Yeah, so a family on a scooter crashed into us. From experience, it’s really good to know what to do when riding a motorbike in Bali goes wrong. I’ll share the whole story [long one], and add some practical tips at the bottom.

Let’s start with how Asians drive:

I’ll use subjects “we” and “I” interchangeably because usually we drive together, and I (Vidmantas) am writing the post. Generally renting a motorbike in Bali, whether in Ubud or the south, is super easy. But when it comes to driving, some things you just can’t predict.

The traffic in Bali and Thailand is on the left hand side – just like in the UK. I drive the same way as Thai people: whenever someone’s turning right, they start indicating and stay towards the middle line. Then, you keep to the left and overtake them using that left lane. That is regardless of how many lanes there are – 1, 2, 3 or 4. Hence, the motorbike which is turning right has all the space they need while they wait for oncoming traffic to pass. For me that makes perfect sense.

Balinese don’t like stopping all that much, somewhat like the Vietnamese. They just flow like a river – stopping is for the end of journey. It’s just easier to step on the gas and continue the ride. So the Balinese like to overtake by going into oncoming traffic (even if there are 2 lanes each way!). This is because the correct (left) side is inconvenient, often due to parked cars, slower traffic, piles of sand, etc. Just to note, we don’t drive very fast, not too close to the curb due to random stuff and dogs on the roadside, and always use indicators.

***What happened:***

Renting a motorbike in Bali is even easier than in Thailand – we got ours from our landlady. It was pretty rainy, so we bought these huge but uncomfortable ponchos, for only 45,000 each. You can’t see anything in the mirrors when you’ve got one on, so we at least tucked the flaps under our butts. However, it had stopped raining by the time we had this accident.

We approached our destination (Haranda gate) and kept ourselves to the middle of the wide road and started indicating a right turn… in a split second I felt something was wrong.

While I was stopping, I heard an asian man swearing in English and pulling the brakes. BAM.

They managed to slow down a lot, but still hit the backside of our bike. Both motorbikes fell down, but neither passenger fell off, and the other driver was still angrily screaming at us. All of that happened so quickly that we didn’t even think who’s fault that was. The guy was still shouting at us, and we both started a wave of “so sorry, we are really sorry”, using the Thai “wai” hand gestures.

Nothing serious:

The driver’s wife was standing on the side of the road, crying and holding her toddler. From her expression it looked and felt like a horrific crash. Countless thoughts went through my head and we both ran to check if the baby was ok. It was difficult to tell if the crash was more serious for them, sincethey were travelling with a small child. The mother wanted to show that there’s something with the baby’s lip, but the little girl kept her mouth tightly closed.

Random people helped us to move the bikes because we were blocking the road. This all probably happened in less than a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. A huge crowd gathered around, a few of the people were on their phones, others were talking to the driver. Everybody was fine. Neither of us had any bruises or anything really – we were stood up during and after the crash! A small piece of plastic had broken off our bike, but that seemed to be it.

Staying calm:

There was a lot of tension in the air, and anger on that couple’s faces. The mother kept crying and trying to show everyone the baby’s lip had a small dot of blood. It was a very tiny bruise, and the baby seemed happy and kept on smiling. We don’t want to sound heartless, because it’s a baby, but the woman was making some serious drama. We were still in shock and we were clearly sensing that they will try to get money from us.

Everyone in the crowd wanted to know what happened. Auste was trying to find words to explain that the other driver was going against traffic in the opposite lane, and I tried to call the hotel to ask for advice.

The family and some other random people started saying that maybe the raincoat covered the indicator light, making it our fault. However, very likely, at the time of the collision we were tightly sitting on raincoats between us and the motorbike seat. We didn’t know what to do. They probably decided to overtake us going into the opposite lane and smply didn’t see the indicator light. If they had called the police, knowing how corrupt they are, they would probably try to make us pay. Or even arrest us, even though it was the other driver’s fault. We called our hotel and they said they would come talk to them.

The drama:

While we were waiting the mother with the baby decided to go to the clinic around the corner and wanted us to come with them. We did. The nurses showed us to sit down, but we wanted to go into the room together with the mom and baby. It looked like the baby was simply in a slight shock, but otherwise had no dirt on the clothes, no bruises, so hopefully was not hurt.

