Yuntan and Shuangxi Waterfalls, Swallow Cliff,
and Bat Grotto
Just below the picturesque town of Rueili瑞里 in Chiayi County嘉義縣, lie the Yuntan雲潭 (Cloud Pool) and the Shuangxi雙溪 (Twin River) waterfalls. The beauty of these sights, coupled with the fact that they lie just a few hundred meters walk from the main road, have made them a favorite with tour buses and family visitors alike.
The pathway down to the waterfalls is easy to find, located as it is within a relatively spacious car park and resting area at the side of the road. As you leave the car park, the first waterfall you come to, the Yuntan, is the tallest and also the prettiest of the two. The water here seems to carry a sense of elegance and grandeur. Though I had never witnessed people doing anything like this before, I wasn’t surprised on a previous visit to see people sitting on the rocks and meditating in front of the water. I don’t know if they were contemplating its beauty or drawing on its power, it didn’t seem right to disturb them and ask, but either way it says a lot for the sight’s magnificence.
Despite the popularity of Yuntan, only a handful of visitors follow the path down to the Shuangxi waterfall. It’s a shame because, despite their close proximity, the two waterfalls are really very different. Where Yuntan is elegant, and seems to be in perfect harmony with its surroundings, Shuangxi is a stark and jarring feature. The surfaces of the rocks here are flat, the edges, angular and sharp. They appear to attack the water that thunders down on them, almost as if the two elements were locked in a savage struggle that neither could ever win.
The base of this second waterfall is much larger and flatter, and it is littered with the rocks and boulders that have been washed down after centuries of heavy storms. If you’re anything like me, then you’ll be straight off, jumping over the rocks like some great balding monkey. For the less energetic, it’s great to take a rest on the rocks, slip off your shoes, and dip your feet in the lovely cold water. Neither of these activities would be advisable at the Yuntan waterfall where the rocks tend to be slippery, sometimes dangerously so.
The trail continues past Shuangxi and makes use of a succession of suspension bridges that repeatedly cross the river, and give wonderful views of the valley. The walking path eventually leads to the marvelous Swallow Cliff and Bat Grotto. They are another 2km away though, and on a steep pathway, that might prove too big a round-trip for some. A much easier option would be to go back to your car and drive into Rueili, either to the Rueili Hotel or to the elementary school. From both of these places you can join another, shorter, trail that also leads to Swallow Cliff.
This is one of my favorite things about this area. Not only is it blessed with a number of great things to see, but also in the variety of ways that you can get to these places, there is something for everyone, regardless of their level of fitness.
Bat Grotto is a large rock-face riddled with cavities, apparently the result of ages-old river erosion. Bats used to nest in these holes and, though they’re not around anymore, their former presence does add to the sense of eeriness created by the strangely shaped cavities.
About 20 meters down the road you’ll come to Swallow Cliff, no prizes for guessing what nests here. The best thing about this cliff is that you actually walk underneath it as the entire rock-face hangs over the pathway. The experience is slightly unnerving but also well worth it, especially on a rainy day when water runs down the cliff and creates a curtain of water in front of you.
For more information about any of these sites you should go to Rueili’s excellent Visitor Center. Apart from being an interesting and imaginatively designed building, the people inside are both helpful and knowledgeable.