedition fees', monies paid to shorten prison sentences can easily be US$20,000 and are often a lot more.

There is a fair chance that you will be offered magic mushrooms, especially if you are young and find yourself in Kuta. Indonesian law is a little unclear in this area but with the whole country in the midst of a drug crackdown since 2004, it is not worth taking the risk.

If you see a red flag planted in the sand, do not swim there, as they are a warning of dangerous rip currents. These currents can pull you out to sea with alarming speed and even the strongest swimmers cannot swim against them. The thing to do is to stay calm and swim sideways (along the shore) until out of the rip and only then head for the shore. The ocean is not to be trifled with in Bali, and dozens of people, some experienced some not, die by drowning every year.

Petty scams are not uncommon, although they can usually be avoided with a modicum of common sense. If approached on the street by anybody offering a deal on souvenirs, transport, etc., you can rest assured that you will pay more if you follow your new found friend. Guard your bags, especially at transport terminals and ferry terminals. In addition to the risk of them being stolen, self-appointed porters like to grab them without warning and then insist on ridiculous prices for their "services".

Timeshare scams and schemes are common in Bali with several high profile, apparently legitimate operators. If you are approached by a very friendly street canvasser asking you to complete a survey and then attend a holiday resort presentation to claim your 'prize' (this is inevitably a 'free' holiday which you end up paying for anyway), politely refuse and walk away. You may also be cold-called at your hotel to be told you have 'won a holiday' - the caller may even know your name and nationality thanks to a tip-off from someone who has already seen your data. If you fall for this scam, you will be subjected to a very long, high-pressure sales presentation and if you actually buy the 'holiday club' product, you will certainly regret it. Timeshare is a completely unregulated industry in Indonesia, and you have no recourse.

When leaving Bali, if you have anything glass in your baggage (such as duty-free alcohol) the security guards may put some pressure on you to have it wrapped to keep it safe, and it can seem like its a requirement rather than a suggestion (it is Rp 60,000 a bag). Similarly, when arriving in Bali, some uniformed airport porters may offer to take your bags for you and walk you through customs, be generally friendly and helpful, and then demand a tip. The charge is Rp 5,000, a request for any amount in excess of this has no formal sanction, it is best to stop them from interfering with your bags in any way, just tell them you do not want their services unless you are sure you want to use them, if so clarify the price before they lift up your bags. These 'services' are best avoided.

The money changing rule is simple: use only authorised money changers with proper offices and always ask for a receipt. The largest is called PT Central Kuta and they have several outlets. If you are especially nervous, then use a formal bank. You may get a better rate at an authorised money changer though.

Avoid changing money in smaller currency exchange offices located within shops, as they more often than not will try to steal money by using very creative and "magician" like methods. Even when you think you've watched the dealers every move, you're not unlikely to end up with far too low an amount in your hands, so just take a minute to re-count your stack of notes at the spot. Often the rate advertised on the street is nowhere near the rate that they will give you in the end. Many times the rate is set higher to lure you in so that they can con you out of a banknote or two, and when this is not possible, they will give you a shoddy rate and state that the difference is due to commission. This even applies to the places which clearly state that there is no commission, of course any money changer charges a commission, they would cease to be viable if they did not and it is built into the differential between the purchase rate and the sell rate at any given time.

For many, the largest irritant will be the hawkers and peddlers who linger around temples, malls, beaches, and anywhere tourists congregate. It may feel difficult or rude to ignore the constant come-ons to buy souvenirs, food and assorted junk, but it can be necessary in order to enjoy your holiday in semi-peace.

Be wary around the monkeys that occupy many temples (most notably Uluwatu and Ubud's Monkey Forest). They are experts at stealing possessions like glasses, cameras and even handbags, and have been known to attack people carrying food. Feeding them is just asking for trouble.

Rabies is present in Bali and several deaths arising from rabies infections have been recorded in early 2011. Visitors to the island should avoid contact with dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals that carry the disease. If bitten seek medical attention.

"Turtle Island" scam

One of Bali's most infamous scams. It is important to note that Bali does possess alegitimate Turtle Conservation and Education Center (TCEC) at Serangan Island, also known as "Turtle Island". However, when requested to go to "Turtle Island", many drivers and tour agencies will instead lead tourists to an unlicensed "conservation center" at Tanjungbenoa peninsula, where turtles, snakes and other animals are kept in filthy, small cages and subject to several forms of mistreatment. If you have any concern about animal welfare, make sure that you visit the licensed TCEC at Serangan Island, and do not support any tour agencies that attempt to lead tourists to the fake conservation center at Tanjungbenoa.


