Why we won't be scootin' in Bali

Scooters are super fun, and everyone in Bali drives them. We DON'T think that should include you! Many people will recommend it, but we will give you some reasons why you should not rent a scooter.

If you are staying in the main areas (southern Bali, Ubud) then it's dangerous, stressful, and not that much cheaper than hopping on the back of an experienced rider's scooter.

A day in the life of a scooter

When we lived in Australia, a country that frequents Bali much more than the US, many of those who had visited this friendly island told us of renting scooters.

We had already planned on not doing this, simply because of the cost (yes, I know, they aren’t that expensive… but we are living here doing the digital nomad thing and thus on a strict budget and not doing the devil may care, blow all your money on cheap shit, vacation thing), but our initial outing from the airport to Ubud cemented our desires to never ride a scooter in Bali (or at least not Denpasar or Ubud.)

Is it because we don’t know how to ride a scooter, you ask? Nope. We each owned a scooter for many years and feel very comfortable on them (in traffic to boot.)

Is it because we don’t like driving on the left, you further inquire? Nope. We each have experience driving on both sides of the road.

It is because we, as typical westerners, learned to drive (scooters as well) in a society that placed rules above damn near anything else (maybe even safety, but that is bordering on philosophy.)

Much of the world drives on these premises: 

1.       I don’t want to die
2.       I don’t want to kill you
3.       I want to get to my destination as fast as possible

Think of these as Asimov’s 3 Law of Robotics, but for driving. As in, the first takes precedence over the second, the second over the third.

And these, by and large, work very well throughout much of the world! If a car is heading at you in your lane? “I don’t want to die” takes over and you get the hell out of the way. If a scooter is zipping up on your left and you are in a big ass car? “I don’t want to kill you” takes over and you don’t randomly swerve to the left to stop them.

In the western part of the world (I haven’t driven in every country, but I’m lumping most Anglophone countries into this at the very least), the rules are very different.

The western world drives on these premises:

1.       I want to get to my destination as fast as possible
2.       I don’t want to get a ticket
3.       If someone is doing something odd, they deserve to die
4.       I was unaware that I could die in this car

Think I exaggerate? Try passing someone between the lanes at a red light in Houston on a scooter and see what you find. People, not everyone but enough to matter, will begin to move into that space specifically to prevent you from moving and/or hurt you. In the west, we allow the rules of road to dictate our behavior to the point that we forget the sheer mortality of driving. Over the last two months we spent in the US, we saw more people driving with their cell phone in their hands than not. And this works so often because none of us expect the driver in front of us to do anything to violate the rules. Everything becomes predictable… most of time.

This isn’t a condemnation or anything, just a difference. The whole wide world gets in accidents, regardless of the system.

There is another system of driving, although I am not entirely sure how far it extends. And that is the super fatalistic “if I die or kill someone then it is God’s will” style. My partner and I have seen it before, but it is not what we are talking about in Bali.

Back around to my point: I spent the last 20 or so years driving (and training my driving instincts) in a world where I understand that the rules rule all. I have exactly zero experience driving in the Darwinian chaos that much of world does just fine in. Could I learn? Sure, but in the meantime all of my instincts about what to do in an unexpected circumstance are wrong.

Would you like an example of wrong instincts? Sure! In the US and Australia, honking your horn means only two things: “Fuck you!” and “Hi there!” I have honked my horn approximately six times in my life (I don’t like getting people’s attention that way.) Our driver from Denpasar to Ubud (a drive that took 2-3 hours) honked his horn approximately 100 times… an hour. I don’t know what they all were for, but I do know he honked when approaching a blind entrance to let other people coming that way he was there. He honked to let a scooter know he was coming up on the right. He honked to let a car know it was safe to pass him. I wouldn’t have thought to honk for any of these things, but people here expect drivers to do this and someone not doing it might present a real hazard to other drivers. See? Wrong instincts.

Besides, taxis are pretty cheap, and driving is stressful. Plus, this way I won’t get any tickets for not having an International Driver’s license (otherwise known as bribe hunting by police officers… although you didn’t hear it from me.)


Four days in Bali and we saw our first accident. (Keep in mind, Bali drives on the left.)

A car, being driven by a Westerner, tried to quickly make a right turn just as you always do in Western countries, since going slowly increases your chances of getting hit by oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, a local man and his son on a scooter were in the process of passing him on the right when he decided to turn (passing on the right or left by scooter is very common.) The car attempted to stop but still hit the man driving the scooter.

The rules the gentleman in the car knew (quickly get out of the way of oncoming traffic) went against the general rule of "move deliberately and cautiously so that everyone can see what you’re doing and respond accordingly" that is ever present on Balinese roads. It appeared that the man with his son who were hit were relatively okay. The man had a large mark on his leg at the point he was hit, but otherwise they were both seemingly unharmed. All of this happened directly in front of my partner and me, which is why we can say as much as we can with certainty.
I know this is just one circumstance, and using it as evidence is anecdotal as hell, but it is a drop in the bucket of proof that I (and many of you) do not have the necessary instincts to drive here.


  1. Fascinating analysis. Seriously!

    1. Did you like our backtrack post when we changed our minds? Oops!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts