Rice (Oryza sativa) is one of the world’s most important food crops, and is comprised largely of japonica and indica subspecies. Here, we reconstruct the history of rice dispersal in Asia using whole-genome sequences of more than 1,400 landraces, coupled with geographic, environmental, archaeobotanical and paleoclimate data. Originating around 9,000 yr ago in the Yangtze Valley, rice diversified into temperate and tropical japonica rice during a global cooling event about 4,200 yr ago. Soon after, tropical japonica rice reached Southeast Asia, where it rapidly diversified, starting about 2,500 yr bp. The history of indica rice dispersal appears more complicated, moving into China around 2,000 yr bp. We also identify extrinsic factors that influence genome diversity, with temperature being a leading abiotic factor. Reconstructing the dispersal history of rice and its climatic correlates may help identify genetic adaptations associated with the spread of a key domesticated species.