Bali Rice Terraces

Unexpected Insight at Bali’s Rice Terraces – UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Bali’s rice terraces are more than just beautiful. They gave us an unexpected insight into Balinese culture. We learned a deeper truth from the rice terraces than from the cultural performances we saw. We loved all the shows and dances, but the rice terraces offered a living lesson on one of Bali’s core values – harmony.

Unfortunately, we didn’t really learn this lesson until we got home. At the terraces, we just appreciated their beauty. We thoroughly enjoyed the rice terraces, but we feel our visit would have been better if we’d understood more about them at the time. We wanted to share our experience so that other first-time visitors can have a richer time at Bali’s rice terraces.

We didn’t fully realize the importance of harmony at Bali’s rice terraces until we got home and read up on why they were Unesco world heritage sites. There’s so much more to Bali’s rice terraces than their surface beauty.

No Hippie Talk

We know – writing about the cultural value of harmony may seem a bit fluffy and precious. We assure you that this is not new age mumbo-jumbo. The rice terraces are a practical example of harmony and an inspiring example of a culture actually practicing the values that it preaches. The concept of harmony is also a helpful framework to understand and reconcile the many and varied aspects of the rice terraces.

Bali’s Rice Terraces – Unesco World Heritage Site for Good Reason

Bali Rice Terraces

Unesco’s rationale for making Bali’s rice terraces one of the world heritage sites was illuminating for us. It gave us an understanding of the broader significance of what we saw there. Bali’s rice terraces and their watering system were added to Unesco’s world heritage sites because of the way they demonstrate Tri Hita Karana. Tri Hita Karana is the basic Balinese philosophy of life that prioritizes harmony in 3 central aspects.

  • Harmony with nature
  • Harmony with other humans
  • Harmony with god

Sounds good. Who wouldn’t agree with these lofty values, in theory? Bali has also found a way to achieve them in practice, with their centuries-old rice terraces.

HARMONY WITH NATURE

Bali Rice Terraces

For a mountain or a sunset, being beautiful is enough. No further inquiry required. This wasn’t quite true of Bali’s rice terraces. We found Bali’s rice terraces to be gorgeous, but their beauty was somewhat puzzling. As strolled through them, we appreciated their beauty, but we sensed a complexity that we couldn’t understand or express in the moment. They were almost like those duck – rabbit optical illusions. They were:

  • Natural landscapes and Man-made constructions
  • Practical farms and Masterful works of art
  • Ancient tradition and Contemporary practice
  • Historical relics and Models for the future
  • Crowded tourist attractions and Places of deep significance
  • Substantial as a mountain and Fragile as a pile of mud
  • Beautiful and …More?

You know how finding the right word can really illuminate an experience and put it in perspective? Harmony did that for our memory and understanding of Bali’s rice terraces. Thanks, Unesco. It’s just an interpretation, but it gives expression to that extra “something special” that the rice terraces have. We could sense it, but couldn’t quite put our finger on it. Harmony is an important quality of the rice terraces that deserves to be recognized. The harmony is intangible but it’s real. It wasn’t enough to recognize all the disparate aspects of the rice terraces. We should have marveled at how they seamlessly blend into one amazing harmony.

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Bali Rice Terraces

If you compare the rice terraces with Tanah Lot temple, you’ll get a better sense of the harmony with nature at the terraces. Tanah Lot temple is rightly a top attraction on Bali because of the way it beautifully harmonizes with nature. It does have a great level of harmony, but you’d never mistake it for something natural. If you saw the rice terraces for the first time, you might think it was some kind of spectacular natural landscape. Even when you know what they are, it’s easy to forget their man-made quality. And the reverse is true as well, when you focus on their artistic and geometric quality, it’s easy to forget they’re also natural phenomena.

Best of all, this didn’t happen by accident. Harmony with nature is not just Unesco’s interpretation or ours. It’s the Balinese interpretation.  Even many centuries ago, the goal of their rice terraces was to sustain themselves in harmony with nature.

HARMONY WITH OTHER HUMANS

Bali Rice Terraces

This is a more hidden aspect of Bali’s rice terraces. All the harmonious beauty was created, and is sustained, by harmony between people. The whole system that created the terraces, maintains the structures, waters the paddies, farms the rice, and harvests the yield is all egalitarian and democratic.

