You know those dreamy pictures from Bali with lush green rice fields? We chose Tegalalang Ubud Rice Terrace and it’s well worth a visit. Apparently there are no distinct seasons but generally the rice fields look best when they are just newly planted.

THE TRUTH:

We drove past many rice fields around Ubud and at this time of the year (May) the rice was already harvested and the fields looked pretty empty and brown. If you come to Bali at the “wrong” time of the year to see the lush green fields, no need to worry, Tegalalang rice terrace looks picture-perfect year-round, even the muddy fields with no rice look pretty there, because of the layered structure of the terraces.

Yes, there’s rice growing in each and every one of those terraces but the “local community” is more interested in the presentation of the place rather than the crop itself. And all those people “working the fields” there could easily get a modelling contract with H&M.

There are many rice fields, but this Ubud Rice Terrace is like a museum that’s alive. People are not actually working there, but they come alive as soon as any tourist comes closer. That’s a pretty cool idea for a museum – exhibits with motion sensors who start to randomly sweep the ground or walk around with a basket on their head or with two baskets full of “rice plants”.

When you get even closer, a second motion detector reacts and they offer you to take a picture of them or ask if you want a coconut or refuse to let you go past until you give a large enough mandatory “donation”. That would be pretty cool in a museum, not so cool when it happens in real life. Even less cool when a small girl asks you to buy a postcard “for my school”. Kids should be playing and not learning how to beg from strangers.

Bitterness aside, it is actually a really beautiful place. The valley has steep edges and palm trees everywhere. And if you come to the right spot just before the sun rays reach the valley you can witness pure magic as the sun peaks through the top of the trees and lights up the mist. For about 15 minutes it’s hard to believe your eyes, it’s that pretty. And then it’s gone. The sun goes up lightning fast and for a moment you feel good being an early bird. Although in reality we’re neither early birds, nor late owls, just “permanently exhausted pigeons”.

“DONATIONS”:
There’s no official entrance fee as such, but if you try to go up to this rice terrace you’re likely to have to pay at least once. The main footpath in the centre seems to have gates that were locked in the morning, but there is another footpath a bit to the right, which kind of goes through the back of some coffee shop. As you reach the bottom (whichever footpath you end up on) there’s a lady who sells drinks, and depending on her mood, sometimes acts as a ticket officer demanding to pay something to enter.
PRO TIP: come early and don’t pay anything.

You climb further up the terraces and there’s another  “entrance booth” which has a box for money, and a man asks for mandatory donations. We said maybe later but he didn’t let us through. The minimum seems to be 5,000 rupiah per person for any of these “donations”.
PRO TIP: come early and don’t pay anything. (repetition is the mother of all learning!)

Walk further up, and follow the footpath that goes to the right around the mountain, past a little temple on a stick, deeper into the valley, and you’ll reach THE photography spot. But there’s also a house with a few tables and a concrete viewing platform. And some kittens, a rooster and chicken. And of course a “farmer” selling coconuts and his wife forever sweeping the clean floor and posing for photos. Make sure you know how to respond to “hello coconut”, because you are just a walking coconut aren’t you?

We took some photos from the viewing platform and sat down for a couple of minutes to admire the view of this pretty Ubud rice terrace below. We saw an Indonesian couple ducking under the gates to enter the rice fields. When they saw the sweeping lady looking at them, they exchanged a couple of words and the woman showed them to keep going.

The sun was just coming out of the forest and we started walking down for the best view of the sun rays and the mist. The “farmer” saw us coming down and kindly opened the gates and showed us that we can go in. Emm, no thank you, we know you will ask for money.

We went further down to admire nature’s magic. When the sun was too bright for taking any more photos we decided to come back up to the viewing platform and have some snacks (we had a flask of tea with us). Of course the sweeping woman who just ripped a tourist couple for a photo came sweeping the floor around us and offering photos, water and coconuts. We nicely refused.

