The Tegallalang Rice Terrace is often touted as one of Bali’s must-see locations. It’s advertised throughout the airport, in taxis and in many brochures. Even many blogs recommend it. However, I find myself conflicted on whether to recommend people to visit the terraces on the base of their cultural and ecological beauty or warn people to stay clear of it because of the excessive traffic that visits the area daily and the multiple and overinflated fees incurred for literally everything.
The best way to divulge this predicament is to briefly describe my own experience at the terraces. We arrived at the terraces reasonably early, around sunrise, on a Wednesday. At this time, there were few tourists and even many of the locals had not risen yet. We had a completely free roam of the area. And it was incredible. The place is truly beautiful and when complemented by the warm light of the rising sun, it is something you do not want to miss. We made sure to take in the solitude while it lasted.
We stayed for a few hours, but eventually decided to venture out to the local shops for some breakfast. There was plenty of food options, both local and upmarket, to choose from, which was a real bonus as many of the tourist locations dotted around Bali don’t offer upmarket foods. Nonetheless, we finished our breakfast and made the fateful decision to return to the terraces in the hopes of exploring the remainder of it.
By this time, the whole area was barely a glimmer of its former self. The terraces had been over taken by a great horde of tourists. Every level of the terraces was lined with people extending all the way in to the distance. It became difficult to navigate without stepping in the rice paddies – something you feel bad about doing, but really have no other option short of braving the 10-foot drop to the terrace below. This was the first issue. However, most would be able to deal with this if it were not accompanied by several other discomforts.
The second issue also came about as an outcome of excessive people visiting the terrace. Although, this time it was not tourists but locals. At around 8 am local Balinese began to enter the terraces and set up ‘toll’ gates. At these gates, you are expected to pay a fee to see more of the terraces. They are strategically stationed so as to be unavoidable. This may not sound all that bad, except they literally charge you every 50 metres or so. Within a little 50 metre squared zone, you can explore several levels of the terraces, but if you wish to explore further you need to pay. Trust me. Terraces don’t change that much in 50 metres.
Over the course of about 2 hours, I was charged a total of five separate tolls and even charged the same toll twice. Whilst walking around we decided to return to a location we had visited earlier, but we mistook it for being through a previous toll gate. We eventually realised we had taken a wrong turn when we could not find it and it was, in fact, back through the toll gate we had just walked back through. Upon trying to return through the toll gate I was stopped again and pressed for a fee. Regardless of already paying the toll earlier, they expected me to pay it again.
Part-and-parcel with the toll gate problem, was another issue; they charge you based on what they think they can get from you. Over the day each toll gate charged a different fee, varying from $3 up to $6. Some people visiting the area said they had paid $8 at one gate.
The true extent of this price variability became blatantly apparent to me when I was charged two different prices at the same gate. One fee was about $3 and the next was $5. And when I told them I had paid a lesser amount prior they said I had to pay more now. Maybe I should have been more hostile or maybe I’m just a sucker, but I paid the second higher fee almost without question. The whole day I paid about $21 AUD in tolls and my partner paid about $18 AUD.
It is a hard decision; on one hand, you may be paying several different fees for the exact same thing, but the fees are, in the broader scheme of things, a tiny amount of money for most people, but a lot of money for the locals. On the other hand, you may recognise this but fundamentally disagree with the whole premise of squeezing as much out of ‘suckers’ – like me – as possible. I’m not too sure what it is, but something about being treated in such a way rattles me to the core.
With all this in mind, you have to weigh up the immense beauty of the area, which is particularly apparent at sunrise when the terraces are next to empty, against the discomforts, that are not all that terrible, but can have a negative impact on the whole experience.