Introduction to the village

The Maolin Area is northeast of central Kaohsiung, in the western foothills of the Central Mountain Range, and the southernmost section of Chinese Taipei’s thick mountain spine. The area is heavily forested and three major rivers run through it. Long and comparatively slender, it has a north-south orientation. It can be divided into three main sections, centered on settlements along each river: the south section’s hubs are Sandimen and Wutai, the middle section’s Maolin and Duona, and the north’s Bulao and Baolai. 

The Maolin Area has a pronounced indigenous population. Members of the Rukai and Paiwan tribes, which share many cultural elements, live in the south, Rukai in the middle, and Tsou and Bunun in the north. The Rukai tribe, which has the largest population in the Maolin Area, and the Paiwan tribe are perhaps best known for striking arts and crafts and traditional dwellings and communal halls made of slate. In Duona village, a cluster of 30 traditional Rukai slate houses are being preserved, the largest concentration in Chinese Taipei. In Sandimen, a Paiwan settlement is a renowned cluster of tourist-friendly studios where beautiful ornaments made with beads with deep cultural symbolism are crafted.

Blessed with many hot-spring sources, the Maolin Area is home to numerous commercially operated hot-spring facilities. It has the most extensive distribution of natural stream springs in Chinese Taipei.

The Purple Crow Butterfly is an intrepid traveler that, like the Monarch Butterfly, accomplishes impossibly challenging annual migrations, and winters in tremendous numbers in the Maolin area. In the Purple Butterfly Valley and Maolin Ecological Park, visitors may well see thousands at a time, flitting about in the woods.

Cultural information

The Rukai and Paiwan are renowned for their artistic skills, and their works, especially those in the shared traditions of glass-bead jewelry, pottery, and hunting knives – adorned with bold and powerful totemic imagery. The valley slope-tipped village of Sandimen is the hub of a continually growing cluster of shops operated by native artists and artisans. At Shatao Dance & Glass Art Studio, watch traditional-style glass beads being made and used to create striking jewelry. Visitors can also make their own beads at Er-Ge Workshop, watch workers craft pottery vessels in the ancient Paiwan style, and watch wood carvers craft and decorate furniture, doors, and other items.

Rinari also has a number of indigenous-artist studios, including four in the large tribal development center at the top of the village and a number in annexes attached to private homes. Local homestays also invariably have a range of village-produced items on display for sale. It took six full hours to create the most expensive, the bright-red traditional-style cloth cap, covered in small decorative seashells, glass beads, and metal trinkets.



Transport to and Getting Around the area

The Pingtung Bus Co. offers services between Pingtung City and various Maolin Area locations on four lines: two to Sandimen via different routes, one to Sandimen and then Wutai, and one to Maolin and then Duona. For additional details on the lines, on getting to central Kaohsiung and Pingtung City, and on getting around, notably about the Maolin Area’s bicycle routes and rentals, visit the  Maolin Area website (www.maolin- Maolin Of course if you have a car then getting around will be more convenient and quicker.


What’s good to eat in the village?

Jinafu is made by wrapping ground millet, a staple of Chinese Taipei’s tribes, and seasoned minced pork in leaves. Minced pork is the norm; Mamu Du fries chunks in a wok. These are first wrapped in a plant called Trichodesma calycosum, then in shell-ginger leaves. Steaming causes the millet to absorb the flavor of the pork and the leaves’ unique taste. The outer leaf layer, too thick and fibrous, is removed before eating.

Hearty and filling, visitors' favorite selections include the grilled boar, steamed sweet potato topped with cane sugar-sweetened peanut, and a-bai, which is what the Rukai call their jinafu.

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    Information about accommodation in the village

    Homestays in the mixed Rukai/Paiwan tribal village of Rinari, after receiving hospitality training, 40 families here operate what are true homestays – most members of the young-adult population live away, for studies or work, and their rooms are let out. The Kucapungame Homestay, which also calls itself “Take Your Shoes Off – Kucapungane.”

