Top 10 Destinations
For Rice Terrace Travel

Top 10 Destinations <br />For Rice Terrace Travel

After thousands of years of hindsight it seems maybe rice wasn’t the best choice for humanity’s most popular food staple. Yes, it tastes great with sushi. But growing rice is very water and labor intensive. And it requires a flat field that farmers can flood during the planting season.

Rice is particularly labor intensive in hilly areas where farmers must create their flat field by carving floodable terraces into hillsides. We find even a single terrace impressive when we contemplate all the work involved, work usually done by hand. The sight of multiple rice terraces, stacked atop each other as if to form a giant’s staircase, is truly awe inspiring.

Spot Cool Stuff has been a longtime fan of rice terraces. We once flew round trip between San Francisco and the Philippines specifically to spend a single day in Banaue, supposedly the site world’s most grand rice terraces. Supposedly. After nearly two decades of rice terrace travel we’ve formed our own opinion on such matters. Here’s our list of the top 10 rice terrace destinations:

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#1 Nepal

Travelers can see rice terraces are petty much everyplace in Nepal that’s rural, mountainous and below the snow line. Which is to say that travelers can see rice terraces are pretty much everyplace in Nepal. It is the sheer quantity of rice terraces here, as well as spectacular mountain settings in which they are found, that makes the Himalayan country our top rice terrace destination.

If your trip to Nepal is confined to the Kathmandu Valley, there are wonderful rice terrace views from the village of Nargarkot on the valley’s rim. (Spend the night there at the End Of The Universe Resort, run by long time friends of Spot Cool Stuff). From Kathmandu’s popular Thamel district your closest rice terrace views are to be found a 20-minute bicycle ride north along the road to Beklot. However, to experience the full majesty of Nepal’s rice terraces you’ll have to strap on hiking boots and walk; the treks in the Annapurna Sanctuary region is the height (literally and figuratively) of rice terrace travel.

Best time to see the terraces: late August through early October and mid-February through April

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#2 Guangxi & Yunnan Provinces, China

Modernization is encroaching upon China’s incredible rice terraces. Go and see them while you can! For the moment, pockets of rice terraces still dot the hilly areas of southern China, from Shanghai to Tibet.

There are two rice terraces destinations in China of special note:

The first is the spectacular Longji terraces near the villages of Ping and Jinkerg in northeastern Guangxi Province. Transportation to the region is by uncomfortable bus—it’s a two hour ride from the butt ugly town of Longsheng, which is itself 12 hours from Shenzhen—but the journey is worth it. Old China is here. Farmers tend to their fields here in much the same way they did when the terraces were built during the Yuan Dynasty 800 years ago.

The second destination of note is the Yuanyang terraces farmed by the Hami tribal people. The terrace views here are the earth’s most expansive—stand on a hilltop and you may get 360 degree views of rice terraces. The main tourist center (such as it is, this place sees little tourism) is the scruffy town of Xinjiezhen about three hours south of Kumming.

Best time to see the terraces: For Longji, go anytime except the snowy and cold December through March period. For Yuanyang, November until mid-April is best.

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#3 Banaue, Philippines

Quiz question: What’s the only country in the world with a depiction of rice terraces on its currency?

The answer: the Philippines. There’s no other nation is as proud of its rice terraces. The terraces in the vicinity of the town of Banaue, a rough 10-hour bus ride north of Manila, are thought by many Filipinos to be the Eighth Wonder of the World.

The Banaue terraces were constructed by the indigenous Batad people over 2,000 years ago. Way back then this region was cut off from the rest of the world. But the time has long since past when farming this rough land was practical. For most of the last century, the Banaue terraces were in a state of disuse.

That changed in 1995 when the Banaue terraces received designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and got the money and attention to match. Since then concerted efforts have been made to reconstruct the terraces. The Philippine government subsidizes the locals who farm the terraces and that, combined with tourism, has brought new life to the region.

