Why do so many Australians keep ending up in hospital in Bali

  • String of Aussies hospitalised on Indonesian island
  • Bali has been cracking down on unruly tourist behavior 

Bali’s combination of a ‘relaxed lifestyle’ and cheap cost attracts crowds of tourists from across the globe – but it could be those drawcards that are causing a concerning number of visitors to end up in hospital.

Melbourne woman Bailey Scarlett has launched a GoFundMe appeal after her friend Benji was rushed to hospital following a traffic accident in Bali early Thursday morning.

Benji has four broken bones, including the tibia and fibula in his right leg which pierced the skin, and will need a blood transfusion and multiple surgeries. He is the latest in a string of Aussies who have been seriously injured on the holiday island.

Australians Deborah Stone, 66, from the Gold Coast, and Artemiy ‘Toma’ Stakhanov, 26, from Perth, are both in a Bali ICU after mysteriously collapsing at their respective hotels in recent weeks.

And last month four young Aussies – Elliot Foote, 30, his partner Steph Weisse, 31, and mates Will Teagle and Jordan Short, 28 – were rescued after spending 36 hours at sea clinging to surfboards when their boat sank off the island’s west coast.

There have been shocking scooter crashes, too: Blake Gibb, 29, was airlifted back home in August after crashing his scooter into a cement wall on Lembongan Island, and earlier this month Billy Doger from Melbourne had a similar accident. 

Back in April, real estate agent Charlie John Bradley, 28, from Sydney, died under mysterious circumstances after collapsing out the front of a Kuta health clinic.

Australian man Benji was involved in a traffic accident in Bali early on Thursday (pictured)

Gold Coast woman Deborah Stone

Aussie tourist Artemiy 'Toma' Stakhanov

Indonesian authorities have this year introduced a raft of measures aimed at cracking down on unruly tourists as they try to improve Bali’s reputation as a budget destination.

They have targeted excessive drinking, littering and stripping down for selfies at temples, with measures including a new tourist tax, a do and don’ts list, billboards instructing how to act at sacred sites, and a task force to monitor visitor behaviour. 

But the island-wide push to establish ‘higher quality tourism’ appears to have done very little – at least of yet – to improve some of the underlying safety issues on the island.

Personal injury claims by Australian visitors to Bali have been steadily rising despite the crackdown on rowdy behaviour, according to Todd Nelson, managing director of Cover-More travel insurers.

‘As travel approaches pre-Covid levels, there has been an increase in the total number of claims and the number of claims from travellers to Bali in particular,’ Mr Nelson told Daily Mail Australia.

Tourists should also be aware most Bali hospitals will require upfront payment before any treatment, so checking travel insurance cover is a must.

Blake Gibb (right, with a friend) was put into a coma after crashing his moped in Bali

Blake Gibb (pictured) was airlifted back to Adelaide where he remains in hospital and is set to undergo a long recovery

Mr Nelson said Bali’s proximity to Australia, along with its relatively low cost and ‘relaxed lifestyle’, made it an extremely popular choice for holidaymakers. 

But this laidback attitude is also the reason some are getting seriously injured. 

‘We’re most concerned about the number of Aussies who travel to Bali and jump on a moped or motorcycle without the correct licence, right level of cover, and most concerning of all, without a helmet,’ he said. 

Mr Gibb and Mr Doger, who were seriously injured in their recent Bali motorbike accidents, both suffered skull fractures.

Mopeds and the law in Bali 

Helmets are legally required in Bali, but the fine for not wearing one is not particularly high at about $25, or 250,000 Indonesian Rupiah, so seeing people not wearing one is somewhat common. 

Driving scooters drunk, unlicensed or speeding is also obviously illegal but still happens, despite being enforced with much higher fines or even jail. 

Other lesser-known rules include that smoking and wearing flip-flops while driving mopeds in Bali is also illegal.

Driving mopeds without a helmet is illegal though it is still a common sight in Bali (file image)

Travel insurance cover can be voided if the holder is doing anything illegal while riding a moped, such as not wearing a helmet.

Bali Governor Wayan Koster recently claimed he was considering banning tourists from hiring mopeds entirely.

The ban would need to be written into legislation, but an intermediate step has already been announced in which visitors can only hire mopeds or motorbikes from licensed businesses.

Guest house owners and other locals were frequently renting scooters to tourists on an informal basis.

Methanol in drinks

One of the other biggest dangers in Bali is alcoholic drinks laced with methanol. 

While in other parts of Indonesia drinking alcohol is frowned upon, in Bali it is big business with the tax revenue pouring billions into the economy.