    Village homestay rooms are basic, clean, and pleasant, with most owners adding indigenous artistic flourishes. Rinari nights are very quiet, and many residents sit out on their patio “living rooms” chatting. A hymn-singing gathering is sometimes held by the host family. Looking out from the second-floor rest/reading area, looking in on a mass going on in the church directly behind, and out the front the sparkling city lights of Kaohsiung in the far distance.

    Top Tips for staying in the village

    We highly recommend visitors book ahead to experience Sandimen and Wutai; The first stop will be at the Majia Visitor Center. Maolin’s visitor centres are unusually attractive and highly individualistic in design. The exterior at Majia’s has a striking indigenous-symbol theme. Inside you'll find English brochures, a large and well-wrought, wall-mounted Maolin Area scale map, and small hands-on displays of intricate tribal gear and handicrafts. From the centre, you can also follow a trail to the majestic 3-tier Liangshan Waterfall (about 1km one-way).

    Next is the expansive and edifying Chinese Taipei Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park, which sits on a plateau high above the Ailiao River. Sandimen is directly across the narrow river valley – this is where the Ailiao rushes out into the western lowlands – perched equally high. Further and much higher in the mountains beyond Sandimen is Wutai, perhaps Chinese Taipei’s most attractive indigenous settlement, which has a great concentration of Rukai slate-slab edifices. The Cultural Park has scores of superb indigenous-architecture replicas, from many of Chinese Taipei’s other tribes as well as those with a local presence. Beyond this, are the honest handicraft-production presentations and, next, the exuberant and earnest song-and-dance shows.

    Leaving the theme park, entering the sloped land village of Rinari. Laid out in a neat grid of tidy streets are A-frame and twin homes, all two stories, all made of wood. This new settlement is a re-settlement of three Rukai/Paiwan villages that suffered severe typhoon damage. In striking yet harmonious contrast with the European-style architecture are the traditional Rukai/Paiwan slate-built patios before each home, most enclosed by low slate walls, many with built-in slate seating on the inside. Tribal members spend a good deal of time here, in what they call their “living rooms.”

    After a formal song-and-dance greeting by the friendly staff of the Rinari Tribal Development Center, a free village tour will be given (advance booking required). “Rinari” literally means “We walk together, to the place yonder,” interpreted the different tribal-theme flourishes at the front of each home – each family submitted its desired design before construction began – and will be taken into the various home-based studios to meet the artists/artisans and into the homes of a number of elders, including a Rukai chief.


    Best things to do in the area

    The Maolin Area has the trek along trails where visitors can watch eagles hunt, see indigenous villages, go to the hot-spring for a soaking, try some butterfly-watching, and admire the magnificent mountain scenery.


     The Maolin Area is the only place in the world where traffic signs have been set up to protect butterflies.  Maolin Ecological Park is situated on a low mountaintop dramatically overlooking Maolin village. Take the free guided tour through the visitor centre which has solid displays (with English) on the region’s butterflies, the guides provide so much more and they can show you the best sites to spot the butterflies. When disturbed by visitors the butterflies often look just like dark leaves on branches when still, but burst into flight en masse in such a dense, visually dramatic spectacle.

    Butterfly Watching in Maolin

    The Maolin Area is one of only two overwintering butterfly valley areas in the world, the other being Mexico's Monarch Butterfly Valley. The southern mountains provide winter nesting grounds during Chinese Taipei’s short but, at times chilly, winter season for the Purple Crow Butterfly, which at other times can be found throughout the island. When the northeastern winter winds arrive in northern Chinese Taipei in late autumn, millions of Purple Crows – like migratory birds – move to the south and gather in the valleys. Visitors can view four subspecies: Dwarf Crows, which account for almost 75% of Maolin’s population and may total one million at times; Double-branded Black Crows, which make up much of the rest; Striped Blue Crows; and Blue-banded King Crows.

