Bali's pricey villas, with rice fields attached

Not long ago, the developers of villas in Bali would pressure rice farmers living nearby to accept long-term land leases so that tourists could have undisturbed peace.

These days, though, more farmers are staying put - at the developers' request.

Today's tourists prefer to pay high prices for rustic charm.

Indeed, a two-bedroom villa with rice paddy fields on one side and a lawn where buffaloes graze on the other now goes for at least 15 million rupiah (S$1,950) a month, or at least one million rupiah a night, compared to only 500,000 rupiah a month in the past.

Such prices are increasingly common in Bali as other popular spots on the resort island, like the beaches at Kuta and Legian, fill up quickly and tourists search for quieter alternatives.

Areas such as Seminyak, Kerobokan and Canggu, which have beautiful beachfront areas mixed with lush farmland, are increasingly popular.

"Foreign tourists love the village feel here," said Mr Anak Agung Kris, 43, an architect. "It is near the beaches and not too far from the crowd centres. It's like everything in one basket."

The surge in construction in these areas is testament to their growing popularity.

Developers are not only building stand-alone villas, but also townhouse-like complexes consisting of 10 to 25 units of villas with price tags of at least four billion rupiah each.

For instance, a barely finished, 7,200 sq m villa townhouse called the Premium Club Residence in Canggu has 18 units with prices ranging from four billion rupiah to 5.5 billion rupiah.

But the hefty prices have not deterred investor interest in these villas.

On the contrary, the Premium Club Residence, which has a view of a rice paddy field and is five minutes from the nearest beach, had only a few units left for sale when The Sunday Times contacted the developer's office recently.

"It's a good investment. Tourists get a private swimming pool and pay a similar rate to that of a hotel," said Makassar resident Rudy Syamsuddin, who three months ago bought a new villa in Umalas village in Kerobokan.

"Demand is high as villas are more attractive."

The tourists seem to agree.

"Bali is big. There are many choices. This quiet area is one good choice," said a tourist from China who visited Bali with his wife and toddler, and stayed for several days at the Bali Merita Villa in Umalas village.

Such high demand has fuelled the soaring price of land here.

In Canggu, for instance, land sold for 150 million rupiah per 100 sq m five years ago, according to Mr Agung.

Prices have soared since then, from 450 million rupiah per 100 sq m two years ago to 750 million rupiah today.

Beachfront property now goes for as much as 1.3 billion rupiah to 1.8 billion rupiah per 100 sq m. The farmers are not complaining, however.

They are earning triple the income from their land - which brings them rental fees from villa developers, monthly pay for farming and profits from the sale of the harvested crops.

"These farmers feel lucky and think they benefit so much from such transactions," said Mr Agung. "But the real truth is that the investors are the ones who benefit the most."

Mr Agung Made Sukodanau, a farmer in his 40s, is quick to pour water on that view, however.

He said that the property tax on his farmland in Kerobokan is so high that he struggles to make a profit from selling the harvested rice.

"So, this rent business is a way out for us," he said.