Driving overseas can be a hair-raising experience for some who have trouble adapting to the road conditions, but it’s the most fun way to explore a country.
1,673km away from Singapore lies the magical Indonesian isle of Bali, a lush island paradise for sun lovers and beach bums. Bali is more than just a place to kick back and relax; it’s a vibe, a lifestyle, and a tropical state of mind. Known also as the Island of the Gods, it’s my favourite place to escape and forget life’s stresses back home; ice-cold Bintang in hand, of course. The mere mention of this majority Hindu place evokes dreamy images of white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, therapeutic hot springs, never-ending rice fields, beach bars populated by supermodelesque holidaymakers and beats by Bob Marley.
To get to the abovementioned places, many opt to hire a local driver, which is a bang-for-buck option if you’re in a group. More adventurous sorts tend to rent motorcycles, but that’s not my cup of tea. Instead, against almost every piece of advice we read online, my partner and I decided to rent a car and do the driving ourselves.
In case you’re wondering why many who’ve visited Bali advise against driving, that’s because it’s not just road conditions that are bad, it’s also because traffic regulations, whatever they are, aren’t quite enforced. I’ve driven in Bali before, on the MINI Adventure 2016 last year, but having police escort made things much, much easier. The drive brought us many places many tourists wouldn’t typically visit, and that inspired me to go on this one. Here then, are five reasons why you should, too.
1. Travelling at your own pace
I’m a huge fan of loosely planned holidays because they allow me to venture at my own pace. While drivers for hire in Bali will take you wherever you want, whenever you want, the thought of someone waiting for you in a hot parking lot isn’t very liberating.
By self-driving, you have the total freedom and flexibility to get to places off the beaten track, and then spend as much time as you want there. You can do a little extra sun tanning, have a second cup of coffee or stop by a cliff for a stunning view of the sunset as I did at Melasti Beach, 26.5km out of Seminyak.
My biggest pet peeve about hired drivers, however, is the touting that goes on. On my previous trip to Bali, the driver I hired was annoyingly insistent on taking us to the ‘best spots’ in town, which apparently turned out to be a farce. At the same time, you can enjoy greater comfort and privacy on a self-drive holiday.
2. Enjoying the lost concept of long, scenic drives
If you’re a sucker for the drive, as I am, driving in a foreign place as beautiful as Bali is definitely something you have to try. Once you’re out of busy areas like Kuta and Seminyak, the rest of Bali offers empty roads and breathtaking ones at that.
There is an incredibly gorgeous amount of scenery on Bali’s many twisting mountain roads, extensive coastlines and lush rice fields. You can also stop to check out the island’s architecture, temples and other cultural points of interest along the way.
First-timers can try exploring the Kintamani mountain road from Singaraja up to Kintamani, the coastal road from Amlapura to Amed and the rice fields from Siririt City west to Pemuteran. Do note that you’ll need a good map of Bali to navigate most of these routes. Google Maps worked fine for me.
3. Easy availability of rental cars
It’s easy to rent a car in any country these days, and Bali is no exception. A simple online search will reveal the many agencies that rent out anything from as small as a Honda Brio to something as spacious as a Toyota Alphard. On my trip, I got the five-seater, rear-wheel drive Toyota Avanza for about $30 a day, inclusive of insurance. You can pick the car up from the airport or have it driven to your hotel and vice versa when returning.
Since I’m not the best trip planner in the world, I only got down to renting the car when I arrived in Bali. Even then, the car was delivered within an hour of my call. My scepticism on the car’s condition was quickly thrown out the window, too, as the rental companies do surprisingly keep their fleet in pretty good shape.
You should bring along an International Driving Permit to be safe. Otherwise, at least have your Singaporean driver’s license.
4. Visit hidden gems
Most hired drivers will take you to popular tourist destinations such as Jimbaran Bay for overpriced dinners, and because of that, you’re not visiting what is necessarily the best attraction in the area, but the one with best incentives for the driver.
With some pre-trip research, a self-drive tour enables you to visit lesser known gems like Blue Lagoon Beach on the east side of Bali – a hidden seafront with little tourists, very clear waters and an abundance of marine life. I liked it so much I spent an entire day there.
Another of my favourite, the abovementioned Melasti Beach, is one of the most captivating beaches on Bali’s southern coast that’s widely ignored by tourists. The beach is surrounded by high cliffs, which make for a fun drive up and down to get to, and also a sick vantage point to admire the unspoilt blue sea around you.
5. Forge closer relationships
As you’ll be spending so much time in the car with your partner or friend, you get to communicate more and find out more about each other, creating blissfully sweet memories that you will cherish forever.
During the drive, you will face challenges such as getting lost and being stuck in jams. These experiences and obstacles will help develop a bond that is much stronger than the bond built through Netflix and chill or shopping. In many ways, can also push your partner away from his or her comfort zones, which will let you discover their positive and negative traits.
Regardless whether you argue about which turns to make or laugh at stupid jokes, self-drive holidays help create awesome adventures and moments to which you will always look back with affection and humour.
Text by Nigel Yong, Photos by Nigel Yong & Shahini Shairah.