These harmonious human relationships are even more beautiful and inspiring than the rice terraces themselves. The engineering and sheer labor involved in building the terraces pales in comparison to getting that many people to peacefully and productively work together for that long. In our experience, even getting small project teams to stay unified and on task for short periods can be almost impossible. These Balinese farmers have done it for centuries!

They share the resources, share the work, and share the reward. Why? They valued harmony in relationships, and they achieved it in a very practical way. The continued existence of the rice terraces is the proof. That’s exactly why Unesco added them to the list of world heritage sites.

This fact both impressed us and made sense of what we saw at the rice terraces. Just look at their scale and beauty. They are clearly massive amounts of work AND massive labors of love. The structures are basically just mud, and up close, their utter fragility is clear. The commitment and vigilance required to preserve the rice terraces as gorgeous and functioning farms boggles the mind. The fact that this monumental accomplishment was born and lives through an egalitarian and democratic system inspires the spirit. When you think of all the exploitative farming practices across the globe, this has to be one of the best highlights and role models for the world.

HARMONY WITH GOD

Bali Rice Terraces

The rice terraces are dependent on the subak water system that irrigates them. The subak system is so vital that the ancients sanctified it with a series of water temples. Taman Ayun temple is the most famous of these, but numerous water temples are an intricate part of the irrigation system. The farming practices themselves have been integrated into various religious rituals and ceremonies.

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It’s difficult to say whether they achieved harmony with god, but integrating the temples and the religious rituals certainly contributed to the long tradition of cooperation and solidarity. That tradition has nourished the people of Bali for centuries. And it is that solidarity that created the stunning beauty of the rice terraces.
Bali Rice Terraces

Bali’s Not Perfect

Of course, we’re not suggesting that all of Bail is in cultural harmony. Five seconds in Bali’s notorious traffic will prove how unharmonious it can be. After all, every culture pays lip service to values that it doesn’t always live up to. Bali is no different, but the rice terraces are special. They’re more than beautiful scenery. The rice terraces are an unexpected and shining example of Bali’s culture at its best.

For now, we can only appreciate this in our memories of the rice terraces, and we have Unesco to thank for this understanding. We wish we’d had a deeper understanding in the moment, but we’re happy that we still learned something after our visit. If you’re planning to visit Bali’s rice terraces, you can enjoy the beautiful vistas and gain insight into Bali’s culture. You can have a (literally) living lesson on the cultural value of harmony. You can see harmony in the beautifully crafted land, in the flowing water, in the communal farmers, and in the temples that sanctify it all. Not just lip service to harmony, but a centuries-old tradition of harmony in action.

Other Info

You can read more about why Bali’s rice terraces and watering system are Unesco World Heritage Sites here.

Beautiful rice terraces are all over Bali. According to Unesco, it is the whole rice terrace and watering system of Bali that is the world heritage site, not any particular terrace. They are all part of the same system and manifest the same cultural values. The 2 most visited rice terraces are Jatiluwih and Tegalalang.

Jatiluwih

Jatiluwih is about 90 minutes drive from Ubud. It can be a challenge to find on your own, but many tours will take you there. It has fantastic terrace views with mountains in the background and typically fewer visitors than Tegalalang.

Tegalalang

Tegalalang is a short, cheap taxi ride from Ubud. It’s convenient location comes with the price of big crowds. The main access and view points are along Jalan Raya Tegalalang (Jalan Raya just means road). There are many cafés and shops on the western ridge of the terraces. Tegalalang rice terraces cascade down the winding walls of a valley, which makes for very scenic views. You can hike the terraces on your own. Or you can take a tour through the terraces that will lead all the way to Pura Gunung Kawi water temple, as well other cool sites. We didn’t, and we regret it. Also, don’t fret the big crowds. The harmony of the rice terraces is an inherent quality. It doesn’t need to be quiet and serene to appreciate it. That would be better, but it’s not necessary.

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48 Comments
  • Chris
    Posted at 21:43h, 20 November

    The rice terraces of Ubud are indeed beautiful.

    Such a rich green, they and the surrounding palms just scream of life!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 21:45h, 20 November

    Hi Chris, yes they are absolutely stunning!

  • Doreen Pendgracs
    Posted at 22:15h, 20 November

    Thx for this fantastic post. I had no idea that the rice terraces of Bali were considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I can hardly wait to see them.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 22:56h, 20 November

    Hi Doreen. Yes the rice terrace are really something special.

