A Walk & A Talk on Balinese Architecture & Culture amidst Bali Rice Fields

posted in: Asia, Culture, Indonesia | 24

First Published on February 5, 2020

Tegalalang Rice Terraces or for that matter any of the Bali Rice Terraces make lovely picturesque stops. Add to that the adrenaline rush of the Bali swings and other activities, they have the right ingredients to book a spot onto your Bali itinerary. However, it is a walk through one of those Bali rice fields that I highly recommend. This is in addition to the terraces for what you discover along the way is the deal that makes your visit to Bali sweeter. I discovered interesting facets of the Balinese architecture by visiting a traditional Bali home. The walk introduced me to certain Balinese customs that I had missed in my previous visits. The knowledge of it all deepened my love for all that was Bali.

A walk through the Balinese Rice Fields to discover its true flavor
A walk through the Balinese Rice Fields to discover its true flavor

The walk through the rice fields of Bali was not a part of the original itinerary. We stumbled upon it when we checked into The Sthala for our stay in Ubud. It was a complimentary experience offered by the hotel. Since it was an early morning walk, we realized that we could opt for it without disturbing the rest of our plan. And so, at the expense of a late breakfast, we signed up for this program. The sacrifice was just so worth it and you will soon find out why. In fact, after this, you will be looking for one such experience to add to your Bali Sightseeing list.

Start of our Ubud Rice Fields Walk

A smiling guide greeted us the next morning with a few instructions for the walk. The only one that I now recall is that the dogs in the village are quite friendly. They might bark but if you ignore them, they will go away. I remember this one as it did create quite a stir among the group. 😉 . He explained that he would take us around his village and show us his home while explaining the nuances of the Balinese architecture and culture along the way. In other words, he literally promised to walk the talk.

Flowers for Canang Sari sold at the local grocers
Flowers for Canang Sari sold at the local grocers

A quick stroll along the main road and a turn in, we were in a different world. Suddenly the concrete paths had given way to small lanes with the green rice fields on either sides. We did a quick peek at a few lone grocery shops to discover the local delicacies. Our guide warned us about trying them out  – “They don’t always suit the foreigners”– he said with a smile and diverted our attention to the local goods sold there. Like these flowers for the Canang Saris. With that he urged us to walk further while explaining the principles of a Balinese home.

Understanding the Balinese Architecture

The Balinese architecture is based on Hindu norms of how certain directions are considered auspicious. In Bali, facing the mountains, rather volcanoes are considered to be good as is facing the sea. Hence, based on the position of the plot, the various spaces of the home are constructed. A typical home consists of a central courtyard that is lined by the various buildings. In the case of Balinese architecture, each building called Bale is equal to a room in the contemporary home.

Balinese Architecture explained by this Wikimedia diagram
Balinese Architecture explained by this Wikimedia diagram. The numbers indicated are explained in the next section.

None of the homes ever face the main road. They always open to side roads. This is to avoid the evil spirits that might enter the home through the door. And that is where we turned into a smaller lane to enter our Guide’s home.

Inside a traditional Balinese Home

Angkul Angkul - the boundary of a home as per Balinese Architecture
Angkul Angkul – the boundary of a home as per Balinese Architecture

The first thing that you notice in a Balinese home is the strong wall with a gate. The wall is called Angkul Angku (10 in the diagram). On both sides of the gate are shrines. These are said to fortify the wall ensuring no evil spirit enters the house. The main door indicates the status of a family. The more elaborate the work on the door, the better off is that family.

An elaborate Balinese Door - not that of the guide's home. but along the same Rice Field Walk
An elaborate Balinese Door – not that of the guide’s home. but along the same Rice Field Walk
Aling Aling with the Ganesha statue
Aling Aling with the Ganesha statue

Once you step inside, you will find a smaller wall with Lord Ganesha on it. This is the aling aling (11 in the diagram). It is another barrier to the evil spirits who might find their way in. The rest of the courtyard called Natah (No.1), is filled with live plants and trees, adding a certain freshness to the whole atmosphere.

Kitchen in a Balinese traditional Home
Kitchen in a Balinese traditional Home

The Kitchen area consists of two buildings. One has the whole set-up for cooking (No. 7) while the other functions as a granary (No.9). A central Bale called Bale Dangin (No. 6) serves as a living area to receive guests and for special ceremonies like marriage.

The head of the family resides in the main building called Bale Daja (No.3). This lies in the north and is at a slightly higher level. In the olden days, this one used to be the only one with walls around it to give privacy to the married couple. The rest of the buildings did not really have walls. The children and other members of the family stay in other buildings. The one that is in the West is called the Bale Dauh (No.5) and the one in the South is called Bale Dalot (No.6).

