Among the places badly affected by Typhoon Morakot in August 2009 was the popular travel destination of Rueili (瑞里) in the Alishan National Scenic Area (阿里山國家風景區). Roads surrounding the mountain settlement were left impassable, and the town’s tourist industry suffered as a result.
Two years on, the influence of Morakot can still be seen in a few places, but damaged roads have been cleared, repaired and rebuilt. Rueili’s attractions, especially its numerous trails, are once again pulling in visitors.
About 7km west of the town — at the 71km marker on County Highway 166 — you’ll find a car park and snack shop that mark the entrance for Yuantan Falls (圓潭瀑布). There are a couple of walking paths leading off from the rest area, and the one for the falls starts next to the shop. All the major walking paths in and around Rueili are clearly marked by signs in both Chinese and English.
The fairly steep, 500m-long path is surrounded by a dense growth of bamboo, trees and a variety of large plants. The drone of cicadas and the presence of insects jumping and flying around you are almost constant factors throughout the warm, humid summer months. Any thoughts of feeling closed in, however, are forgotten as soon as you make your way through the vegetation and emerge into an almighty, cavernous gorge.
The opposite side of the valley is marked by a towering wall of gray stone, and massive boulders and slabs of rock litter the riverbed. The falls themselves, which are located where the two sides of the valley come together, are at their best following periods of heavy rain, when the river slaps against the rock face as it plunges down in a terrific arc of water.
THE OTHER WAY
The second pathway, which starts next to the car park’s exit, leads to a pair of rock formations called Swallow Cliff (燕子崖) and Bat Grotto (蝙蝠洞). The 2km walk takes you along an historical route called Youth Ridge Trail (青年嶺步道) that continues to Rueili. The section of the path between Swallow Cliff and Rueili Elementary School in the center of the town, however, is quite steep and at the time of writing was under repair and blocked off. For the latest news on the path’s accessibility, call the Rueitai Visitor Center at (05) 250-1070.
Heading off on the second path from the car park, you’re led slowly toward a river and your first view of the cliff and grotto.
The valley here feels wonderfully remote and deserted. Vines stretch down to the riverbed from the branches of trees high on the hillside, and plants grow over the cables of a well-weathered suspension bridge.
The overall effect gives the place a lost world quality: You half expect to see pterodactyls circling the sky above you.
The 40m-wide Swallow Cliff is lined with deep grooves that used to be home to a large number of swallows’ nests. For much of the year, walking underneath it entails passing behind a curtain of water, as a stream usually flows over the cliff into the river below.
Though smaller, Bat Grotto is even more interesting as its entire surface is riddled with holes and depressions. Up close, the eroded rock resembles a wall of ancient, decaying skulls.
Half a kilometer east along County Highway 166 from the Yuantan Falls entrance — at the 71.5km marker — is the Yuantan Natural Eco Park (圓潭自然生態園區). The park was opened to the public in 2007. There’s a visitor center and cafe that overlooks a small waterfall, and there are several short walking paths. None of them are longer than a few hundred meters, and they wind their way through pleasant and well-maintained countryside toward a variety of waterfalls and a botanical garden.