If you visit these terraces don’t confine yourself to Banaue, as many travelers do. Instead, take a bus or taxi 30 minutes out of town and then hike the three hours to Bangaan. This tiny dwelling is at the base of a hill completely covered in rice terraces; from top to bottom the Bangaan terraces are over 1000 meters (3,200 feet) high, or nearly twice the height of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. The accommodations around Bangaan are simple. The views are amazing.

Best time to see the terraces: December through May (which is outside of the monsoon season).

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#4 Bali, Indonesia

While most tourists come to Bali for its beaches, the hilly middle of this tropical island offers some of the world’s best rice terrace travel. The foliage is thick in these parts and the hills aren’t especially large or steep. So, you don’t get the expansive rice terrace vistas in Bali that you do in Yunnan or even in the Philippines. However, Bali’s lush terraces have a quality no others can match—they smell really good. We aren’t sure what the source of their sweet scent is; perhaps it isn’t the rice at all but the cinnamon, cloves and other spices grown in these same hills. Regardless, walking amongst the rice terraces of Bali is a feast for the senses.

Best time to see the terraces: late November to early April

Where to stay: The lovely Alila Ubud is set atop a green hill; the resort’s infinity pool is perched above a rice terrace.

Mostly random musical note: The line in the Sting song Fields of Gold is about fields of barley and not, as is commonly thought, fields of Bali. Nevertheless, when looking out upon the rice terraces of Bali it is impossible to not to think that’s the scene String had in mind:

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The Alila Ubud:
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#5 Machu Pichu & Peru

The Incas were among the world’s first people to farm on terraces, though most of these terraces were used to grow potatoes, not rice. In Asia farmers constructed their terraces with walls of dried mud. The Incas, however, used stone. As a result the rice terraces in Peru have a distinctly sculpted look (check out the photos) and have withstood time’s erosion exceptionally well. There are Inca farming terraces scattered around the hills of Peru but the best, easiest and most popular way to see them is by hiking the Inca Trail and visiting the famed historical sanctuary of Machu Pichu.

Best time to see the terraces: anytime, especially September through February

Where to stay: There are several accommodations options in the town of Aqua Calientes, about 30 minutes from Machu Pichu. But there is only one option on the grounds of the Inca’s ruins, The Machu Pichu Sanctuary Lodge, and so staying there is the only way to see Machu Pichu at night. The chance to stand alone in such an ancient and powerful spot is worth the Sanctuary Lodge’s otherwise exorbitant room rates.

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#6-10

The bottom half of our list:

#7 Bhutan. Really, the rice terraces here are every bit as spectacular as they are in Nepal, they just aren’t as extensive and Bhutan is a must more expensive country to travel to.

#6 India. There are wonderful rice terraces in India’s Himalayan areas, especially Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. You’ll find some among the hill station areas of Tamil Nadu too.

#8 Eastern Africa, in the hills of Rwanda and Burundi and around Lake Bunyoni in Uganda.

#9 Northern Vietnam & Laos, especially in the hill tribe areas around Sapa, Vietnam; Northern Laos might be the best place to see rice terraces by boat.

#10 Morocco, in the Atlas Mountains.

A few of the other places with rice terraces include Iran and the northern areas of Iraq (indeed, the Gardens Of Babylon were built upon terraces), Chile, Mexico, Fiji, Korea and Japan, Yemen, Madagascar, Swaziland, Sri Lanka (although tea plantations have taken over most of the terraces) and the hilly rural areas of Southeast Asia not mentioned above.

We do not know of rice terraces in the United States or Europe but perhaps you do. Or maybe you have your own thoughts on the best rice terrace destinations. For you, the comments section awaits . . . .

updated: 7 Apr 2011
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Responses

  1. Marah Howles says:

    The Rice Terraces are definitely cool spots! You have fantastic pics there, and Bali captivates my eyes. So love to visit see the place!

