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travelouge

A travelogue chronicling the adventures of Shane & Julie - a husband and wife seeking to travel out of the country every year of their marriage

seminyak & dealing with bali corruption // indonesia

Julie Murphy

Seminyak City Guide and Bali Corruption

Having survived the monsoon crossing from Nusa Lembongan, we were back on the firm (albeit filthy) ground of Sanur's beaches. The complementary driver that came with our Scoot boat tickets braved the hour of gridlock traffic to make it the 10 miles to our next Airbnb, Villa Emma in Seminyak. We could not have asked for a more perfect oasis from the craziness that the Kuta/Seminyak region of Bali is now defined by. Dirt-cheap prices, endless beach bars, and seemingly few legal restraints has transformed these once-quaint towns into a party mecca for vacationing Aussie youth and international backpackers. 

When we were finally ready to leave the palm-enclosed pool, the incredible staff of Villa Emma recommended the traditional Baliese cuisine of Kendi Kuning on Jalan Drupadi. They could not have been more right as the grilled mahi-mahi, curry, and cocktails brought us back 3 more times during our stay. Make sure to spark up a convo with the incredibly hospitable owner, Anne Marie or her Balinese husband for some of the best local tips you could ask for. 

If you're looking for something a little more casual, KZU Drupadi is just around the corner with a smorgasbord of uber cheap, Chipotle-style Balinese. Or, if you're anything like us and the beach is incomplete without fish tacos,  Taco Beach Grill is just a couple blocks away off the incredibly popular Jalan Raya Basangkasa. After a few months of travel, it cannot be described how appreciated some surprisingly accurate Mexican flavors can be. 

The over-packed and dirty beaches of Kuta/Semiyak aren't much to write home about so we relied on another $5/day scooter to take us the 10km north to Echo beach in Canggu for decent surf and relaxing nap spots. Old Man's serves as the beach's most popular hangout with huge portioned surf food, drinks, and live music.  Another 10km further up the road takes you to the highly touted Tanah Lot temple and its infamous sunsets. This ancient Buddhist worship ground can only be accessed at low tide as it's perched atop rock outcroppings. Despite the site's theme park feel (complete with Billabong/Ralph Lauren shops, snake charmers, and monks to pose with), the temple is still operational with optional Eat, Pray, Love style blessings - for a fee, of course. Just be prepared to face a battlefield of selfie sticks and endless tour groups around dusk as people-free pictures turn into pipe dreams.

CORRUPTION WARNING: While we had no problem scootering around most parts of Bali, the tourist-based environment of Kuta and Seminyak has become a hotbed of police corruption.  It's only wise to prepare for being pulled over by groups of police who will give you a well-rehearsed shakedown for bribe money. After having gone through this gun-flashing, prison-threatening, interrogation process a half-dozen times in a couple weeks, here are a few tips for anyone that looks anything other than Balinese: 

  • Stay calm and respectful: while these police are anything but honest, they are still police and have resorted to this due to their socioeconomic situations
  • Don't give them a reason: remember that it's the law to wear a helmet, carry the bike registration and have your international drivers license. The police will certainly make up a false cause for pulling you over regardless - don't give them a valid violation to stand on.
  • Interact in public: if possible, aim for an obvious and public setting when getting pulled over. While 99% of these interactions are just a way for police to quickly supplement their pay, there are stories of more serious extortions that involve the planting of drugs or prostitutes on unsuspecting tourists. Just be aware of your surroundings and don't open yourself up to an extreme situation.
  • Never show your cards (money): this is where having a fake wallet really pays off. It's always a good idea when traveling to spread out your money in multiple places but we found success in keeping no more than $5-10 (and no debit/credit cards) in our wallet exclusively for when dealing with police and bartering salesmen.
  • Ignore the sticker price: the cops will likely start with an outrageous fee for the imaginary red light you ran through at upwards of 5 or 10 MILLION rupiah ($350-700). To put that in perspective, Bali's minimum wage is $115 PER MONTH! However, these guys are really just looking for a quick payoff to pocket before moving on to their next target.
  • Play dumb like a fox: it's important the police know you are aware that you didn't violate any laws of the road.  So it doesn't hurt to calmly express your confusion and frustration for having been pulled over. I would typically start with asking as many questions as possibly to drag out the interaction as long as I could...and increase their fear of a legitimate police officer (there are some!) seeing what they are doing. They may "casually" play with their gun holster, threaten prison, or claim to take your scooter as some of their intimidation tactics but just show them your cash-poor and debit card free wallet as an effort to show that you are willing to work with them.
  • Offer the alternative: it's bad form to offer a bribe right away but if the interaction has gone this far then it may be your only option. There is no doubt that I feel serious moral conflict when paying any sort of bribe but it's important to consider that even the money for a "formal ticket" goes into the pocket of the police. Casually let the officer know that you are willing to monetarily ease the situation with a question like: "is there another way we can handle this?" It's then up to your creativity to make the exchange.  Other than the traditional "money handshake", you may have the opportunity to slip in a few bills when passing registration documents or setting some cash in your helmet hanging from the handlebars. You should be able to get by with 50,000 rupiah ($3.50) but some may let you slide with 20,000 depending on how much you showed them in your fake wallet. 
  • Forgive and forget: don't let your bruised pride keep the rest of the interaction from being civil. It never hurts to finish with a smile or a friendly conversation as some of these officers can be pretty nice guys. Who knows, it might even payoff next time they pull you over for running that invisible stop sign. 

Have you ever had to deal with police corruption in Indonesia, or other countries?