Bali is a world renown destination for its lush greenery, jungle, culture, and beautiful beaches. On our recent trip to Bali, Indonesia, we were blown away by the beauty and atmosphere that surrounded us and we immediately knew why this island paradise had become so popular even before Elizabeth Gilbert caused its popularity to surge with her book “Eat, Pray, Love.” While certainly being a perfect location for Julia Roberts to rediscover her ability to love, Ubud, Bali is much more than a tourist destination, or a lovesick Mecca for middle aged women living out their own bildungsroman.
Ubud is situated about an hour and a half’s drive from Denparsar Airport and is well into the mountains and jungle. We purposefully chose this city for its amazing array of natural beauty and we were not disappointed. One of the most spectacular places we toured in Ubud were the rice terraces north of town. We are fond of renting motorcycles when we visit countries in southeast Asia, so we got a small bike and headed off down the road with the Balinese wind in our eyes and mouth.
Driving motorcycles in a foreign country is always an adventure and truly enhances the experience of exploration. Driving the narrow village streets as we crossed the countryside and climbed hills, we felt much more connected with Bali than you will feel in town as a tourist. On the road you’re just another motorcycle, weaving and swerving through gaps in cars and generally causing innumerable problems for non-motorbikes. Despite our motorcycle driving skills, we safely made it to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces and they were everything we’d hoped and dreamed Ubud would be. Away from the city there are far less tourists, and you can find quiet solitude. The hillsides of Tegalalang are covered in picturesque (I typically hate that word, but it’s true this time) landscapes that draw your hand constantly to your camera.
Since the terraces are, by definition, terraced and stacked up the hillsides, a visit to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces will require a bit of light hiking, but the feeling of sheer wonder and excitement makes it pretty easy to ignore the effort required. Following narrow paths that require constant balance checks and the occasional arm-windmill, guests are allowed to wander freely and explore this co-op rice plantation. Each rice paddy is owned by a different farmer or family, and they sometimes see fit to charge small semi-mandatory donations to help maintain the paths and structural walls that hold up the paddies. Since the donations are typically less than a dollar (US), we didn’t throw much of a fit at the second or third person asking for donations, but some tourists were obviously put off. We just paid, knowing the real value of our demeanor on vacation, and blissfully carried on over ridges to hills and terraces hidden from the typical view.
I highly recommend visiting these rice terraces if you are fortunate enough to visit Ubud, as they surely offer a small glimpse into Balinese life before Julia Roberts made her pilgrimage and ruined it for future generations. All kidding aside, it was a very peaceful and serene place. We would often find people sitting at the end of a dead-end path sitting in silent meditation with an elaborate jigsaw of rice paddies all around them and stretching out before them. While we didn’t do much sitting, we certainly explored areas that most people don’t find. When it seems like you’ve reached the end, keep going further along the path and you’ll surely find places of silent seclusion save for the solitary farmer planting rice by hand beneath a beautiful sky. It was a spectacular side trip and we found a surprising amount of shade in the infamous Indonesian afternoon sun.
Fully exhausted from our morning’s exploration, we ended our visit to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces in one of the many restaurants on the hillside adjacent the rice terraces which provided amazing panoramic views. Over a lunch of chicken curry and steamed vegetables, we happily observed small groups of people across the valley exploring the same paths we’d just walked and delighted to see their faces light up despite their physical strain hiking up and over each paddy. The views and glimpses of antiquated farming methods gives all who visit the Tegalalang Rice terraces a real sense of peace and leaves them with a knowing grin on their face long after they’ve departed.