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Anna4 says:

    I have been to Longji Rice terraces before, really beautiful with some unique local custom and wooden houses. The Yuanyang rice terraces is a little bit away from big city, and transfer is not so convenient. Here are some photos.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Civ Eruas says:

    I think you should revise your ranking. If you were referring for the BEST terraces to visit in the world. I would say that the Banaue Terraces in the Philippines beat all the terraces in your list. because aside from it’s the longest,, it’s also the oldest.. built by the natives of that land 2,000 years ago.. and if you were going to stretch that from end-to-end… it will reach half way of the world… It’s not just the beauty, but also the history.
    Civ Eruas recently posted..WORLD NEWS: South Korea and Japan face off over disputed islandsMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Daniel McBane says:


    Twitter:
    These pictures of the dragon terraces in Guangxi are much nicer than mine. I never visited the one near Kathmandu when I was in Nepal, but I saw some amazing terraced rice paddies along the Annapurna Circuit Trek.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..Who Says Trekking in Nepal Has to Involve Lots of Walking?My Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. robert says:

    These gigantic terraces in various countries all over the world amazed me! Why? My mind boggling question is how did those ancient people communicated with each other to create these wonders of nature with no airplanes, no google earth, no advance TV or forms of satellite communications to spy on each other yet they are thousand miles/kilometers away with each other? Who gave them the wisdom that guided them to build these? Do you think there maybe some help they received from outer space such as space aliens who disseminated the informations to them to create and build these?

    I appreciate an accurate answer to this puzzling question.

    robert

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Cheri says:

    Thank you for the extensive list of places. Your pictures are some of the best!
    I ran into terraces in the US- in Georgia! Here’s the web address:

    http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2011/12/massive-1100-year-old-maya-site.html

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. Tran says:

    Hi, I see you’ve mentioned the impressive rice terraces in Vietnam are aroud Sapa. But infact, the best one is Mu cang Chai (300km north of Ha Noi).
    If you love rice terraces, don’t ignore Mu Cang Chai. It’s much more beautiful than the ones around sapa and really worth visiting.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Spot Cool Travel Stuff Reply:

    Thanks, Tran. We haven’t been to Mu Cang Chai, but now will make sure we get there on our next Vietnam trip.

    ~ SCS

    [Reply to this comment]

    Binh Bui Reply:

    @Spot Cool Travel Stuff:
    Pls be sure that you are here in the best season. My recommend are round 15-Sep for the ripening rice and around 15-05 for the high tide.
    BRs.

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. titus says:

    Nice pics. I saw the rice terraces of Sagada in Mt Province. Hope to see the famous rice terraces of Banaue next.
    titus recently posted..Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House: Cebu’s Living MonumentMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. Amandha Madeira says:

    Sou do Brasil e estou fascinada com a beleza de Bali na Indonésia, muito lindo.

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. Route 69 says:

    I like Nepal coz it was really awesome for me ………… and i like the most of Nepal….

    [Reply to this comment]

  11. Dolraj Paudyal says:


    Twitter:
    This is interesting. I am from farmer family background in the hills. So cool to know other details and technology suitable to hill terrace farming.

    [Reply to this comment]

  12. JOhn says:


    Twitter:
    Just came back from Annapurna Sanctuary trek (Nepal) and the rice field around Ghandruk is great. Fishtail mountain in the sky and yellow rice plant on the land. Just Beautiful.

    A must visit place.

    [Reply to this comment]

  13. vishnu says:

    how those people were arrange irrigation for the terraces!!!?

    [Reply to this comment]

  14. messi says:

    funny but you managed to choose the best pics for your top 2 pics while posting overexposed, poorly angled shots for the banaue terraces. these have got to be the ugliest pictures of the banaue terraces i’ve seen from any website.

    it also appears that the site’s best criteria is travel distance to the terraces. how lousy. but i understand, this is just the opinion of the site’s operators, and doesn’t weigh as much as what UNESCO thinks about the terraces in banaue.

    [Reply to this comment]

  15. binotangson says:

    banawe rice terraces in the philippines is the greatest

    [Reply to this comment]

  16. shiroi neko says:

    yes there are wonderful rice terraces in India’s Himalayan areas, especially Sikkim and himachal pradesh. and really i never ever seen such type of rice terrace. really these pics are amazing and relly these are appreciating work. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information .

