Bali tourist scams
Bali’s beautiful beaches and rich culture draw in tourists by the millions. However, like in any other tourist destination, our idyllic beach getaways are sometimes marred by the scams that we oh-so-naively fall victim to.
And between fake policemen and getting shortchanged, there’re quite a few more to watch out for, so here’s a list of the most popular scams and ways to avoid them.
For other scams to watch out for, see here:
1. Swapping out spirits with cheap arak which has caused poisoning
Image credit: @bali_bartender
Trying out local alcohol is a must-do on a holiday, and tourists in Bali flock to try arak, a traditional Balinese spirit.
However, bartenders occasionally swap out other spirits such as vodka for arak because it’s cheaper. Which means a) you’re not getting what you’re paid for, and b) there’s a chance you might be drinking poorly-produced arak, which has caused a few methanol poisoning cases.
How to avoid: Check out reviews of bars beforehand, or check the source of the alcohol from the bartenders themselves.
2. Women renting out sarongs for a fee when you can get them for free
Image credit: @carinasophieheintz
It’s common knowledge to dress appropriately whenever you’re visiting a temple. That means no shorts or skirts above knee level and no tops that expose the shoulders as well. Because of this, you might find yourself being badgered by numerous women to rent a sarong for a fee when it’s actually provided for free by the official temple staff.
How to avoid: The best way to avoid being hassled by them is to come dressed in a long skirt/loose-fitting pants and a shirt.
3. Fake “free” tours that you end up being charged for
Image credit: @harpreet.saleria
At some tourist sites like Goa Gajah, you’ll find a horde of locals hanging around the entrance offering you a free tour. They might be pushy and latch onto you, and near the exit, they’ll ask you for a donation – often with the most pitiful face they can muster.
How to avoid: Either be firm and refuse the tour entirely, or accept only licensed guides. They’ll wear passes with a photo ID on it.
4. Corrupt policemen fining you for no reason
We expect policemen to lay down the law in a fair manner, but sometimes, police in Bali might attempt to fine you even if you haven’t done anything wrong. They’ll either ask you to pay on the spot — which is cheaper — or go down to the police station itself. You can guess where the money goes.
How to avoid: It’s hard to say no to the police, but there are ways to avoid handing over too much. Set aside a small amount of cash, put it into a second wallet, and hide your main wallet deep inside your bag. As the fines aren’t fixed, the amount is usually based on the amount of money you’re carrying.
5. Renting a damaged bike and paying repair fees
Image credits: @yvonnemarianna.travels
To some of us, renting a motorbike in Bali might sound like a good idea. It’s not only a cheap way to travel around the country – some rental companies don’t even check if you’ve got a proper driving license.
However, some rental companies have been known to rent out damaged bikes. Even if you’re not the culprit, they’ll charge you hefty repair fees, because to them, the damage wasn’t there when they leased it out to you.
How to avoid: Suss out the reliability of the rental shop by checking out reviews beforehand. To protect yourself further, snap a few pictures of the bike before setting off as proof in case they accuse you of anything when you return.
6. Locals posing as the police to ask for your passport
Image credit: @dickypranata_sik
Occasionally, locals masquerade themselves as policemen. They’re sometimes clad in leather jackets and sunglasses – macam some Hollywood star – and they’ll ask you to hand over your passport.
How to avoid: Don’t give them your passport. Be firm and waste their time as much as possible – they’ll give up soon enough.
To differentiate between the real police and the phonies, check their motorbikes. The real policemen will ride top-notch motorbikes complete with integrated lights and sirens, with the word “Polisi” painted on them. The phonies will just have regular motorbikes with “Police” in English pasted on the side.
7. Personal drivers that bring you to overpriced places
Hiring a personal driver to show you around may be tempting, especially if they’re taking care of everything from entrance fees to free bottled water for $30-$40 a day.
Don’t be fooled. These drivers might bring you to overpriced restaurants and shops without your knowledge. Their agenda for doing so? Netting a handsome commission for themselves.
How to avoid: Plan your itinerary beforehand and let your driver know about it. As much as possible, try not to follow the driver’s own itinerary.
8. Being asked for exorbitant “entrance fees”
Image credit: @neva.benedicic
Bali’s home to numerous sacred sites such as Mount Batur and Pura Besakih, where you’ll find a bunch of locals hanging around the entrance demanding high entrance fees before entering. Common reasons include the occurrence of a “special ceremony” happening that day.
How to avoid: Special ceremonies happen every day, so there’s no reason for them to charge you higher prices. Move past them and check for an official ticket window first before coughing up the cash.
9. Getting short-changed at a money changer
Cash in hand, numerous tourists have happily walked away from the money changer…only to realise that the money they’ve received is lesser than what they were supposed to get.
What the clerks do is count the notes out in front of you, but while handing the cash over, they’ll flick one or two notes back down. It happens really quickly, and it’ll take a quick eye to catch them in the act.
How to avoid: Check beforehand if the clerk asks for a commission, and count it again before leaving the shop. Or better yet, just change your money before flying to Bali.
See here for the most reliable money changers to visit.
10. Being overcharged by airport porters
You might be lugging around too many things for you to handle, and the offer of help from a friendly airport porter is just too good to pass up. However, that all changes when they charge you exorbitant prices between Rp. 100,000 to 200,000 (~SGD$9.83 to $19.67) at the end for their services.
How to avoid: The usual fee for airport porters is around Rp. 2,000 rupiah (~SGD$0.20). Agree on the price beforehand before engaging the porter’s services.
11. Shady taxi drivers that overcharge you
Blue Bird taxis in Bali
Image credit: @agungbcahyono
Don’t just hop into any taxi you find along the way. Some taxi drivers have a tendency to avoid using a meter and will usually charge you ridiculous rates for short distances.
How to avoid: Taxis from Blue Bird have a stellar reputation, but this has also resulted in multiple phony replica taxis popping up all over.
To ensure that you get the right cab, ring up the Blue Bird hotline at +62 361 7011111 or download the Blue Bird app (only available on Android). Alternatively, you could get your hotel to call a taxi for you.
Travel scams in Bali, Indonesia
We say scams like these will never happen to us, but we’ll never really know for sure. Frolicking along the beaches in Bali may sound like heaven, but arming yourself with this knowledge and is one step you could take in making sure that your idyllic beach getaway remains that way.
Take a look at the other activities you can do in Bali:
- Jungle resorts
- Lesser-known beach clubs
- Non-touristy things to do
- Lesser-known places
- 50 unbelievable things to do
Cover image adapted from: @neva.benedicic