Taiwan: Hiking around Rueili (November 2016)

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In November 2016 I went hiking in the region around Rueili, during a longer trip to Taiwan. Rueili is a tiny village in Chiayi County, 41km east of Chiayi city. At an elevation of 1100m and surrounded by even higher mountains, the village lives mostly on tea plantations, but also on producing betel nuts and coffee beans. It is not far from the better-known, but also much more touristy Alishan Recreation Area. Rueili is a very quiet place in a beautiful setting. The area has excellent hiking trails.

 

Local map. In red: Rueili-Fenchihu trail. In Green: Trail to Longgong waterfall. In gray: Rueili-Taihe trail.

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Small old-fashion shrine along the road soon before arriving in Rueili (coming from Chiayi).

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Views of Rueili.

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Tea plantations around Rueili.

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Harvesting tea leaves.

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Plantation of betel trees (areca palm).

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Plantation mixing betel and coffee trees.

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The Rueili-Fenchihu trail (see path in red in the map above) is an ancient trail that connects Rueili to Fenchihu, another small village on the railway connecting Chiayi to Alishan. This trail was originally created to facilitate trade and agricultural operations. The trail is 6.2 km long and has an elevation ranging between 1100m (Rueili) and 1600m, with Fenchihu being at about 1400m. It traverses superb bamboo forests. As there is no easy transportation from Fenchihu back to Rueili, it typically has to be hiked back (12.4km round-trip).

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In some places the bamboo forest looks like a battlefield, due to recent typhoons.

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In the afternoon clouds are descending over the highest sections of the trail.

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Tiny village of Taihe surrounded by high cliffs seen from the Rueili-Fenchihu trail.

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The village of Fenchihu at the end of the trail is a station on the railway connecting Chiayi to Alishan. This narrow-gauge railway was built during the first quarter of the 20th century under the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Its main purpose was then to carry timber out of the mountains to the west coast. Today, it is used by tourists visiting the Alishan Forest Recreation Area (although an even greater number of tourists use tour buses). The current 71km-long railway begins at 30m in Chiayi and ends at 2216m in Alishan, after passing 49 tunnels.

 

Old locomotive formerly used on the railway, on display in the Fenchihu‛s station.

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Reproduction of the uphill spiral route of the railway between Jhangnaoliao station (543m in elevation, 23.3.km from Chiayi station) and Dulishan station (743m, 4.1km from Jhangnaoliao station) on display in the Fenchihu‛s station. This section of the railway includes 8 tunnels.

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In the main street of Fenchihu. As several bus tours make short stops in Fenchihu on their way to or back from Alishan, tourists often outnumber local people.

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Wasabi roots, wasabi peanuts (top-left of first photo) and wasabi sauces for sale. The area is one of the few places in Taiwan where one can buy fresh wasabi roots.

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The trail from Rueili to Longgong waterfall (path in green in the map above) is very different from the Rueili-Fenchihu trail. Its elevation is lower, ranging between 1100m at Rueili and 650m at the waterfall, and the vegetation is more tropical with a wide variety of great flowers. However, due to lack of transportation, like the Rueili-Fenchihu trail, it must be hiked back.

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Longgong (″Dragon Palace″) waterfall.

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