Given the chaos that is Bali roads, it is only natural that accidents can happen. It is amazing that there are not more accidents than there are, given the sheer amount of people and style of driving, but they still do happen and the entire situation is much different than that of a western country. The other day I observed an accident happen and took notice of all of the differences.

Usually, it is a bad idea for a foreigner to stop and have a look at what is going on if they observe an accident, due to many accidents being blamed on the foreigner whether they are at fault or not. For this situation, I was already off my motorbike when the accident took place, so I observed from a distance.

On a back road that runs parallel to the Bypass near Sanur, I had stopped to buy some Es Kelapa Muda (iced young coconut juice) from one of the Kaki Lima (food carts on wheels). After paying and starting to walk back to the motorbike, there was a loud screeching noise in the distance. A young kid on a motorbike had cut off a man who was coming around a bend and the man lost control of his bike. He and his bike hopped up on the curb before he was first flung into a large electric pole and then into a road sign, before falling on top of his motorbike on the sidewalk, motionless.

At this point, everyone in the vicinity ran over to him to check on his condition. I observed from a distance of about 20 meters where my bike was parked, as he already had sufficient help and there was no need to interfere or make myself a target for blame (which can easily happen). This gathering of people was the first difference that was noted, as in most western countries maybe only a handful of people would go over and try to help while the rest observed from a distance as I was. The second difference was that they all tried to move the man themselves, something that we never do at home before the ambulance arrives, so as not to risk further injuring the person by picking them up in the wrong way.

Also, noted was the fact that there were no police called to the scene of the accident. Most Indonesians do not see police in the same way that we do, and they surely felt that the police would do nothing to help the situation except maybe ask for money and try to stop traffic, which was already doing a pretty good job at backing itself up. Also since HIV/AIDS, while prevalent in Indonesia is still not to the point where they have adapted the line of thinking of “treat everyone as they have HIV” when dealing with or caring for a bleeding person, people touched the bleeding victim without gloves.

The man was obviously from the area because in less than five minutes his wife was running up the street crying. In Bali, a trip to the hospital in an ambulance is expensive and due to the traffic it can take a long time for an ambulance to arrive to the scene, thus rarely used by locals when an accident happens. A small construction project was going on in the area that the accident took place in, and the workers (still in their hard hats) drove up and the crowd helped to lift the man into the back of the truck and after his wife and a couple others jumped into the back, they sped off to a hospital.

I was approached during the time that the crowd was still forming by a single man holding a decent sized bag of food, who invited me for a bit of small talk about the situation before asking me for some money. I said I didn’t have any and he continued talking a bit more before asking for money again. When I asked if he was related to or even knew the man who had fallen, he got nervous and fidgety and didn’t answer. After the man was lifted into the truck and driven away he tried one more time to ask for money, which just proved that the money would be for him and not for the victim. It was at that point that I told him in a nice mixture of Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Bali, how pitiful it is that he is trying to take advantage of someone’s misfortune like that. He seemed like he got the point because he walked away with his head down.

Hopefully the man made it to the hospital and was treated promptly and the medical bills were not too much of a burden on the family. This story was in no way trying to criticize the way that Indonesians handle situations, rather to realize the differences in our cultures and the way we handle things. Also to drive the point home that as a foreigner, you really have no place to interfere when a situation like this arises, as our ideas on handling the situation will be so vastly different that we can easily become a nuisance, and be open to scams like the one mentioned above. Just remember to drive safely on the roads and be aware and with a bit of luck you may not ever need to see a sad situation like this one.


  1. So I’ve read a bit of your articles/blogs and I was wondering if its really worth it to drive a motorbike in Bali. I’m heading over there soon and people keep saying to get an Int’l Drivers license and to rent/buy a moped but this isn’t the first horror story I’ve read about them and the treatment after accidents. Or is it all right to just walk everywhere? I heard roads were pretty bad and difficult to walk on too, but is it REALLY (italics not bold) dangerous to walk? Is it more dangerous to walk than to use a motorbike or the other way around? I know it takes quite a while to get anywhere driving but might it be faster walking? This is something I have so many questions about. I was thinking about just renting a motorbike for when I leave the Denpasar/Kuta/Sanur area and head north for a day or two but I wasn’t sure if I would really need it for the city itself since there are very little in the way of taxis and public transportation.
    I’m used to walking 30 minutes to an hour one way and then back again later on with some walking in between, depending on what I’m doing that day. Albeit it not in extreme heat or really wet/rain every day but on a motorbike I wouldn’t be much drier or frankly that much cooler sitting in the midst of traffic.

    (Speaking of dangerous- the last two articles I read were about safety and the one with Shane seemed very extreme in how they were hit even though they were already somewhat subdued. By all accounts I’ve heard that the Balinese are more of a gentle people, (I know those two men were from Java and that’s completely different in so many ways), but I was wondering if it is safe to walk home alone at night in Denpasar (in general- I know things happen and nobody can account for every minute of every day and every person and even in big groups bad things happen but just a general rule of thumb. It was fine in most places I’ve been in but I tried not to be out alone TOO late at night). Is that something to be concerned about and would driving on a motorbike home be safer than walking or does that change very little?)

    1. Hi Rak,

      Bali is pretty cumbersome on foot. The sidewalks are either non-existent or they are in very poor shape. The fact that people use the sidewalks as extensions of the road doesn’t help the matter much either. Hardly any expats walk as their main method of transportation. While I can’t tell you if riding a motorbike would be a good decision for you or not, if you decide not to drive then taxis would be a much better options.

      As for your other security question, let me preface it by saying I would hate for your impression of Bali to be ruined by two of the more negative posts I have here on my blog. While that story from Shane is true, it is not what commonly happens. Walking alone at night is generally not dangerous, you’re more at risk of having your bag snatched if anything, and even that isn’t overly common when compared to other places in Asia. That said, if you are worried about being a target at night, being on a motorbike, or better yet, a taxi would save you from the small chance of being targeted.

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