Stay healthy

Although the standards of healthcare and emergency facilities have improved greatly in recent years, they remain below what most visitors would be accustomed to in their home country. Whilst minor illness and injury can be adequately treated in the ubiquitous local clinics most overseas visitors would not be comfortable having serious problems dealt with in a local hospital, and insurance coverage for emergency medical evacuation is therefore a wise precaution. If a medical evacuation is required then patients are normally moved to Singapore or Perth in Australia. Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, does however have some high standard medical care facilities if seeking medical attention at a closer location.

Be aware that the purchase of travel insurance still means that most clinics and hospitals may require payment in advance, or sometimes by incremental payment as various services are rendered. This may require access to a quite significant amount of cash to keep things moving. Any claim is then made to the insurance company upon your return home. This is almost always the case if the problem is one that can be dealt with on an outpatient basis. Make sure that your insurance company has an agreement with the provider or immediately establishes one, otherwise you will also be landed with a bill for an inpatient stay. Bali International Medical Centre (BIMC) has agreements with many insurance companies and is a well serviced hospital. This is however a relatively expensive option and even they ask for payment for outpatient treatments.

The major travel insurance companies may be slow to respond with appropriate assistance and equally slow to refer a claimant to a suitable medical service. Delays may also be experienced if the insurer is slow or indecisive in authorising treatment. Difficulties may arise from an insurer not authorising a payment guarantee to the local medical services provider. Delays in rendering appropriate treatment are a common outcome. Try to gain a comprehensive understanding of the policy terms and limitations of your travel insurance cover well before departing your home country. Trying to gain an understanding of the limitations of cover during a crisis is not recommended.

Some travel insurance companies and their emergency response centres may not live up to your own expectations of regional knowledge, appropriate case management and speedy response. Your best insurance is always common-sense, some basic pre-departure research on your destination and the application of good situational awareness whilst travelling. Try to have your own plan in place to deal with any crisis you may encounter when travelling rather than relying solely upon a possibly inadequately skilled and under-qualified person sitting in a distant call centre who may have their own role complicated by problems with language, communication and access to the insurers decision makers. You may wish to consider carrying the names and contact numbers of one or two of the major local medical and evacuation providers in your wallet or purse so that you know how to quickly obtain medical assistance should an emergency arise. Always ensure that you contact your insurer as soon as possible should an emergency arise otherwise you may find they are later unwilling to accept liability for payment for any expenses that arise.
Always keep a thorough record of all expenditures and communications with your insurer and obtain full and detailed invoices and receipts for all services provided and any incidental costs. If you do not understand the detail of anything that you are billed for, ask for an explanation; if information is not forthcoming withhold payment or authorisation until such time as an acceptable explanation is given.

International SOS Indonesia (AEA SOS Medika) was founded in Indonesia in 1984 and has grown into an international organisation handling a round 9 million cases per year. It has a professionally staffed and operated clinic in Bali. They offer clinic services, hospital referral and emergency medical evacuation services. They have agreements or associations in place with many of the major travel insurers and are a principal medical service supplier in the Southeast Asian region, including Indonesia.

The midday sun in Bali will fry the unwary traveller to a crisp, so slap on plenty of high-factor sun-protection and drink lots of fluids. However there is no need to carry litres of water as you can buy a bottle virtually anywhere. The locals tend to stay away from the beaches until about two hours before sunset, when most of the ferocity has gone out of the sun.

Travelling to Bali may expose you to some risks in contracting one of many tropical diseases that are present in the region. Bali is officially a malaria-free zone but dengue fever is a problem and all sensible precautions should be taken against being bitten by mosquitoes.

Take care in restaurants and bars; although it is very rare nowadays, some may use untreated/unsafe tap water to make ice for drinks otherwise made with clean ingredients. Tap water in hotels should not be used for drinking or brushing teeth unless explicitly labelled as safe.

Both drink adulteration or contamination with methyl alcohol (methanol) and drinkspiking in bars and clubs is not uncommon in Bali. Sensible precautions should be taken when buying and consuming beverages. During 2009/2010 a number of Indonesians and visiting tourists in Java, Bali and Lombok/Gili Islands were poisoned by consuming drinks containing methyl alcohol resulting in fatalities. Methyl alcohol or methanol (wood alcohol) and other contaminants are highly dangerous and have been found in some locally produced alcoholic drinks including locally made Arak. The initial symptoms of methyl alcohol/methanol intoxication include central nervous system depression, headache, visual distortion, dizziness, nausea, lack of co-ordination and confusion. If methyl alcohol poisoning is suspected seek medical assistance immediately.

The HIV infection rate in Bali is increasing, mainly among sex workers of both genders and intravenous drug users. If you engage in any risky activity, always protect yourself.

Finally, be careful around monkeys. They may be habituated to humans, but they are wild animals, and being bitten or scratched by a monkey could result in your contracting any number of maladies, possibly including rabies. So you are best off keeping your distance, especially if a monkey seems to be behaving erratically. If you are bitten or scratched by a monkey or bat, get medical help immediately, as rabies, if not treated before symptoms occur, is almost 100% fatal.

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