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How to survive corrupt traffic cops in South East Asia

Travel Tips General

How to survive corrupt traffic cops in South East Asia

If you’re heading on a surf trip to Indo this Winter, after a few days of taxi’s to the surf spots, the purse strings will tighten, you’ll see how much fun the care-free gap yar kids cruising on their 125’s are having and you’ll rent a death-trap-moped. You’ll strap your board to the side, head for Ulu’s with the wind in your helmetless hair, pal mal blazing. It’s all a part of the fun. But what isn’t so fun (apart from the hideous injuries waiting to happen) is the scary run-ins with the police, which are inevitable.
From my experience of driving death traps all across Indonesia and Sri Lanka, here are my top tips on how to survive the corrupt traffic cops without a. ending up in jail, b. spending a fortune in bribes:

  1. Firstly go to the post office and get an international driving licence  – they are pretty useless as you’ll have to pay off traffic cops regardless of having one but it’s good to at least have one less reason to be fined
  2. Get the insurance document with the vehicle that you hire – no brainer
  3. Don’t wear bling – if you’re riding a moped in Bali, I highly doubt you’re donning a Rolex but just leave that sort of bling at home. No one likes a show-off, except for the Balinese Policeman and the higher your net worth means the higher the bribe
  4. Unless you are physically stopped, then just don’t stop. Yes these guys get paid hardly anything and these small bribes are their bread and butter, but you will definitely have the chance to redeem your conscious, maybe even on your way home. So just open the throttle, look at the cop and give him a big smile and wave.
  5. If you do get stopped and if you feel like you shouldn’t be paying another cop (it’s happened to me three times on the way back from one surf before), then the best trick is to be polite, calm and very cooperative, like really slow cooperative, asking questions, apologising, saying about how beautiful the place is etc. If you giving the cop everything he needs but take ages doing so, he’s going to get fed up and give you a warning to get rid of you so he can ‘fine’ someone less patient.
  6. Don’t argue. Seriously do not argue with these guys, it will make the situation worse. You have to understand that they have power, and quite a lot of power over you as they can make your life hell.
  7. Money Talks. I apologies for being hypocritical with this piece of advice, but the honest truth is that if you can afford to pay the bribe just pay it. The corruption in a lot of these places is so deeply rooted that it is a part of day to day life. I’ve used the smile and wave trick as well as the cooperative kook tactic more than once, but normally would just treat the situation as a bit of a manly negotiation, he wants £1, offer 50p, you get the gist.
  8. Keep the driver! – If you’re on a ‘holiday’ then don’t even bother with the hassle of driving on the crazy roads, they are lethal. Just pay a local guy to drive, he will look after your stuff, get you to where you want to be quickly and you’ll be helping out someone who definitely needs the £ more than you.

You won’t have to deal with the corrupt traffic cops either…

Hans van Mourik

Co-founder SurfaWhile, ♥️ tech, travel, sports & outdoors.

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