The Sanggah or the Family temple with its five shrines - an integral part of the Balinese Architecture
The Sanggah or the Family temple with its five shrines – an integral part of the Balinese Architecture

The most important part of a Balinese home set up is the family temple called Sanggah (No.12). The Sanggah typically has five shrines and is accessible only to the family. The three important Gods in this temple are Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Other than that the other two shrines are dedicated to the family deity – mostly Laxmi or Saraswati or Surya (Sun God). Again, the temple denotes the status of a family. The really well-off clans have bigger shrines within this Sanggah area.

A family temple spotted along the Ubud walk
A family temple spotted along the Ubud walk

Customs & traditions of a Balinese Family

First offering made to the ancestors in the morning.
First offering made to the ancestors in the morning.

The first activity in the morning or the first visit to a Balinese home starts with the Kitchen. They say that the first fire in the home destroys any evil that might have entered. It is tradition to make the first offering of the day to the ancestors. It is generally left in the shrines at the door as well as in the temples. A second offering is made to the ancestors and Gods a little later in the day – something that you will see in the corner of every home, shop and office in Bali. The Canang Sari is an interesting and well-noticed tradition – one that I have explored in detail. Check out this post on the same – it even details the various festivals celebrated in Bali.

Canang Sari

Another interesting ritual followed in Balinese Families is following the birth of a child. The placenta is considered to be sacred and is taken by the father and buried in front of their homes. A boy’s placenta is kept to the right of the home while that of a daughter is buried to the left. After the same is done, a stone is kept on it and a tree is planted around it. This is following a belief that the placenta is almost like a sibling to the child. It has kept it safe and thus, needs to be respected. Also, it is said to bring in good luck and a guardian spirit for the child.

Our guide told us about the various festivals celebrated by the people in Bali including the Galugan. But then, you already know about those – don’t you? Or did you miss this post on my first discoveries of the Balinese culture?

The Village temples and norms

Cheerful local waving back at us from the rice fields of Ubud
Cheerful local waving back at us from the rice fields of Ubud

With a polite good-bye to our guide’s family and heartfelt thanks for allowing us into their abode, we hit the main road again. Cheerful locals waved from their farms and we stood around getting ourselves clicked against the fresh greens. Here and there, we spotted bigger temples. As per our guide, there are 9 types of temples in Bali. The house temple and family temple is generally in the Balinese homes. Then there are clan temples, village temples, and town temples. And after that, the bigger and significant ones like the famous Uluwatu temple.

Clan temple found along the path
Clan temple found along the path
Sneak peak into the village temple from one of its walls
Sneak peak into the village temple from one of its walls

We came across a few clan temples and finally one big Village temple with its huge bells. The Village temple is generally attached to a community hall where important meetings take place. The village leader is the one who generally calls for these meetings. He generally rings a big bell attached to the temple. However, the interesting thing is that there are several different tunes to the same bell. Depending on the emergency or situation, he chimes that particular tune to call the residents of that hamlet.

The community hall next to the Village Temple
The community hall next to the Village Temple

Bidding adieu to the smiling locals

Carpenter's home in the Ubud Village
Carpenter’s home in the Ubud Village

We continued the walk to see some unusual homes. Like this one of a carpenter. One look at it and you know who it belongs to 😉 We could have gone on and on to find such lovely treasures but owing to time, we had to cut the walk short. Not before cuddling some cute doggies at a Balinese home. Regretfully we bundled into the hotel golf cart (well, we were late) and waved goodbye to our guide and the residents of this Ubud hamlet.

Cuddly dogs and me
Cuddly dogs and me

To know the residents, their norms and beliefs give you the real flavor of Bali. And this is exactly why I suggest signing up for this Bali Fields walk. So while you are deliberating on what I have shared and whether you agree with my recommendation, just pin this on your board! If not for your decision making, then just for the interesting tales that I have shared 😉

How to get to Ubud?

  • The international airport in Bali connects it pretty well to the rest of the world. I flew Malindo Air from Bangalore to Bali via Kuala Lumpur. You could check it out for your travel too.
  • Ubud is the best place for this kind of rice field walk in Bali. To get to Ubud, you can either rent a cab or hire a car. Check the booking resources below to help you book one.

Where to stay in Ubud?

The Sthala - our Ubud Hotel
The Sthala – our Ubud Hotel
  • Having stayed in The Sthala, I highly recommend it for a luxurious and comfortable stay. What is more, is that the rice fields walk is a part of their complimentary service. You can book the hotel through this link.
  • In case, you are looking for mid-priced or back-packing hotels, you will find plenty in Ubud. You can browse through this link for the highly-rated ones (as per travelers) and book through the same link.

