In Bali, police play the part of conmen and thieves, but you can outsmart them if you play your cards right.
Southeast Asia has never been known for its trustworthy taxi drivers and honest shopkeepers, but, in Bali, even the police partake in the frenzied rush to milk tourists of their dollar.
In an almost humorous reversal of the familiar American paradigm, Bali’s rogue traffic police specifically target white people, who they assume know the least and can afford to pay the most. They perch along intersections and highways scanning traffic flow for lucrative fair-skinned targets. As soon as they spot a Caucasian amid the clamor, they wave their orange flags and signal for him or her to pull over.
If you happened to be white while driving, the police will have you understand you’ve done something wrong — real or imagined — and now it’s time for you to face the consequences. They’ll build up the anxiety: “Very bad! Very dangerous! Expensive Fine!” They may claim you were speeding or that you were driving recklessly, but more commonly they will just ask to see your Bali driver’s license, which they know nobody actually has.
Next comes the chart. It’s a bogus chart written in Indonesian that allegedly shows the different offenses and their corresponding fines. Understand that the chart is just a prop in their ploy. They’ll point to some random numbers that are meant to convey your fine: “Oh no! RP 1,000,000 ! Very expensive! You must go to court in Denpasar to pay a fine!”
Ah, but wait! For just half of that, they’re willing to let you go scot-free. If you’re like most frightened tourists, you’re panicking and immediately agree to pay this sum as ransom. A much better approach would be to call them out on their bluff by agreeing to receive a ticket and go to court. They gain nothing from writing you a ticket, so they’ll bargain down the bribe until you agree to pay it. By all means, bargain to the floor!
Nevertheless, these little bribes will add up over time, especially if you are getting stopped two to four times per trip. Avoiding the police altogether is the best approach. If you are Caucasian, hide your skin as much as possible while driving. Even with my face shielded behind my helmet, the police would study me, probing for the cutoff of my tan line, but I became invisible on their radar once I began covering my arms and legs.
Most of the time, you’ll be safe if you just speed past the police and pretend you don’t notice them calling after you. They never chase. This approach won’t work, however, if you are stopped at a traffic light or if traffic is moving so slowly that you cannot ignore the policeman in front of you. If this is the case, quickly stash all the money from you wallet into your pocket. When they demand their bribe, produce your empty wallet, pretend to fumble around for some money only to turn up empty-handed. If you’re convincing enough, they’ll swat you away and you can get back on the road no poorer.