Staying safe when visiting Bali takes a totally different skill set than the one you come with from the West. Take the average Balinese road: there are no rules for dealing with pedestrians (as far as motorcyclists are concerned) so you need to look both ways and move fast when you cross the street.
Safety is less a sure deal overall around this otherwise perfect island: snatch-theft, vehicular accidents, and undertow are very real possibilities in Bali, the kind of things the travel agent usually doesn't tell you.
Keeping Your Belongings Secure
Theft is a relatively low risk in Bali, but snatch-theft and theft from hotel rooms are not unknown. An acquaintance of this writer was once victimized by thieves' breaking and entering into their resort room (that acquaintance and her sister were fortunate to escape relatively unscathed, though they were robbed of their belongings). So Bali is not 100% safe; therefore the following precautions need to be followed:
- Keep doors and windows securely locked when away from your hotel room, or at night.
- Carry only copies of your passports and travel documents; leave the originals locked up in your hotel room.
- Use the hotel's safe or security box when available.
- When exploring Bali, keep your valuables in a front-carry pouch.
- Use your hotel security box if there is one available. If not, then carry all your valuables in a front carry pouch. You are safe on the street but it is the things you leave behind in some hotels that are at risk.
Read this roundup of hotel room safety tips to learn more about keeping yourself and your belongings safe when checking into a hotel.
Safety on the Street in Bali
Bali's famously chaotic traffic situation can cause trouble if you're not prepared for it. Whether you're a pedestrian or aspiring motorist, the following rules can spell the difference between a fun Bali vacation and a week in traction or worse.
On the street: stop, look, listen. There are no traffic rules in Bali, only suggestions. Thus crosswalks (when you can find them) don't get much respect, nor do the pedestrians treading on them.
Don't assume that vehicles will stop as you cross - motorcycles will work around you without stopping. Assume that the vehicle has the right of way, always, and you'll stay safe.
Don't drive yourself - get a car with driver instead. If you're planning to get around the island by yourself, you might be tempted to hire a self-drive car in Bali (especially if you meet the requirements). But if you value your life, do not drive your own way.
Rent a car with a driver instead; the prices are not that much more expensive, and you can relax while the driver uses his intimate knowledge of the road to get you around.
Say no to riding a self-drive motorcycle. You're certainly allowed to rent a self-drive motorcycle, but whether it's a wise decision is something else entirely. There are too many instances of tourists getting injured or killed riding scooters in Bali, so if it were up to us, we strongly suggest you avoid renting a self-drive motorcycle, if you want to get out of Bali in one piece.
Find out more in our summary of the transportation situation in Bali.
Staying on the Right Side of the Law in Bali
Most tourists in Bali don't think too much about the law, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to steer clear of the Balinese authorities.
Don't buy drugs in Bali. The drug laws in Bali and the rest of Indonesia follow a pattern set by the drug laws in the rest of Southeast Asia - they're strict and ready to make an example of any tourist foolish enough to be caught indulging in illegal drugs while on the island.
Despite the draconian anti-drug laws, tourists often get stealthy drug offers while walking on the streets, with disguised drug dealers slyly whispering offers of cheap marijuana or mushrooms to likely-looking travelers. If this happens to you, walk away. You're likely to find yourself entrapped in a drug sting.
Don't smoke in public areas. As of November 28, 2011, a "smoke-free" bylaw has gone into effect across Bali, banning smoking in most public areas. Areas off-limits to smoking include restaurants, hotels, temples, tourist attractions, hospitals, and schools. Smokers caught violating the law may be imprisoned for up to six months and/or fined up to US$5,500 (IDR 50 million). (source)
Safety on the Beach in Bali
Bali's beaches count among the island's top attractions, but they still aren't 100% safe for tourists. Riptides, the searing sun, and even tsunamis present concrete risks for swimmers in Bali, but following a few simple precautions can put your doubts about Bali's beaches to rest.
Mind the red flags. The beaches on the southwest part of Bali are known to have dangerous rip tides and undertows. Dangerous beaches are marked out by red flags. Do not attempt to swim on beaches with red flags, as these shores have strong currents that can sweep you out to sea.
Read the tsunami information in your hotel. Unpredictable and devastating tsunamis have so far avoided visiting Bali, but the closeness of Indonesia's tsunami-causing subduction zones make this kind of disaster a possibility. Ask your hotel about tsunami evacuation procedures; otherwise, find accommodations at least 150 feet above sea level and 2 miles inland. More on the subject here: Tsunami in Bali, Indonesia.
Wear lots of sunblock. Apply high-SPF sunscreen to forestall the agony of UV-burned skin; SPF (sun protection factor) of no lower than 40 ought to be adequate for a Bali vacation.
Beware of Bali's Monkeys
Macaque monkeys are commonplace around Bali, but don't be fooled by their cute appearance. The monkeys native to Bali will not scruple from stealing shiny objects and food from unsuspecting tourists. Many a tourist have lost glasses, jewelry and MP3 players to these shifty beasts; and forget about eating anything within plain sight of the primates, they're expert food thieves too.
Most close encounters with macaques happen around Pura Luhur Uluwatu and the Ubud Monkey Forest in Central Bali. Ignorance of monkey behavioral patterns often precipitates monkey attacks; tourists who smile at the monkeys risk an immediate assault, as macaques interpret bared teeth as aggression.
For a complete rundown of what not to do when around Bali's macaques, read about monkey bites and attacks in Southeast Asia.