Booking resources for Ubud

These booking resources are affiliate links that I offer through this website. Booking through them will not cost you anything additional but it will definitely help me get some commission to keep this site going. So do consider the same.

Travel Tips

  • You can book a conducted tour or a walk in the fields by using the resource that I mentioned above. It is better to have a guide when you embark on this journey as they help decipher the Balinese architecture better.
  • Please be respectful when visiting Balinese homes. They are private people and do have some sacred norms – places where you cannot enter with shoes and the temple area that is out of bounds.
  • Wear flat shoes, carry loads of water and a pair of goggles with a sun cap when going for this walk.

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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24 Responses

  1. Linda (LD Holland)

    We did love our visit to the Bali rice terraces. Although we were sorry to not take a swing ride. How nice to be offered a walk with a smiling guide to see the village and his home. Interesting to read about the directions they face their houses and rooms. We certainly saw a lot of elaborate doors in Bali. Now I understand this correlates to wealth. We did indeed see the offerings everywhere when we walked around. My son stayed in a home stay in Ubud and loved the chance to get close to the local people too. But you certainly learned a lot on your walk.

  2. Bhushavali N

    Wow! Bali rice fields is on top of my wishlist. I need to plan a visit soon to the eastern countries to see all of this with my own eyes!
    Thanks for explaining the structure of the traditional houses of Bali! Just looking at the door and the main wall, explains a lot about the social status of the family. The wood work in some of those houses are amazing. Its amazing how similar it is all to the Indian customs!

  3. Erica

    Wow. Your photos are absolutely stunning! Such a beautiful experience. Visiting a Bali rice field looks like such an amazing experience and a great way to learn about local life. It is definitely on my list of things to do in my lifetime now. I appreciate your sharing a bit about the architecture. It is interesting that they open onto side streets to keep spirits away. I really enjoying learning interesting facts like that!

    • Ami

      Thank you Erica. Your compliments make my day. Am glad you enjoyed this cultural walk with me. Cheers

  4. Fae Celine

    Your photos are so beautiful. Bali rice fields are so beautiful and a must visit. Hopefully, someday, I will have a chance to visit Bali too and see these rice fields.

  5. Patrice

    It was interesting to learn more about the Balinese architecture and traditional homes, something I knew little about. The practical how-to info was great as well. A friend of mine is going to Bali this year and I’m going to share this article with her.

  6. Ha

    Such an amazing experience that you had! It’s interesting to read about Balinese home set up and architecture, as well as the traditions there. The rice field looks stunning, and people seem very friendly too. I’ll visit Bali this summer so it’s very useful to read your post and prepare for the trip.

    • Ami

      I am sure you will love the fields after you have read this. Will stay tuned for your account. Cheers

  7. Shreya Saha

    Wow! This is a super nice blog on Balinese architecture. I am amused by the house models, especially the setting up of side doors away from the main road, which is related to the belief of spirit may enter. It may sound funny to us, but at the same time, it is pretty interesting to know how old people used to think and still they follow the same mechanism to create houses. You are lucky to visit Ubud – it’s one of my favorite places.

    • Ami

      Thanks Shreya. It was pretty fascinating to figure these bits out myself. Am so glad to have gone on the walk

  8. daniel

    Great post!! I love Bali no matter how many times I go there, there is always something new to see and go. During my first time visiting Bali I was totally mesmerized by there rice fields and how pristine some looked. I am a big fan of Bali’s architecture they are medieval yet really aesthetic.

  9. Cat Lin

    Getting close to nature seems like a mystical experience for me… and I feel like a trip to Bali would be the same experience. A walk through the rice fields in the early morning seems an equally mystical and relaxing experience. Kudos to you for making the effort to seek out opportunities to dive deep into the Balinese traditions and customs like Canang Sari. I would definitely incorporate that if I make my way to Bali someday.

  10. Namit Pandey

    The people of Bali really do have a unique and fascinating culture. Their customs are so similar to the Hindu traditions but have their own unique blend making it special. Even their architecture is one of a kind. More than the beaches it’s known for, it is Bali’s culture that makes it such a great attraction for tourists

  11. Thejes udayan

    I have heard from travelling monks that the Indian culture used to span from around Sparta to Indonesia, Japan region. Adopting the localities geography and hence evolving a culture that is best to live in that area with health at the centre, however all this with the same values flowing under the different expressive currents.

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