  • Monica
    Posted at 01:34h, 21 November

    Very beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience. I always find it helpful to read about the areas I’m visiting, even if it is somewhere as simple as the next town over. We can learn so much from others.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 01:45h, 21 November

    Hi Monica, The rice terraces are beautiful indeed. We can all learn a lot from this aspect of Bali’s culture.

  • Kaylie
    Posted at 02:14h, 21 November

    Looks like an amazing travel spot! Gorgeous pictures. Enjoyed reading your post! 🙂

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 03:16h, 21 November

    Hi Kaylie. Thanks for reading our post. They are an amazing place to visit in Bali.

  • Valerie
    Posted at 05:11h, 21 November

    Beautiful! I’d love to see these some day, though I’m not sure my photos will capture the beauty as well as yours did.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 05:23h, 21 November

    Hi Valerie, Thank you for the compliment. The rice terraces are so gorgeous, its hard to take a bad shot.

  • Thuymi @ AdventureFaktory.com
    Posted at 05:41h, 21 November

    From going through your post – I am so sad I haven’t seen the rice patties in Ubud. I went to Sapa in Vietnam before so we didn’t give it a priority 🙁

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 07:27h, 21 November

    Hi Thuymi. The rice terraces at Sapa are super amazing. There’s so much to do in Bali, it’s impossible to do it all.

  • Keerthana Makwana
    Posted at 20:14h, 21 November

    Just one word Awesome! Love to visit this place one day 🙂

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 20:39h, 21 November

    Hi Keerthana. Thank you. We hope you get a chance to visit. The rice terraces are beautiful and inspiring.

  • TravelingWellForLess (@TravelWell4Less)
    Posted at 00:49h, 22 November

    Your photos are gorgeous! I didn’t realized that the rice terraces in Bali were a UNESCO site. But after seeing your photos, I completely understand why.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 01:15h, 22 November

    Hello. Thank you for the compliment. They are gorgeous and reading about why they are Unesco World Heritage sites was so instructive.

  • Passports and Pigtails
    Posted at 14:41h, 22 November

    What an absolutely beautiful post. We often get so caught up in the natural image before us, and the terraces ARE stunning, but I am so glad you took the time to write about the harmony and the connection, it’s even more important, and changes how a person views them.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 14:53h, 22 November

    Hi, thank you for your kind words 🙂 You are absolutely right sometimes we don’t even think about all of the specifics especially when we are hypnotized by its beauty. We talked about Bali’s rice fields and the more we discussed them the more fascinating they became! We were just a bit disappointed that we were not as knowledgeable about how truly valuable they really are to the society. We would have appreciated them that much more. Live and learn.

  • Neha
    Posted at 05:18h, 23 November

    Very beautiful. No doubt they are UNESCO site. And hats off to you for bringing out this perspective about their harmony…not many will be able to get such insight

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 05:27h, 23 November

    Hello Neha. Thank you for the compliment. The harmonious and democratic farming system is something that you can’t really see on the surface. When we found out why they were Unesco World Heritage sites, the idea of Harmony really made sense.

  • Mar Pages
    Posted at 09:24h, 27 November

    This really shows the best sides of humanity- the fact that we all love harmony with nature whether its UNESCO, ours or Balinese interpretations. The rice terraces are beautiful! and I would really love to see the Tanah Lot Temple!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 09:26h, 27 November

    Hello Mar. You’re right. We all love harmony and harmony with nature. We hope you get a chance to see Tanah Lot temple too. It’s uniquely gorgeous.

  • Adam, Bite of Iceland
    Posted at 15:07h, 28 November

    Hello Vanessa and Steve! Stunning pictures and really interesting post. I would love to see Bali one day 🙂 One year ago I’ve visited rice terraces in Vietnam and it was something special too.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 15:15h, 28 November

    Hello Adam. Thanks for your comment. Those rice terraces in Vietnam are phenomenal. Hope you get a chance to see Bali too. It’s amazing.

  • Blair Villanueva
    Posted at 05:59h, 29 November

    Here in the Philippines, we also have the similar rice terraces in benguet, which is cool and I find the early folks to be genius, by building this plantation field.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 06:00h, 29 November

    Hi Blair. We were scheduled to go check out the rice terraces in Benguet when we were in the Philippines a month and a half ago but I screwed up the pick up point. 🙁 I thought we were supposed to meet at the Mall of Asia but it turned out we were supposed to meet our driver at a different location that was an hour away!! We were so disappointed. 🙁 It was totally my fault. Well, now we have a good reason to go back. I really want to check them out and the Philippines is beautiful. Yes, it’s incredible the work that it takes to keep these fabulous fields running smoothly.

