To many travelers, notably Western tourists wishing to bask in the sun escaping the frigid seasons, Bali is a paradise that could easily be on the top of anyone’s bucket list.
But just like anywhere else on Earth, nothing is perfect, Bali included. In 2002, 202 people were killed in a bomb explosion right at Bali’s Kuta district, a location frequented by tourists. Three years later, bombs believed to be perpetrated by terrorist groups exploded at Jimbaran Beach and Kuta, costing the lives of 20 people. And even if we discount terrorism, there are petty things that border between annoying and dangerous can happen in Bali at any given moment.
So as you prepare for your trip to Bali or nearby places in Indonesia, being aware of these possible risk becomes your first line of defense.
- Drug trafficking
In 2015, Indonesia executed eight people convicted of drug related charges. Such news should serve as a stern warning that even if drugs are peddled in clandestine within tourist areas of Indonesia, death penalty is enforced to, at least, curb the drug trade in the country. No wonder that as you enter the country through its airports, “Death to Drug Traffickers” comes as a reminder but, mind you, this statement is a misnomer — even drug users can also receive death sentences.
Inside dim-lit pubs and hotel bars, peddlers approach unsuspecting guests with a whisper of their drug offer, sometimes even with samples. But be forewarned, that undercover cops are now more common than rogue ones demanding bribes to get suspects off the hook.
Most Bali drug trade is belived to take place in the southernmost part of the island around the cities of Denpasar, Gianyar and Kuta, where most popular resorts are found. So when someone approaches you with their narcotic offer, say you’re not interested and go away.
2. Dengue fever
We learned that mosquito bites can cause a variety of diseases: malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus and the dreaded Zika. Mosquito bites also cause dengue fever with symptoms including joint pains and sudden fever. Risk increases during the island’s wet season which typically starts in October and ends in April.
At the moment, there is no vaccine available to prevent getting infected with dengue fever so you need to take extra precaution. It may be necessary to use mosquito nets in your bedroom, use mosquito repellent spray, wear repellent patches and wear loose-fitting, protective clothing to keep from getting too sweaty, as your sweat attracts mosquitoes.
Also stay away from standing water in pots and urns where certain species of mosquito hatch their eggs.
In case you get mosquito bites, put more emphasis on treatment without necessarily putting off your travel plans. Other signs of illness may include diarrhea, nausea or abdominal pain. So if you feel any of these symptoms, seek medical attention.
3. Petty theft and snatching
Bag snatchers and assaults against foreign tourists are a growing threat among mostly female visitors who travel on their own after dark. Thieves typically ride on motorbikes and snatch light bags off the shoulders of victims. In some cases victims have been dragged down the road and injured at dimly-lit areas of beach areas or in Ubud hillsides.
Needless to say, travelers should exercise caution when walking on dark, deserted places. Carry shoulder bags or purse on the side away from the road and incoming traffic. If your guesthouse or villa has a safe, by all means use it. Don’t leave valuable items like laptops, jewelry or smartphones within sight from outside; put them inside a room that have locks. In case you are inside the room during forced break in, pretend not to notice, or asleep to avoid confrontation especially when you’re outnumbered. Valuables can be replaced, but not your own life.
4. Fake or spiked drinks
While it’s common to find drunk guests out of bars hanging out with friends or newly-befriended locals, one dangerous possibility is to consume liquor distilled incorrectly in a backyard ending up with ethanol content or deliberately spiked with drug with the intention to incapacitate the drinker and rob him or her of belongings.
A common advice to travelers is to try eating and drinking what locals do, but such advice could put your life in danger. Indonesia imposes hefty taxes on spirits so if you’re getting a bargain for gin tonic for say, INR10,000 or $1, it’s likely that the only real part of the drink is your glass. Stay safe and stick to beer or other more reasonably priced cocktails. Be conscious of your liquor consumption and do not drink excessively.
5. Dogs and rabies
It is estimated that there are more than 600,000 dogs in the island of Bali. Although Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, Bali adopts a distinct culture that puts importance on dogs that there are about one dog for every eight inhabitant. But stray dogs are often found loping at beaches, foraging trash for food. When the entry of foreign dogs into Bali was allowed in 2004, rabies cases started to emerge and since 2008, there are about 150 reported deaths in Bali attributed to rabies.
While health authorities have been attempting to combat spread of rabies through vaccination, cost issues can often allow spreading of rabies beyond the control of the government.
So as a precaution, it’s a good idea to get a medical evacuation insurance, in cases when anti-serum is in short supply on the island and airlifting to Darwin or Singapore becomes necessary. Also, avoid in contact with dogs or pet them, no matter how adorable they may appear.
6. Terrorist threat
As mentioned above, a number of terrorist bombings and attacks have taken place at areas frequented by tourists such as nightclubs, bars and hotels. Such attacks are believed to be religiously and culturally motivated, based on nature of attacks and perceived targets.
The problem of terrorism is not easily solved by any government worldwide, but Indonesia has been cracking down and there are signs that the major organizations like Jemaah Islamiah have been defanged following federal raids.
A common practice by terrorist to sow mayhem is to drive an explosive-filled vehicle to a street next to a tourist attraction such as bars and local landmarks, and blow it up. Given such cue, it is best to consider staying at a hotel in the outskirts of town or don’t stay long at vicinities such as bar entrances or restaurant tables facing the street.
There are plenty of reasons to like Bali. Social media photos and travel reviews earn glowing with praises. By becoming vigilant of your well-being while in this beautiful island, you’ll be more assured of enjoying your stay like millions of others every year.