How to avoid the most common scams while on holiday in Bali

Bali is the most visited island in Indonesia, so when it comes to tourists travelling around the island, there’s no shortage of fresh targets for scammers hoping to make a quick buck at a visitor’s expense.

From dodgy fees, to fake taxis and even rental scams — Bali is prone to tourist traps. And with what feels like a never-ending turnover of tourists each and every day, hustlers can get away with using the same trick over and over again.

While most scams are rather obvious, first timers may easily fall into these traps if they’re not careful.

Beyond the beautiful beaches in Bali, there are scammers looking for a quick way to earn money from tourists.Source:istock

While the best precaution is to keep your common sense and simply saying “No, thanks” whenever you’re approached and something doesn’t feel right, even the most savvy of travellers can still fall victim to petty tricks.

So from fake taxis to getting gypped out of hundreds when converting currency, here’s what to look out for on your next island holiday to Bali.

1. Fake and overpriced taxis

When it comes to getting around Bali, there’s no shortage of taxis. But with so many tourists wanting to travel from places like Kuta to Ubud, or Uluwatu to Seminyak, some drivers may try and make an extra few dollars out of passengers.

Charging outrageous fares and surcharges, it is well worth getting a price upfront before you step foot in a taxi.

The Bluebird taxi group provide reliable transport in Bali, however tourists should be aware of fake cars and drivers.Source:Supplied

Also, it’s worth keeping an eye out for providers — Bluebird. But be mindful, there are plenty of lookalike cars that will pose as a Bluebird taxi. The best way to distinguish a real provider from a fake is to look for a bird on the side of the car, the words Blue Bird Group printed on the windshield, a taxi identification number displayed and ID mounted on the dashboard.

2. Currency exchange scams

These currency exchange setups are mostly located around Bali’s major shopping areas, and will often lure in tourists hoping to get the best exchange rate while in Indonesia.

Flogging “no commission” and impossible to beat exchange rates, some money changers will “accidentally” drop notes behind their counter before handing it back to you.

These slick operators have fast hands and eyes, giving unsuspecting tourists far less money than they initially offered. They will do this by counting quickly so you cannot follow, or by replacing notes by others to give you a smaller amount of money.

Be careful when going to a money changer in Bali.Source:istock

It’s worth becoming familiar with the currency, as notes come in denominations of 1000; 2000; 5000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000 and 100,000 IDR, which can be very confusing if you are not familiar with the colours of the notes, and with all those zeros.

Tourists should instead use legitimate Bank ATMs that are connected to a branch. Otherwise, when using a money changer, check their calculations very carefully, and recalculate with your own calculator if necessary. Also, always count twice the amount they hand you, before handing over your money.

3. Temple entrance fees and guides

Part of Bali’s beauty (aside from the stunning coast line and luxurious resorts) is paying a visit to some of their temples and other places of worship.

However these stunning structures can be surrounded by scammers waiting for their next oblivious victim to visit.

Dotting the highlands and coasts of Bali, ancient temples like Uluwatu Temple and Ulun Danu Beratan Temple are a must-do while on the island, especially because of their location for taking photos.

Be conscious of dodgy tour guides when visiting landmarks and temples in Bali.Source:istock

But when it comes to entering a temple or finding a guide, it’s worth noting that a free tour will still come at a cost — however you won’t be told until the end when a hard to refuse donation is requested.

Always be vigilant if anyone approaches you with a bargain offer, because rogue and unlicensed guides may try to charge commissions and fees for services you didn’t ask for at the end of your tour.

It’s worth noting that in most cases when visiting a temple, you don’t really need to hire a guide or buy anything during your visit. Just be conscious of respectful attire and attitude. If you are however wanting to take a tour, keep your eye out for licensed guides who will often wear a pass with a personal photo on it.

Also be mindful of men who stand around the trails near Mount Batur and Pura Besakih temples, who basically stand on the road and ask for money before a driver can proceed. They’ll say the earnings are to improve the area. Truth is — they money collected goes straight in to their pocket!

4. Massages and Markets

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. When it comes to falling victim to a scam, the most common reason is tourist complacency and naivety. When visiting some of the popular tourist markets (such as those in Ubud, Kuta and Seminyak), often you will see the same products at each location, but at vastly different price tags.

Make sure to shop around and not simply buy the first item you fall in love with. Bargain with the market owner, and even try venturing to other less known locations for your souvenir shopping.

Be mindful before accepting a massage on the beach, usually they come with a pretty hefty price tag.Source:Supplied

It’s also worth noting that even when you’re not shopping, you may be approached and offered products by local stall owners.

At almost any beach, locals may offer products and services like massages, tattoos, braiding your hair, or selling bracelets, sarongs or other souvenirs. Chances are, these products and services will be overpriced so it’s best to simply say, “No thank you.”

You can get a massage at almost every hotel and resorts, but these too can often be a little expensive. Instead, try venturing to the streets as there are plenty of massage salons on every corner offering much cheaper rates.

5 . Watch your drink

This is perhaps the most dangerous of scams in Bali, and one tourists should always be mindful of when buying a drink.

The practice of swapping arak for other alcohols in drinks to increase profit margins can be common practice in some areas. As the traditional Balinese drink, many tourists visiting want to give arak a try.

Arak is a traditional Balinese spirit, but can come with a danger.Source:Supplied

The spirit, made from toddy palm trees, is very popular during local ceremonies and parties, but there has been the occasional case of methanol poisoning when it’s been produced on the cheap.

Because of excessive taxation on alcohol, some establishments look for ways to cut costs even further. Being a clear substance, some bartenders may swap a vodka drink for arak because it will cost the bar a lot less.

The only real way to avoid the risk is to stick to drinking beer and wine, or purchase bottles of imported spirits that are opened in front of you from reliable bars.

Since 2010, there have been dozens of poisoning deaths in Indonesia blamed on methanol.

Among the victims are New Zealand-born rugby player Mike Denton (“Jungle Juice”), British backpacker Cheznye Emmons (fake gin), Irish tourist Roisin Burke (arak) and Swede Johan Lundin (Mohito).

Tourists should be warned of the dangers of drinking ‘arak’ in Bali.Source:istock

Others who were poisoned but escaped with their lives include Australians Jamie Johnston, who says a methanol-laced cocktail “ruined my life”, couple Colin and Cathryn Williams, who drank vodka and orange cocktails that made them sick,.

Tess Mettam went temporarily blind after drinking a “blaster” cocktail while Jen Neilson had half her pancreas removed and was languishing in a Bali hospital facing a $50,000 medical bill last month from “cheap alcohol”.

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