Shuanglong Community: Bunun culture and waterfall and river adventures

By Cheryl Robbins

The Shuanglong Community is an indigenous Bunun community, nestled in the mountains of Xinyi Township of Nantou County in central Taiwan, along the raging Zhuoshui River. Its residents officially number more than 800, but only about 400 live here full time. As in most indigenous communities of Taiwan, the young people have moved to urban areas in search of study and work opportunities.


This community can trace its history to the Japanese occupation era (1895-1945). During that time, members of the Bunun tribe from different areas high in the mountains were forced to move here, an area of much lower elevation, to better control their movements and prevent rebellions. 


This community is located along mountain slope and features steep stairways and narrow, winding roads. Along one of these roads is the Da Ma Lao Weng Guesthouse. It is newly constructed, and provides simple, clean accommodation to eco-tourists. As such, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels are not provided. But, although not luxurious, one of the reasons to stay here is that its owner, Lao, is a community guide.

From his guesthouse, he takes visitors on a tour of the community, stopping at its many murals to explain the depicted tribal legends and the lifestyles of Bunun past and present. As we approach the entrance to a trail that leads to the Shuanglong Waterfall, near the community's Catholic Church, his son takes over. The first part of the trail follows an irrigation canal built during the Japanese occupation era that is still operating. It is flat in some places and quite steep in others. After about 45 minutes, you come to a plateau from where you can see the waterfall in the distance and a long suspension bridge. This bridge is the easy way, if you are not afraid of heights, to reach the waterfall, but is only for maintenance crews and not open to the general public. To get closer to the waterfall, it is necessary to continue your hike up more than 1,000 steps. 


By this time, you are sure to have worked up an appetite. Dinner is provided with advance reservation through Lao's guesthouse, and held in a spacious cultural plaza. But, before eating, there is still a bit more work to do, and that is to make your own bamboo cup and set of chopsticks. This is truly an excursion for the eco-tourist. Dishes include locally produced corn, pumpkin, and vegetables, as well as roasted chicken, fresh steamed fish and gathered wild greens. After the meal, visitors can try on Bunun clothing and take photographs. Lao then performs a traditional rite of blessing to inform the ancestral spirits that visitors have arrived. Between the months of April and July, this can be followed up with a nighttime walk to view fireflies.


Lao prefers two-day itineraries, so there is still more to be seen the next morning. For example, it is possible to visit the Zhuoshui River. The river’s currents are quite strong year-round, so it is not recommended for swimming. However, there is an area where river tracing can be carried out in the warmer months. For those looking for something less physically taxing, Lao can take you to an area above a bend in the river, which is not only beautiful, but also prevents mud, in case of slides in heavy rain, from affecting the downstream populated areas. You can also walk along the Hei Hei Gu (Black Gorge) suspension bridge and the adjacent rocky bank of the river. Women once came here to bury cloth in the mud, dyeing it black, from where this gorge gets its name.


In a more mountainous area of the community, residents grow tea, vegetables and taro root, much of it organically. On a clear day, it is possible to see to Sun Moon Lake. But, it is best to do this in the morning. By afternoon, there is usually cloud and mist surrounding the peaks.


From this description, it should be clear that the Shuanglong Community has a lot to offer in terms of ecotourism and cultural tourism opportunities, and a visit here can be combined with an in-depth exploration of Sun Moon Lake and other areas of Nantou County.