  • Ami Bhat
    Posted at 01:30h, 02 December

    That is an interesting perspective. Harmony with different elements around us. I never perceived the rice terraces in this regard. Was interesting reading about it.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 01:33h, 02 December

    Hello Ami. Thank You. It’s beautiful and the harmony with nature seemed tangible.

  • Lauren West
    Posted at 07:16h, 13 December

    We’re heading to Bali in 2 weeks, and we’ll definitely be checking out some rice terraces! The insights you shared were so interesting, I never would have thought that rice terraces were built in harmony with nature as well. I’ll be thinking about things you said when I’m visiting the terraces myself 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 07:24h, 13 December

    Hello Lauren. Thanks for your kind words. Have a great time in Bali. Its wonderful.

  • Soumya Nambiar
    Posted at 10:31h, 13 December

    I have never been to Bali but I have heard of these rice terraces before too. But this is the first time I am reading about the concept of how harmony is integral to them and this makes me want to visit it more. Maybe one day soon.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 10:33h, 13 December

    Hello Soumya. Hope you get to visit Bali rice terraces. There are many around asia, but it’s interesting to learn how it’s integrated into their culture.

  • Ivy
    Posted at 12:14h, 13 December

    Ah, I wish I knew about this before visiting the rice terraces in Bali. Like you, we just thought ‘wow these are gorgeous’, and had no idea about the harmony aspect. Now we know! And will appreciate them even more when we return

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 12:16h, 13 December

    Hello Ivy. Thank you. We sometimes get intrigued during our travels and learn our lessons afterward.

  • Maja | Mexatia
    Posted at 14:33h, 13 December

    I’ve never thought of rice terraces in this way! It is amazing how they were built in harmony – I’m not sure when we stopped to think about the world like that… Bali amazes me in so many ways.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 14:35h, 13 December

    Hello Maja. Bali is an amazing place. The culture is so ancient and rich.

  • Kristine AARSHEIM
    Posted at 14:53h, 13 December

    Wow, these rice terraces are so beautiful… It’s easy to understand why it’s a UNESCO heritage site. The keyword here is definitely harmony, and for good reason 🙂

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 14:55h, 13 December

    Hello Kristine. Unesco really helped us understand this site better. They are about harmony.

  • Naomi
    Posted at 15:22h, 13 December

    I totally agree with Unesco! It looks amazing and is a must see visit when visiting Bali. I love how you highlight the cultural significence of the traditions of rice terraces

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 15:24h, 13 December

    Hello Naomi. Thank you. Seeing the rice terraces as a cultural experience was a real lightbulb moment for us.

  • Jean
    Posted at 19:35h, 13 December

    Love these photos. I’ve never wanted to go to Bali mainly due to the other Australians that go there. I keep on seeing amazing photos like your’s on the rice terraces and it makes me want to go. Thanks for the interesting information on the cultural significance of the rice terraces.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 19:37h, 13 December

    Hello Jean. We hit a relatively low season in Mid-October and it was lovely for weather and for “lower” crowds.

  • Rashmi and Chalukya
    Posted at 03:41h, 14 December

    Wow! This is an amazing post. The rice terraces of Bali have always intrigued us and today your post answers – why! Harmony with nature, God, and human beings is such a beautiful perspective. We believe learning about the places of the visit is equally important than just visiting and admiring the sights.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 03:45h, 14 December

    Hello Rashmi and Chalukya. Thank you. We agree that things like this are so much more enriching.

  • Abigail
    Posted at 08:28h, 14 December

    The amount of work and years it took to build these rice terraces still continue to amaze me. And the fact that they didn’t have the modern tools of today is amazing. Definitely worth of being recognized by UNESCO!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 08:30h, 14 December

    Hello Abigail. Well said. The terraces filled us with wonder and amazement too.

  • Davide uTravelShare.com
    Posted at 09:34h, 15 December

    You have got a nice post about a stunning place, Rice terraces in Bali!! I would like to visit it and make a confront to another Rice terrace I have visited 2 years ago, Banaue Rice Terraces, even recognized by UNESCO! thanks for sharing, congrats for your pictures, they are stunning!!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 10:00h, 15 December

    Hello David. Thank you. Banaue terraces are truly amazing. They are actually larger than Bali’s and a great sight to behold also.

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