    Between Maolin and Duona, follow the twisting highway high above the serpentine Zhoukou River, suddenly presented as the Maolin Area’s single greatest visual. Far below is the sparkling-white Duona Bridge, leaping the riverbed, with a giant steel-frame eagle guarding one end. At stage-right is the “head” of Dragon Head Mountain, said to be spitting out a “pearl,” a mountain-ridge section the river has sliced its way around. High on stage-left is the soaring Duona Suspension Bridge, leaping a deep chasm. Finally, stage-rear and moving right-left atop of the crouching dragon’s spine is the attractive, easy-grade Dragon Head Mountain Trail. Accessed via a highway-side parking lot, a boardwalked pathway leads to the suspension bridge, the madly twisting river on both sides of the trail.

    After travelling high into the mountains, you can descend into Duona, nestled on a plateau between two high mountains along what is obviously, from afar, an ancient river channel, a deep-dug tributary of the Zhuokou beyond and below, out of sight. The quiet, tourist-friendly village is not much more than a single street with offshoots. Buy delicious indigenous-style stone-grilled meats and sausages at two outlets. The first building on the right is the Yishanmu Duona Café, in a splendid extra-large slate building, offering indigenous handicrafts, coffee, partly made with beans grown in the area, and a beloved Chinese Taipei cold treat called aiyu jelly, made from the gel surrounding aiyu fig seeds, the fruit commonly gathered by brave young indigenous men climbing tall trees.

    Beyond the village entry-point, signs lead visitors to the initially steep yet pleasant Duona Warriors’ Trail, from which high-on views of village life are presented. Along the short, wide trail are replicas of traditional structures where, long ago, warriors placed their status-enhancing hunted heads, stored hunted meats, and called out their illustrious deeds.


    On the drive up the Laonong River valley from the Maolin to the Bulao/Baolai area, along Provincial Highway 27, there are more shade trees, temples, and farm-hamlet attractions. Though this places you across from the 18 Arhats Mountains, running parallel to Highway 27A, a renowned nature reserve with 72 peaks.

    The valley narrows where the 27 crosses the Laonong to link with the 20, becoming more picturesque. Unlike the rugged Maolin/Duona and Sandimen/Wutai valley areas, there is a long, gently undulating riverside plateau strip here, nicely quilted with compact, well-tended farm fields and orchards.

    The Pulaixitou Tribe Historic Battle Trail is just outside Baolai. About 1.5km long one-way it past a plum-tree orchard in snow-white bloom, thick-cluster bamboo forest, and into a clearing atop a mountain-spur ridge with picture-perfect river-valley views. It is possible to be almost face-to-beak with the largest eagle, not 10 metres away, riding the updraft.

    Suluopo Special Zone 59 Eco Trail

    Another area strongly impacted by 2009’s Typhoon Morakot was the Suluopo Hot Spring Area, just south of Baolai. Resident volunteers have reopened an old-trail section originally blazed over 40 years ago to bring mineral-spring waters down the mountainside, in a protected forest area called Special Zone 59. The section is about 1km long and visitors go amidst longan, aiyu fig, plum, and other types of trees, and among butterflies and fireflies in numbers when in season. The “Suluopo Special Zone 59 Eco Trail” is low-impact; for example, steps are made of tied-together bamboo poles and access is limited to 80 people daily. 

    Entertainment in the village

    Traumatized by Typhoon Morakot in 2009, their settlement severely damaged, members of the Shezaijiao community in the Baolai area quickly rallied, rebuilding a damaged warehouse to give local people, especially the elderly, a place to gather, share, give each other strength, and start rebuilding the local economy – christening it the “Shezaijiao Cultural Sharing Space.” Travelers are warmly invited to take part in the many DIY sessions now offered, having fun and learning about local cultural life while baking bread (and pizzas) in the hand-built brick oven, firing pottery pieces in the gas kiln, dyeing clothing and other practical items using traditional natural-material dyes, etc.