Tegalalang is a dreamy delight. Just 25 minutes outside of busy Ubud, emerald rice fields cascade from parallel slopes into a lush, rich valley, transporting visitors back in time. The pace of life slows down here once you dip off the main road that overlooks the terraces, which comes well stocked with taxis, tour buses, restaurants and shops.
With your back to the modern age, the countryside feels vibrant and alive in a place where man’s relationship with the land is the same today as it was over 1,000 years ago. The gentle flow of the subak, a traditional Balinese irrigation system, provides a soothing backdrop of trickling and bubbling that blends into the ethereal and picturesque landscape, providing a serene experience to its visitors.
The Subak System
Tegalalang relies on subak, an irrigation system built on Tri Hita Karana, a Hindu philosophy focusing on how humans can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and fellow man, their environment, and spirituality in daily life.
The subak system of cooperative water management obtained through the use of canals, tunnels and weirs is a cultural landscape consisting of five rice terraces and their associated water temples spread across 49,000 acres. The system, which comprises egalitarian and democratic farming practices, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 9th century. Not only does it support a dense population, subak is so effective that it makes the Balinese the most successful rice growers in Indonesia.
From the center of Ubud, traveling to Tegalalang should take 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic. If your driver knows the scenic route through the farm country it will mean a shorter and much for pleasant ride for you.
Uber is available in Bali for a much cheaper rate than the typical taxi fare, but like anywhere where Uber is transforming the marketplace, taxi drivers abhor it. If you choose this option, note that your driver will want you to be as discreet as possible so as not to draw the cabbies’ ire. We booked our driver from a restaurant and waited inside until he was about to arrive. With Uber, we paid about $3 to get to Tegalalang, and double that on the way back to our hotel by taxi.
There’s no entrance fee to Tegalalang, but you will be expected to pay a donation of a few thousand Indonesian Rupiah at various check points manned by local farmers across the terraces in order to continue on your journey. This is to help support the system, upkeep bridges, and so forth. We saw a few travelers putting up a fight about the small fees, but to put it in perspective, 10,000 Rupiah is less than one U.S. dollar. Considering the amazing work being done and how much foot traffic Tegalalang absorbs per day, this is a small price to pay. (Note that you’ll only be asked to pay on your way up and across the terraces, not on your way down.) We spent several hours exploring Tegalalang and only paid twice.
Fees for Photos
You may encounter farmers offering to pose with you while balancing their rice basket on your back, or to take your photo at the ‘I Love Bali’ sign in exchange for a tip. In general, we’ve found that any local who offers to take your photo at a tourist attraction – even if they're a police officer or a park ranger – will expect money in return. Remember that you are visiting a developing country in which many locals are struggling financially, and especially those in rural areas. If you can shell out an extra dollar in exchange for that special photo, don’t feel bashful about it. Go ahead! At the same time, if that’s not in your budget, it’s lousy to feel like you’ve been duped by what seemed like someone’s kind gesture. Having this in the back of your mind can help you make a fast decision in those moments when you may feel pressured by locals and uncertain of what to do. Simply put, if you don’t want to pay, kindly decline the offer.
Exploring & Capturing This Inspiring Landscape
Expect to see hundreds of fellow tourists during your visit, potentially even arriving by the busload. But don’t fret! Patience pays whether you simply want to enjoy this magnificent and historical treasure on your own, or if you’re in search of that perfect photo without another soul in your shot. The further you explore into the paddies, the fewer tourists you’ll encounter and the more intimate an experience you’ll have the privilege to take home with you.
After trekking up and down the terraces you’ll likely have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants lining the hilltop above the rice fields where you can enjoy a bite or a drink with a gorgeous view. Finding the restaurants closest to the tour path to be the most crowded and expensive, we chose to wander further down the main road, and settled on the last restaurant in the row where we enjoyed good prices, free WiFi, and a relaxed environment with a splendid overlook. We highly recommend the coconuts, which come filled with ice and slices of lime. A Tegalalang specialty. Yum!
Making A Difference
Your visit to Tegalalang supports hard working farmers and an ancient water management system that takes conservation seriously. You’ll leave with a new appreciation of where rice comes from, the labor that goes into growing it along with the extraordinary thought put into the subak system, and a sense of inner peace from simply being in this calming environment.