A couple of minutes later the “farmer” came offering photos, water and coconuts. Again, we nicely refused. But the farmer wasn’t having it. He started shouting at us, telling us to go away “Go, go, many tourist come here” (apart from one couple sitting at the cafe area drinking coconuts there was literally nobody else in sight. NOBODY). We said don’t worry we will move when other tourists come, but no, he just kept shouting “Go, go now!”. He was seriously angry. The only time I saw someone flip like that was when our tuk tuk driver tried to scam us in Laos. But then I did something interesting.

I asked how much was the coconut. You should have seen his face. In a split second he changed from being ready to shoo us with the broomstick to the friendliest Balinese farmer you have ever seen. We took the overpriced coconut instead of the overpriced water as we thought at least we can use it as a photo prop. The “farmer” all smiling, brought us the coconut and even offered us some mat to sit on (as the platform we were sitting on was just concrete). Oh, Balinese people are so nice!

And by the way, remember those gates he left open? Well, about 20 minutes later a new tourist couple came and of course went in through the open gates – why wouldn’t you if the view is nicer from there? The “farmer” started to angrily shoo them away like pigeons stealing his rice. Then he went down and closed the gates. Soon the Indonesian couple came back and now needed to get out. They waited for the “farmer” to open the gates for them and handed him some cash, but the “farmer” wasn’t happy. The guy handed him some more cash and they were good to go.

Why do people say that ALL Thai, Balinese, Vietnamese and other Asian people are super nice? Maybe they only encountered the locals when using some sort of service from them? Quite a lot of Asian people are very different to what many people think. Especially those who are used to being around tourists.
PRO TIP: buy a coconut – it’s your ticket to freedom.

POLICE:
Keep in mind that once near the terraces, policemen patrol the road stopping drivers and charging those without international driving permits. We read that around the Ubud Tegalalang Rice Terraces they charge 50 USD and the official fine is 75. So either get the international driving permit at home, or get one of their scammy “tourist” drivers licences in Denpasar (do your online homework).

If, however, you do end up in Ubud without the international driving licence, take the smaller nice road parallel to the main road. No police, no traffic, no tourists, just nice views with hundreds of ducks in the fields, local homes, palm trees, and so on.

PHOTOGRAPHY:
Leave early to see sun rays peaking through the trees. We left Ubud before 7 one day, and we were late. The sun comes up from behind the terraces, so once it’s up, there are harsh shadows everywhere. Next day we left before 6. Arrived 6.15`ish. It was nice and bright already, but no sun and no harsh contrasts, so you can easily take some nice shots of the area. If you go into the rice fields, watch out for snakes (we saw one small snake on the footpath) and there are a ton of ants!

Morning people:
Best time to photograph the sun rays is 7.00-7.30, go deeper into the valley (around the mountain on the right), where the man sells coconuts and wait. So it’s best to be there before 7, or even a day before to find the best spot. The view from the platform is best before the sun hits the valley. The sun rays look nicest from the valley below.

Evening people:
Park your bike further from the main spot (to avoid any scams) and walk to the main terrace, stay on the main road, there are plenty of good spots, they look best after the sun has just set. Otherwise the green grass and palm trees look too yellow. Also by that time most of the shops have closed and there are not that many kids begging for money, which makes the place much more peaceful.

So is it worth it?

Short answer: yes, if you’re wise about it. It is a really beautiful place, and if you come super early it’s not even crowded! And some of the “workers” are still sleeping, so they don’t start bothering you until later. If you can’t be bothered to get up before dawn, then head to the terraces for the time just after sunset. Avoid any other time of the day (have a read through the “poor” and “terrible” comments on Trip Advisor if you need any more convincing.)

Do have some small notes for the mandatory “donations” to go deeper into the fields. Don’t be foolish to think the “locals” are being nice when they offer you something – don’t take the offer, unless you’re ready to pay whatever they ask from you.

***We believe there are better ways to support the local community other than through blindly giving “mandatory donations” in touristy spots – why not just have a set entrance fee for everyone? We have fed stray dogs and cats throughout our trip, stayed in local people’s accommodation, ate at small restaurants and deliberately avoided taking mafia-ruled tours and tour guides, which feeds the top-down broken system. There will be a lenghty post detailing our views and experiences about Bali, so stay tuned and you will find out why we may seem so stingy***