Typical reasons why people come to Bali might include beaches, resorts, and surfing, or temple visits and yoga retreats for the spiritually inclined. But I put this Indonesian island in my itinerary because I wanted to see rice paddies. They grow rice all over Asia, but nowhere else is it practiced quite like the subaks of Bali.
For an environmental anthropology seminar, I once had to lead discussion on a journal article by Clifford Geertz (or was it Lansing? I can't remember now). The piece itself was about as dry as any functionalist text on the emergent phenomenon of a structure that had simultaneous religious, political and economic roles, but when I Google image-searched Balinese subaks (a powerpoint wasn't required but anything that diverts attention away from my habitual blushing when I'm giving a presentation is a plus), the results caught my attention in a way that the article with its black-and-white charts could not. In a word, the subaks are beautiful. How could something so utilitarian, efficient and tried-and-true since ancient times be that pretty? I guess that's why he chose to study them; I mean who wouldn't want to do field research in Bali?
The entire region is essentially covered in rice paddies, but the most picturesque ones are in Ubud, a rather touristy area north of Denpasar that nonetheless boasts a great, laidback coffee culture vibe (imported by all the Aussie expats), good restaurants, and quirky shops and art galleries. The monkey sanctuary is a fun diversion (although its residents can be vicious - one grabbed my friend's purse when she opened it to get tissues thinking there was food inside), but my favorite place was Gunung Kawi - an ancient stone temple that's worth all the effort it takes to get there.
1. Ubud Monkey Forest.
2. Subak near Gunung Kawi. Subaks are protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites, but are on the brink of collapse because of the demand for development fueled by tourism.
3. The temple.
5. Chemistry lab or coffee shop? Rejuvenating at Seniman Coffee Studio.