Mt. Batur, Bali: The Truth About a Mafia-Run Tourist Town

The last few years of travel have seen us deal with many situations… let’s see:

  1.  I’ve shut down a guesthouse after they stole $100 from my bag.
  2. Rhys interrogated an Indian guy and then ripped through his home searching for his stolen phone.
  3. We’ve dealt with gut-wrenching Indian hospital visits.

But we’ve NEVER had to deal with a town run mafiaADVICE: DO NOT GO TO MT. BATUR in BALI.

Let’s rewind this story back to the basics of planning our trip and flipping through a Lonely Planet.

Me: “I’d love to hike up one of Bali’s volcanoes.”

Rhys: “Yea, we definitely can there are 3. But the 2 tallest ones you have to hire expensive guides for. Mt. Batur is the shortest, but you don’t need a guide for it. The book says the people of the town will try and intimidate you and tell you that you need a guide but we can do it easily on our own.”

So we headed to Northern Bali and drove into the sleepy little town at the foot of Mt. Batur. The town sits on a beautiful lake and volcanoes raise up in every direction around it. Mt. Batur sits above the others with clouds covering the peak of it most of the day but it offers SENSATIONAL views of sunrise over Lombok  island to the East of Bali. For us it was a done deal, we’d wake up early and make it to the top for sunrise….. or so we thought.

Mt. Batur_Bali_Volcano

Mt. Batur at Sunset

We knew something was weird about the town as soon as we arrived, mainly because we weren’t allowed to GO ANYWHERE on our own. We were solo, in no group, no bus.. just us and a motorbike, so you’d think we could come and go as we pleased. We checked into the hotel and wanted to have a walk around town to  find the path up the volcano. The people at the guesthouse told us we weren’t allowed to walk around town that we had to hire a guide which I actually laughed at. We made it 10 steps out of the guesthouse before we were stopped by a stranger on the street wanting to know where we were going and what we were doing. That we needed a guide and couldn’t go out on our own. Once again, we assured him we weren’t hiking, just walking around the town. We wandered around for maybe 10 minutes before we gave up and came back because every 10 steps someone would stop us and talk about “the company” and how we weren’t allowed to be out on our own! INSANITY! It’s a small town, maybe 10-15 guesthouses in it. We were just having a wander at sunset! I asked a lady who was selling water on the street where the path up the mountain was. Even she  told me I wasn’t allowed to do anything without “the company”.

We ate breakfast here, looks so peaceful!!?!

Like any other human being in the world, if you tell me I can’t do something when I know perfectly well that I can do it, of course I’m going to do it.

We woke up early and my heart was actually  racing as we tip-toed out of the guesthouse. We were scared to leave the guesthouse, how CRAZY is that! If the guesthouse owners saw us they would have yelled at us and told us we weren’t allowed to leave unless we paid them $50 EACH for a leisurely walk up a volcano. In Balinese Rupiah $50 goes such a long way, asking tourists to pay $50 to do a easy hike is the biggest slap in the face. It’s honestly 5 times what it should be. If they were asking for something reasonable we would have loved to go with “the company.”

We managed to sneak out, and wound up in a field in the middle of nowhere away from the crazy town. We finally thought we were free until we were stopped by a bunch of little skinny guys in the field telling us we weren’t allowed to walk around, they were with “the company” and we had to pay them $50 if we wanted to go anywhere. After nicely telling them to go screw themselves, we went down the road to try our luck there. Only to be followed by the same punk guys telling us that the company wouldn’t allow us to walk up the volcano on our own and we had to pay them. We both flipped out and after an intense yelling match telling them how insane this whole town was and we weren’t paying them a dime, we jumped on the bike and headed back for the crazy town.

The slightly crazy town lays low under Mt. Batur

We parked our bike at the guesthouse and tried walking up the volcano one last time. Since we left the bike at the guest house we didn’t have  to worry about the company guys stealing it, we were just going to keep walking past them when they tried to stop us. WE WERE WRONG. We walked for five minutes down a path before 5 guys, yes you guessed it all a part of “the company” stopped us and told us to give them an insane amount of money. We kept walking and then they started pushing us. Phones were out and they called for back-up. Next thing I know there are guys are walking up from everywhere. They’ve all got these fake, bogus “company” certified tour guide cards and are physically putting their hands on Rhys and I pushing us. One dude kept yelling at me and slapping his dirty, crooked finger on the top of my nose. I couldn’t believe it. To say that we both put our tails between our legs and turned around to go home wouldn’t be fun, of course we had a nice yelling match with the mafia of the town! You can imagine, every curse word was flying out of my mouth. I was cursing their lives, their town, the volcano, and then I apparently crossed the line when I started cursing “the company.” It was as if I insulted their dying mothers. Everything changed and as if things weren’t already escalating too quickly, now they were really offended. It got to the point where the skinniest, little punk of a fake mafia member actually spit in Rhys’s face. It was something out of a movie. Everything froze and I looked around at the sweat dripping off everyone, the curse words flying from everyone’s mouth, the mob of people growing, and the spit flying through the air hitting Rhys’s face. Oh, no shit just got a lot more serious. Rhys had two options:

1. He was going to throw a punch back and we would die a death to 20 mafia men in some backwards mafia run town in Bali.

2. He would realize that this was too far gone now, we wouldn’t climb the mountain and the fake mafia men would win. Because, us 2 vs. 20 angry Balinese men… chances weren’t on our side.  I’m feisty, but I’m small.

In that one second that felt like 100 to me, Rhys took a step back and backed away. We were still yelling, fists pumping the air, and they were yelling some really nasty things at us.  I yelled back for the last time that their town and their fake company was nothing without the tourists who come to hike Mt. Batur, and I’d be sure to ruin them once I got back to world of cyberspace.

Once we got away from all the yelling and crazy company men we knew we needed to leave IMMEDIATELY. We were both really shaken up by the whole thing, and I was pretty much scared shitless. As we were walking back to get our bags and get the hell out of there a guy whizzed by us with a ski mask on his face. I can only think that those guys fighting with us in the field had called him up. Why else would some wear a ski mask on a 90 degree day?! I didn’t want to stick around to find the answers out.  We threw money at the guesthouse woman and darted out of that town as fast as we could.

Moral of the Story: Tell every friend, family member, scruffy traveler, and rich tourist you can to NOT go to Mt. Batur. This “company” has run a monopoly on all tourist groups in the area and therefore have now made it impossible to go up Mt. Batur without them, and outrageously priced it. Most tourists pay for a tour that includes the Mt. Batur hike from Kuta. Tourists come up on a bus and leave without knowing the crazy town, people, and situation they were just surrounded with.

Don’t go. The guys are the biggest assholes I’ve ever met and I’m actually shaking with anger all over again just typing this post! It sounds like something from a movie, right? I swear to you, it’s the truth, nothing is remotely fabricated.

It ended just like the most of the movies do too, the  mafia won.

5 Responses to “Mt. Batur, Bali: The Truth About a Mafia-Run Tourist Town”
  1. w says:

    hi Nicky,

    thanks for your advice. was actually thinking of doing Mt batur, but now hesitant.

    this article notes too about aggressiveness of “the company” aka Association of Mt Batur Trekking Guides (i assume).


    • Nicky says:

      Yea, since writing the article I googled “mountain mafia” and lots of people had posted similar stories. I also recieved a disturbing email from one of the mafia men himself telling me I was lucky the low law men didn’t kill us! So, yes it is very real.

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