According to the Australian government’s Smartraveller website: ‘People have been poisoned by alcoholic drinks contaminated with harmful substances, including methanol.’

‘Locals and foreigners, including Australians, have died or become seriously ill from poisoned drinks,’ the official advice states.

Drinking alcohol is frowned upon in most of Indonesia but is big business in Bali (stock image)

Some bars have been known to serve bootleg alcohol laced with methanol (file image)

A British woman, Kristy McKie, who was living in Bali, consumed a methanol-tainted drink in 2022 and died.

The coroner said in her findings that Ms McKie ‘had inadvertently consumed methanol believing she had consumed alcohol.

‘The methanol had been sold as being alcohol fit for human consumption when it was not.’

Methanol is related to ethanol, which is the type alcohol usually found in beer, wine and liquor, but is much more toxic.

It is filtered out of commercially made alcoholic drinks, but homemade liquor can leave some methanol in.

Some sketchier bars in Bali have been known to use homemade liquor, particularly Arak, disguised as other drinks to save on costs – which can be laced with methanol.

Tourists are advised to stick to sealed bottles of well-known brands, to reputable bars and restaurants, and alcohol bought duty-free.

The symptoms of methanol poisoning are similar to intoxication but more severe. They can include vision problems, and will worsen rather than improve after a few hours. Anyone who suspects methanol poisoning should seek medical help.

The recent cases of Australian tourists collapsing in Bali could be linked to methanol poisoning; however, this has not been confirmed and could be unconnected. 

Charlie Bradley’s family believe he likely died from methanol poisoning, though his cause of death remains unclear. 

Charlie Bradley, 28, died outside the Bhakti Vendanta health clinic in north Kuta, three and a half hours after leaving Finns Beach Club (pictured in Sydney with his girlfriend)

North Kuta police examine the location outside the clinic where Mr Bradley was found

Water transport

Another less obvious, but just as serious, danger is Bali’s massive water transport industry.

While the four Aussie surfers – Elliot Foote, Steph Weisse, Will Teagle and Jordan Short – were rescued, there are others that haven’t been so fortunate.

Thousands of small wooden boats transport locals and tourists around the islands in the Indonesian archipelago.

The moment Aussies are rescued from the water near Bali after 36 hours (pictured)

The four rescued Aussies were trying to reach renowned surfing spots in the remote Banyak Islands in the province of Aceh, which are only accessible by boat and draw thousands of tourists a year.

The industry is largely unregulated and the boats can be unsafe and overloaded – especially dangerous in wild weather conditions.

Last month, a passenger boat capsized off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, killing 15 people.

Four Australians who went missing when a small wooden boat sank between Nias Island and Pinang Island were found after 38 hours. (Pictured: Elliot Foote and Steph Weisse)

Jordan Short

Will Teagle

A recent study published in journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease looked at health and safety hazards throughout Bali’s tourist hotspots and found there was a gap in preventative safety measures.

‘The first stage of the project included mapping and geo-tagging of health hazards and risks as well as travel health facilities, involving 197 tourist attractions in eight regencies and one city in Bali,’ the authors wrote.

They concluded there was an ‘opportunity of providing site-specific preventive measures to travellers highlighted in this study’.

The authors suggested an ‘integrated travel health surveillance and information system’ that can be accessed through mobile phones which could map hazards and provide advice on how to avoid them as they happen.

Perhaps the Indonesian authorities should consider this and other safety initiatives in addition to their push to improve rude tourist behaviour.

SAFETY TIPS FOR BALI TOURISTS

  • Only ever rent a vehicle from a licensed rental vehicle agency and pay close attention to pre-existing damage.
  • Wear protective gear while riding, including sturdy enclosed shoes, a helmet and long clothing.
  • The majority of surf spots in Bali are better suited to advanced surfers.
  • Most beaches in Bali aren’t staffed by lifeguards.
  • Reef cuts need proper medical attention, so don’t leave them and risk infection. See a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Monkeys and dogs can carry rabies and they do bite. If you get a nip, seek medical attention immediately. Don’t risk infection by leaving the bite untreated.
  • Avoid eating raw and undercooked food. Stick to eateries that have good customer reviews and appear clean and sanitary. This also goes for bars to minimise the risk of methanol poisoning and avoid Arak.
  • Raw fruits and salads are part of a healthy diet but remember that these may have been prepared with unclean utensils. Do not drink tap water in Bali.
  • Avoid drugs, the penalties are very harsh.
  • Avoid going out by yourself at night to quiet or unlit areas, especially when you don’t know your way around. If you’re in a group, don’t let yourself become isolated, even on the beach.

Source: Southern Cross Travel Insurance. 

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