Volunteer in Bali with Friends for Asia
Volunteer in: Thailand - Vietnam - Nepal - Bali

The Rice Fields of Bali

The Beautiful Rice Fields of Bali

Bali is undoubtedly a beautiful part of the world, but if forced to choose one aspect of its charm many volunteers would single out the local rice fields for special mention. The emerald green rice terraces in central Bali are regularly featured in postcards because they are just so photogenic. In 2012 the Balinese Subak system of water irrigation fell under the protection of UNESCO and is the rice fields of the island are a World Heritage Site. Those working in the tourist industry are well aware of the attraction that the paddy fields have for visitors, and they are keen to cater for it with tours and outdoor activities in these rural locations. Those volunteers who wish to see the more traditional aspects of Balinese life are urged to visit the rice fields.

Rice Fields, Bali

Importance of Rice as a Crop in Bali

Rice is considered to be the most important crop for the Balinese and traditionally it has been viewed as a gift from the gods that needs to be honored as such. It is a key ingredient of the local cuisine. The value of this crop to the local population is demonstrated by the fact that the villages surrounding the rice fields will have shrines devoted to it. The cycle of rice planting, irrigation, maintaining, and harvesting sets the tone for much of the traditional island life. The Balinese have created their own system for rice cultivation, and it is one of the most effective ways of managing this crop in the world.

Paddy Fields or Rice Terraces

Paddy fields refer to any parcel of arable land that is devoted to rice farming. The most common form of paddy field will be on flat land, but it is also possible to have paddy terraces that follow the natural contours of hills. Bali offers both type of paddy, but it is the terraces that visitors usually most want to see because these tend to be the most stunningly beautiful. The rice terraces have been here on Bali for at least 2,000 years, and they were originally carved into the hills using hand tools.

Rice Fields and Water Management

The Balinese system of irrigating their rice terraces is known as Subak. It is such an important part of Balinese culture that in June 2012 it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status. This method for irrigating the land was inspired by an ancient Hindu philosophy, and it has been used since at least the 11th century. Using this method the rice fields were built around temples and the allocation of water is the responsibility of priests. In order for this management of irrigation to work successfully it has required that members of each community cooperate with one another and work in partnership. Each member of the community takes responsibility for maintaining the systems integrity, and this is why the terraces tend to look so well maintained. The rice farmers work as a unit to create appropriate canals and dams. Another important element of the Subak system is the religious festivals that mark the cycle of the year.

Best Places to See Rice Fields in Bali

It is possible to find rice fields all over the island but some of the most beautiful of them can be found:

  • There are a number of hotels near Ubud that offer accommodation right beside the rice fields. The area to the south of the town is made up of rolling paddy fields, and there are also some rice terraces to admire there as well.
  • The terraces near Tegalalang village are arguably among the most beautiful on the island. It is located in-between Kintamani and Ubud right along the river.
  • The main road from Ubud to Pupuan is commonly referred to as rice field road. The area around the village of Pupuan, in the western part of the island, has a few resorts, and it is a good location from which to explore the local rice fields.
  • Tirta Gangga is a popular day trip destination for those who are staying in the beach resorts of Candidasa or Amed. The rice paddies are to be found to the north of the town, and there is also a water palace there worth visiting as well.

Balinese Rice Field Tourism

A whole new industry has developed around the Balinese rice fields – it has less to do with food and more to do with tourism. Tour operators now offer trips to the most scenic terraces, and hotels have sprung up next to rice fields so that tourists can look down from their private balcony and admire the view of farmers busily toiling away below. It is even possible to go on organized rice field hiking tours or cycling trips. It is definitely not recommended though, that tourists take it upon themselves to go trampling through one of these fields because they could ruin a crop. A trip to the Balinese rice fields not only provides plenty of great photo opportunities, but it is a chance to relax and tourists can almost feel like they’ve travelled back to a simpler time. Despite the rise in rice field tourism it is still possible to visit these areas and feel off the usual tourist map.

Struggles of the Balinese Rice Farmers

Despite the fact that the rice terraces have become a major tourist attraction in Bali it has not meant that the local farmers who maintain them have prospered. They continue to just barely make a living – if they are lucky they will earn enough to pay off their bills. Working the rice fields is a hard life but visitors to these areas can help by supporting local businesses. Many of these farmers bring in some additional income by selling local handicrafts to tourists, and by buying these souvenirs directly from the locals tourists will be helping to ensure future generations to maintain these beautiful rice terraces.