    [Reply to this comment]

  17. Spot Cool Travel Stuff says:

    Hi Cris,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    You asked some good questions. Most I don’t really know the answers to.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in rice terrace areas and have only rarely seen new ones be built. Those that I have seen being constructed have been expansions of an existing terrace network rather than a whole new hill being converted. For the most part, I think, every hill on which some one may want a rice terrace already has one. If there’s a place in the world where the number of terraces is significantly increasing I don’t know about it.

    In fact, I strongly suspect the number of rice terraces on planet Earth is decreasing (especially in China). You alluded to why. The work required to maintain a dirt terrace is huge and labor-intensive and increasingly makes no economic sense. Between plantings the irrigation pathways and walls have to be strengthened. I’ve seen people beating down the earth of the wall with a flat paddle, hour after hour, to pack it down it.

    I also don’t know (and, I admit, have even thought about) whether they started building from the top of the hill and worked down or vice-versa. Though on some hills it is obvious: if the terraces are on a hill above a large cliff they obviously had to start at the top.

    If you look carefully at a hill full of rice terraces (even in some of the photos above) you’ll see that occasionally a terrace is really out of place with the others. Eg. there might be a terrace that is only a half meter wide among a whole group that are 3 meters wide. This may suggest that people started building terraces at various points and these abnormal terraces are where the groups met up. I’m only guessing here — I don’t know.

    I do know what happened to all the extra soil. The answer is: there isn’t any. Some of the soil carved out of the hill goes towards strengthening the walls and building the walk ways. But most goes towards building the terraces themselves.

    I drew a really, really, really bad sketch with pen and paper to illustrate this. (Apologies–I am no artist). The badly-drawn blue line represents an original hill. The badly-drawn black one is the rice terrace. As you can see (or could see with a proper drawing) parts of the terraces are above the original hill, parts are below. The volume of dirt making up the hill is about the same.

    If you are really interested in rice terraces Banaue (Philippines, #3 above) is the place to go. In many places, like Nepal and India, rice terraces are a fact of life people ignore and non-farmers know nothing about. In Banaue they are a huge source of pride and there are all sorts of day tours you can take where you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about rice terraces.

    [Reply to this comment]

  18. cris inte says:


    Twitter:
    your site is amazing in the quality its pictorial value as well as being quite informative. thank you for sharing it. i have a question that has been nagging me for years. How exactly were these terraces made?. did the makers do it from the top of the hills and go downwards or start at the bottoms and move upwards terrace by terrace? what did they do with the extra soil along the way? how did they maintain such exquisite, contour hugging walls lining the terraces? did you see an actual set of terraces being constructed? thanks.

    [Reply to this comment]

  19. Keith Jenkins says:


    Twitter:
    Wow, awesome pics. I have another tip for you to see a very unique type of rice terrace. The spider web rice terraces in Sulawesi, Indonesia. I’ll tweet you a pic.

    Cheers,
    Keith

    [Reply to this comment]

  20. Malachiter says:

    Bali is calling. You say best time for rice terrace viewing is November – April. Within that window, which is the month when the rice is the brightest green, as in the first picture?

    Many thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

  21. Brian says:

    Longsheng China, does have interesting terraces. However, practically in any direction nearby equally stunning scenery can be found. Head to one of the Dong villages such as Zhaoxing.

    [Reply to this comment]

  22. andre says:

    thats so cool. i like the philippines the best. now im doing a science project about it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  23. Jenn says:

    Amazing. How did I live this long without knowing about rice terraces? When do we leave, Spot?

    [Reply to this comment]

  24. Cate says:


    Twitter:
    China has some incredible paddy fields. I spent 1 week travelling north from the Burmese border to Shangrila amongst all these terraced paddies.
    These shots are fabulous. Thanks for the trip.Being in Korea, I think I’ll eat rice tonight.

    Cate’s last blog post..Trails of a different variety

    [Reply to this comment]

  25. Belinda says:

    WOW! This is an incredible overview. You should rename this website Spot Cool Rice Terraces.

    [Reply to this comment]

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