The Kerobokan Getaway Bali 2013 from Aleksi Laitinen on Vimeo.
Although the video is awesome it may give even a little bit too easy impression about the Balinese traffic. The picture tells more than thousand words and the video does at least the same trick but it's still almost impossible to capture every part of the completely chaotic traffic in one video. And I of course would have chosen some hardcore punk or heavy metal for the video because those kinds of songs describe the local traffic much better ;) Of course it's good to remember that the traffic even here isn't chaotic 24/7. Especially in the northern Bali it's actually quite fluent and easy. Also one really important point is that Balinese people respect each other in traffic and try to avoid all kinds of accidents. Same kind of solidarity couldn't be found for example in Sumatra.
Still in my opinion every future exchange students should be prepared for a culture shock that's provided by the crazy traffic here. First it may seem completely insane but you adjust to it pretty quickly if you just want to do that - and you probably will because driving a scooter is by far the easiest and many times the only way to get from a place A to place B here. And because of that I tried to create some kind of list about the most important things to know about Balinese traffic.
1) The traffic is left-handed. This is the most basic fact you have to know about Balinese traffic before you can think about anything else. Luckily it's pretty easy to remember because the traffic is left-handed in the most parts of Asia and because it's hard to drive in the wrong side of the road when there's other vehicles driving in the right side all the time and you probably don't want to crash with them. Still sometimes there's short moments when I forget to think about the traffic as a contrary version to Finnish traffic. So yeah, try to remember all the time that you're driving in the left side of the road and so is everyone else (at most of the time at least).
2) The rules about giving the way (and who can drive first) are pretty unclear to say at least. Firstly, there's no "give way" or "yield" signs in any junctions to indicate the correct order of giving the way... Or yeah, actually I've seen one "give way" sign! Unfortunately no one cared about that. Secondly, the same "nobody cares" situation applies to STOP signs even though you may see them sometimes at the junctions (not too often, though). Nobody stops at STOP sings. So yeah, thirdly (partly because of the first too points) it's often completely mystery who has the right to drive first. Normally someone just makes the first move and then everybody follows the best way they can. That's why I advice you to be very observant at the junctions and make your move when you feel safe to do that. Normally you'll notice the right moment pretty easily. I haven't had any big problems at the crossroads so driving safely is the key to the success. Sometimes the police is at the crossroad trying to guide the traffic but usually they're only able to make things worse.
3) The traffic signs seem to be mostly just recommendations. As I already mentioned about STOP signs, nobody cares about them and the same situation applies to almost any other traffic signs - especially to speed limit signs. There might some 60 km/h signs on the sides of the bigger roads but almost everyone is driving there at least 80 km/h. I have no clue what's the normal speed limit at the city area and I bet that neither do most of the local drivers. The easiest advice about speed limits is to drive with that kind of speed that you feel comfortable to drive. The common sense is the best guideline here to any situation in the traffic.
4) The obeying of traffic lights depends on the situation. There's a lot of traffic lights in Bali and pretty often they are also obeyed... At least some way. It's pretty usual that everyone runs a red light at least during the first five seconds after the lights have turned to red. That of course lead to the situation where you can't start driving immediately after the lights have turned to green because there's still vehicles driving in front of you. The other pretty common custom here is that if the driver is turning to left, he will continue driving even though the lights are red. Especially taxi drivers run a red light at the night time and sometimes also in the middle of the day. That all being said I remind that you that you should never run a red light here because it's really bad violation of the traffic rules and you may be fined very hardly if you get caught. Of course the even more important reason not to run a red light is the fact that you may easily get into a bad accident by doing that.
5) You can't trust the police. As I've already mentioned in this blog, the police is really different here than in most of the western countries. Many of the policemen are corrupted and that's why you can't trust them same way you can trust them in your home country. Every time I'm driving here I just hope that I won't see any policemen because there's no certainty about what they want from you. Some of them are really nice and just want to keep the traffic safe but some of them are corrupted and want to get money from you even though you wouldn't have done anything wrong. If that happens, the easiest way is just to give money to them. But don't give them that amount they're asking first. Normally they may want even 500,000 RP (~30 euros, ~50 dollars) which is way too much if you haven't done anything wrong. Normally the amount of 50,000 RP (~3 euros, ~5 dollars) is enough and policemen are satisfied with that. Still, I want to remind you that being caught by a policeman won't happen to you every day if you drive normally. I've been driving her for two months and policemen have stopped me twice. First time they just wanted too see my driving license and they were really surprised and happy when they noticed that I can speak a little bit Indonesian. The other time wasn't that successful but I didn't have to pay more than 50,000 RP.
6) You can drive almost everywhere with your scooter. Most of the Balinese roads aren't designed to hold so much traffic that they have to nowadays. That's why there's pretty bad traffic jams on the roads almost all the time. Some talk about special rush hours (during mornings and afternoons) but from my experience I would say that the traffic jam may hit at any time of the day (most probably not at the night). The good news for a scooter driver is that with a scooter you can survive from almost any imaginable traffic jam. In Bali scooter drivers almost never stop at the traffic jams or drive with as much as space as cars (from example in Finland the rule says that even with a scooter you have to have as much space as a car has). So with scooter you can drive between cards or pass by the car from either side you want. You can also drive on a pedestrian way if you can't get forward any other way. Even while waiting at the traffic lights scooter drivers try to manage their way as front as possible by passing by all the cars that can't move anywhere.
7) Many road are in a very poor condition. Indonesia is still pretty poor country and that is easy to notice from the infrastructure. There's not much money to make the condition of the road better so there's a lot of cracks, holes and rocks on the roads. During rainy season the water can sometimes pour on the roads. Because of the money issues there's not any ramps even on the biggest road of the southern Bali (called Sunset Road) so if you want to go to the store that's on the other side of the Sunset Road, you have to make U-turn at the nearest possible place. The traffic signs show you the recommended U-turn points but of course you have to be prepared for the fact that those are not the only places where drivers may do a sudden U-turn.
8) The local driving school lasts one week. I asked this from the taxi driver during my first weeks here and he gave me this answer. First I didn't want to believe him but apparently that's the truth. The situation doesn't get any better by the fact that most of the Indonesian people don't even go to that driving school. They instead just start driving and learn that way. The official age required to drive a vehicle here is 17 years but I've seen many 10-year-old kids driving a scooter.