Being taken for a ride in Bali isn't always such a bad thing

Bali, why bother? It's a harsh judgment on a place where a smile goes a long way.

The Balinese are mostly very friendly, even when they are hassling you for a ride - or taking you for one.

For example, a few years ago, my wife and I were strolling through dappled light along the pathways of the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, watching the pushy macaques almost mug tourists for snacks.

An elegant elder Balinese man, dressed head-to-toe in white, seemed to be following us at a respectful distance.

Then, the moment of truth, he reached into his white shirt. He pulled out ... not a knife, but a score of tiny pictures

He didn't look threatening. He just smiled every time I glanced around.

It didn't matter which pathway we took, he followed. Then, after some 30 minutes, he made his move.

As moves go, it was as smooth and non-intrusive as they come.

"May I tell you of some history here while you walk?" he asked.


It would have been ungracious to refuse. So, for the next 40 minutes he guided us around the sanctuary, pointing out sacred objects, telling us about the flora and answering questions about the habits and lifestyle of the macaques.

His answers were voluminous and animated, though erring on the side of fiction when it came to the plants we recognised.

Then he escorted us down a side path where no one seemed to be going, saying: "I'd like to show you something special. Would you like to see?"

We were heading off the beaten track and a lazy thought passed through my head that this could be a mistake.

He stopped by a wall and ushered us to sit. Then, the moment of truth, he reached into his white shirt. He pulled out ... not a knife, but a score of tiny pictures, about five centimetres square, all brilliantly coloured miniatures of exotic flowers.

"This," he said with near a tear in his eye, "is my true passion. I have six children and my elder parents to support and it is hard off the donations a guide receives here in the sanctuary.

"My passion is to paint. After my day's work here I go home and paint until the light goes.

"Would you like to buy one, or more?"

It was hard not to after that. We parted with the equivalent of about $50 for five of these tiny pictures.

Then we ambled back through Ubud, stopping for a cheap and delicious lunch, and refusing, with a smile, all offers of transport, until we got to the place where our hotel pick-up had been arranged.

In a shop window, by the pick-up point, was a tray with hundreds of miniature paintings, identical to the ones we had just paid $50 for ... only 20 cents each.

We'd been taken for a ride - but not unpleasantly.

We've made the mistake of giving impoverished children money before and been followed by dozens more as a result. That's a mistake we won't make again.

But in all our travels, we've generally found that a courteous "thanks but no thanks" will do the trick.

Richard Woolveridge is the acting editor of