The nurses started checking the baby’s back and legs for bruises, but there was not even a tiny scratch anywhere. The most awful thing was when the mother realised her baby was ok, she started crying more. It almost looked like she was hoping that her baby was hurt (!) so that she could try and get money from us. I kept asking the nurses if everything is ok and they kept saying there’s no problem. They’ve put some cream on the inside of the lip where there was a tiny red spot – like when you bite your lip by accident.

By this point the driver asked for my name and introduced himself. I though “oh no, where is this going now…”, he shook my hand and started apologising! He started explaining how he was driving really fast and tried to brake, but it was too late.

When we asked if his bike was ok, he responded that there were only a few scratches. “Good lucks” were exchanged and we were on our way. We stepped out of the clinic but the guy approached me again asking if we could pay for the medicine. I actually think the drama queen wife told him to ask for me to pay, but come on. Obviously it’s stressful with a baby, but that’s the risk you take when flying on a scooter with a child.

Scammy nurse:

Anyway I thought I’ll just pay the 25,000 rupiah (less than a 100 baht, or 3 euros) just because the guy was cool. I double-checked with him that it’s only 25,000, so I went inside. You won’t believe what happened when I went to the counter to pay… (unless you have already read our post about the scammy Balinese people at the rice terraces) – the nurse with a smile on her face said “hundred twenty five thousand”. Nodding my head I turned to the guy and said loudly “twenty five thousand?”. He said “yes, 25.” The same nurse looked at him with a frown and agreed, “twenty five thousand”.

After all the stressful, meaningless waiting and superficial Balinese drama we went back to our motorbike to check the damage. The plastic exhaust pipe cover was broken, which wasn’t a big deal, but the bike wouldn’t start! My first thought was the joy of pushing the bloody bike up the hill in the rain, and not the actual cost to repair it, haha. A few more tries later it started and pur stress levels went down. I think shaking and moving the bike helped, as always does with electronics, right??

Reaching an agreement:

When dozens of locals stop and gather around you, you don’t know whether they want to help or just see what’s happening. The woman was surrounded by people checking her baby, and the guy was making phone calls. I stepped aside and called our hotel and asked for advice, and I saw him watching me. I also called the hotel again when we went to the clinic, which he saw as well.

Obviously I didn’t google what to do when crashing a motorbike in Bali, is there anyone who doeas that? I think partly the reason why the guy didn’t go crazy asking for ridiculous sums was firstly because I apologised there and then, and that I was on the phone a few times. He may have feared that the local police would actually give him a fine for having a baby on a bike, obviously with no helmet. Since Auste took her time to speak to the locals and explain that he was the one to drive too fast to stop properly, it didn’t actually look like we were the silly foreigners causing trouble.

A little background about my driving:

I have over 2 years of motorbike driving experience on Thai roads, mostly in crazy Bangkok’s traffic where literally anything is possible. I also have an official Thai motorbike driving license (not from Khaosan road) and passed my tests with nearly 100% accuracy, and know how the official rules are applied in practice.

I’m used to Bangkok’s ducking and diving between cars and buses in between lanes, but also keep safe speed on the left side, always on a lookout for random street vendors, dogs, people opening car doors without looking, and motorbikes driving on the wrong side just because it’s convenient.

I know the unwritten road rules involving the “hierarchy” of priority, headlamp-and-horn-signal-Morse codes, and all that. We’ve been out and about on different motorbikes with tons of gear attached like tents and suitcases, from laid-back Koh Lanta to hills of Pai. So I consider myself pretty confident on a motorbike in Bali, Thailand, or elsewhere. The story is open to judgment, but it’s here just to show how nasty the locals can be with tourists.

And finally some tips to make sure you have the basics:

*buy a sim card and top up for calls

*save your hotel’s phone number to call in case of problems (even technical)

*wear a helmet

*call your hotel or someone, or just pretend – it may look like you have connections

*apologise straight away and don’t be angry – it makes them angry

*have some cash in your pocket, maybe a couple of hundred thousand in case you break someone’s mirror or something.

*read a bit about scams and crazy bureaucracy in Bali

*if you can, ask about local service shops before leaving your hotel

*things we didn’t do which would be useful: check that your bike is working and take a photo of the accident, in case you need to call the police