Driving in Bali is pretty insane. There doesn’t seem to be any road rules except: go with the flow. And although everyone seems to be doing that just fine, for first timers like us it’s a bit daunting.
The roads are mostly run by scooters and motor bikes. There are larger cars, although they seem like they exist for tourists or for transporting loads of people in the back of a pick up, and sometimes they hardly fit on the road. Everyone seems to stop within two inches of the person in front of them – oh, and at the last minute. You’ll also find kids who look like 8 year olds (and probably are) riding around, as well as families of five squeezed onto one bike. The roads are twisting and winding and there hardly ever seems to be a street name. Google maps doesn’t seem quite up to par yet with the roads, either. There are certainly less busy roads on the island that we would like to take a go at driving on, but for right now… not so much.
And, so, we decided to hire a driver for one day. And what an amazing decision that turned out to be!
Why hire a driver?
Besides the traffic and roads being hard to navigate, I think hiring a private driver for at least one day is really a great experience. It’s wonderful to talk to someone Balinese who knows what’s up and is experience on the island.
You might pick up little tidbits you wouldn’t have learned about otherwise if you’re just driving yourself.
Also, hiring someone for 10 hours almost (kindly) forces you to see a ton of stuff in one day. Naturally, take your time at each location to really enjoy the moment. With a private driver, you can nap in between spots.
You’ll probably end up stopping places you wouldn’t have known about. Tour drivers know where to stop – a cafe that might have a lovely view of rice fields or a tea tasting plantation – that you might otherwise not bother with. It can end up being a rewarding experience if you go with the flow and maybe try one or two spots you wouldn’t have normally.
Searching around for the right driver
For our trip to Bali, I’ve pretty much started every search with TripAdvisor. I love that I can read comments – and I usually read the most negative, terrible, horrible ones first because I feel like people only write a bad review if something went seriously wrong. And that’s really what I want to know about from the get go. Hiring a private driver was no different: I started on TripAdvisor. Just type in Private Driver Bali TripAdvisor into Google and you’ll find all kinds of reviews. Definitely do a comparison of prices (I love using spreadsheets online for this type of thing) to keep your head on straight if you want to save money, as well as reviews for fluent English speakers (or your native language). Pick someone who has the majority of positive reviews – and many!
I’d also suggest looking into different kinds of drivers. If you’re not into planning, you can take a tour with someone who already has the tour all laid out for you (like Perama Tour – I have not used this, but they do run tour buses). All you have to do is sign up, pay, and go. If you have specific sights you want to see and no tour matches that (we were in this boat!), then hire a driver who will cater to your needs. This can make for a really exciting adventure, as well as make you feel like you got the best bang for your buck. I also loved this option because there are a lot of hagglers in Bali: I liked being in control of the situation and be able to say yes, I’d love to see this or no, I’d really like to do something else instead. It kept me from feeling ripped off like I have in so many other situations on this trip.
When to use a driver?
If you’re going from A to B in a short trip, you can use a taxi (make sure it has a meter before you get in – just ask the driver). However, if you want to stop at various locations, I would suggest renting a scooter/car or hiring a private driver. We decided to combine moving from one to hotel to the next (Sanur to Ubud) with a private tour. This way we really only had to pay for one ride instead of two. It worked seamlessly.
I found a driver I like: now what?
If you’ve found a driver you like, use their contact info to get in touch with them initially. We didn’t have a sim card right away, so I emailed Putu and he was very responsive! It does help to have a phone if you are not staying at a hotel (somewhere harder to find), but if you are at a hotel, we found all of our drivers just used their own phones to get directions to the hotel – we thought that was awesome.
If you’re emailing: when writing the intial info, I’d suggest to keep it simple, but also give all the facts: state the date you want a driver for, for how long, the price (that you noted on the website – just to be sure), the name and address of hotel for pickup, and a sample itinerary of what you’d like to see. If you call, just walk through the steps as they tell you!
I did copious amounts of research online to find a best value driver for us: in the end we went with Your Bali Driver (TripAdvisor reviews). Our biggest thing was saving money, but still getting a decent tour with someone who speaks English. Your Bali Driver runs a hard bargain: for $40 (+tip) for 10 hours of a private tour, there was no match. Disregard the reviews that Putu is the only good driver. We had Mr. Bagus and we thought he did a wonderful job. He was genuine, he made suggestions and allowed us to decide, he spoke decent (although not fluent) English, and he catered to our needs of what we wanted to see.
I emailed Putu two days before we wanted a driver and it all worked out okay. We went back and forth several times to get all the info correct. When Mr. Bagus arrived to pick us up at 8am (he was 20 minutes early, too!), he asked us what we would like to see. I have no idea how long it takes to travel around, so I wrote down a list of all the things we’d like to see. I noted that at the end of the day we’d like to be dropped off at our next location in Ubud. He took 5 minutes to figure out what was possible and we were off!
We stopped at some waterfalls, a beautiful non-touristy temple I don’t have the name of that Mr. Bagus suggested, a cafe overlooking rice fields, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (which I would not suggest seeing – it felt too touristy), and got lost walking around in the Tabanan rice fields (my favorite stop). For the rice fields, before you get to the generic parking spots, there is a footpath entrance that has several guards standing in front of it on the side of the fields. You can use this path to walk out over the rice fields. Be aware, though, that they say there is a clear path that leads you back up to the parking spots – we couldn’t find it and got lost! We just turned around though after an hour or two and walked back out the entrance path.
We also stopped at non-planned locations: a local fruit market (where I got ripped off, but hey, it was a learning experience) and a tea plantation where we spent an hour talking to a local young woman who spoke fluent English. Had we not had a private driver, we would have missed out on this awesome experience! Mr. Bagus answered many of our rando questions throughout the trip as well. At the end of the day, we were dropped off in Ubud – exhausted, but happy.
Here’s our day: