Famous for its summer holiday resorts and the infamous Spring Scream music festival, southern Taiwan’s Kenting 墾丁 (pronounced KenDing) is not just beaches and a noisy pub street. In fact its a great place to escape to almost any time of the year.
By Stuart Hill
More than just a place for high school graduates and university students to get wrecked, Kenting deserves to be enjoyed in several days. It is possible to divide a 4-5 day road trip into several sections. You could spend 1-2 days around Kenting’s “big street” basically eating and drinking, then 1-2 days exploring the national park, then another 1-2 days travelling further up the east coast and inland.
That’s assuming you weren’t tied up with snorkelling, surfing, go-cart driving, swimming, horse riding, archery, and many other kinds of on-and-off land activities. There is even a National Museum of Marine Biology and Taiwan’s oldest national park, Kenting National Park, to visit.
It is even possible to take the pace down a notch and travel around on a bicycle. You can combine that with days spent hiking, exploring the coastline, caves, forests, waterfalls, and other natural phenomenon. While in summer the Taiwan sun and heat will be at their peak, and winter can be windy and grim, yet other times of the year are very pleasant, just not as photogenic as the mid-summer months.
Getting out to various parts of Kenting is fairly easy. Assuming you were transiting via KaoHsiung, you can catch a bus such as the Kenting Express from the High Speed Rail station (look out for their ticket booths at exits 2 and 3) for NT$650 return.
You can also hire a car from one of the rental companies in the HSR station for around NT$2000 per day. The advantage of this is that car pick up and delivery is at the station parking lot. The trip is about 2.5 hours and the roads are pretty good, with many places to stop along the way for food, a coffee, the coastal view, or to buy local produce (such as pineapples, huge onions, mangos or chestnuts) depending on the season.
Most people driving there will follow the Provincial Highway 26 through NanWan and Kenting Big Street, to XiaoWan and then down to Taiwan’s southern most tip before heading north-east to JiaLeShui or back towards KaoHsiung.
If you are interested in a bit of local history, the low-key Sisal Industry Historical Exhibition can be found just off the road into NanWan as you pass the LongLuan Lake on your right. Sisal is a species of Mexican cactus that is used to create rope and was introduced to Kenting around the turn of the 20th Century after recommendation by an American diplomat.
The Japanese built a sisal farm and production plant on the site — first clearing the local forest — and in the process of creating a rope industry also caused extensive pollution due to the huge run-off of cactus residue. Nonetheless, with the invention of artificial fibres like nylon, the sisal industry died out. But you can still gain an understanding of its role in the local economy by the exhibition rooms built on the remnants of the old factory and workers quarters.
While you are there, you may be lucky enough to also get a glimpse of the small family of deer that live in the enclosed land between the sisal site and the road — but you’ll need to be very quiet as they are highly suspicious of humans intruding on their plot of Kenting paradise.
If travelling by bus and you plan to hop around, you’ll find yourself centered around the local city of HengChun, which has a transfer station for the local bus companies, including Kenting Express and Kenting Shuttle Bus. At the bus interchange you can also hire motorbikes — such as the battery-powered “OuDuo” Electric Bike (歐多賣電能車) in 3 sizes at $800, $900, $1000 per day). They have recharge stations at NanWan and LanLiTong.
That HengChun township still has the remnants of its old defensive wall and city gates built around the 1890s, which gives some clues to the history and significance of the area as a local center of commerce. In recent years HengChun was made famous by the move Cave No 7, and you can look for various local sites that featured in the film, including a house just down from the South Gate that you can enter for an admission fee.
The nearby streets make up the city’s traditional eating and market areas, and some effort is being made to renovate the street scape. In addition to several local famous eateries — such as the green bean dessert shop and “no-name” dried noodles restaurant — you can also grab something to drink at the local fruit juice store, or any number of other vendors that are open during the evenings and on weekends, when most tourists bring in the trade.
Heading out from HengChun on the road to JiaLeShui you will pass ChuHuo, a natural gas fissure that burns from several holes in the ground. As you can imagine it is more impressive in the darkness of night, but even during the daytime, the “eternal flame” burning out of the ground has an eerie sensation to it — especially considering you are probably standing on top of a natural gas fissure just below your feet.
JiaLeShui is a local surfing spot that doesn’t just attract the locals. Foreigners have also discovered the regular waves just of the headland. There are several B&Bs run by and catering too surfers, which also have things to eat — assuming the owners/managers aren’t out enjoying the waves. They will come back before dinner, don’t worry.
The JiaLeShui Scenic Region offers a relaxing walk along the beautiful coast — which you can do in around 1.5 hours for the return trip from the parking lot. Open air buses can take you on a narrated tour of the local geographic features — but if you want to walk and you don’t speak Chinese, why not avoid other tourists and just appreciate the area for what it is: a beautiful section of coastline.
Cost of entry to the park (including bus ride) is NT$70 per adult, and NT$50 for your car entry.
For More Information
- Kenting Shuttle Bus: www.ptbus.com.tw
- Kenting Express: www.taiwantrip.com.tw
- Book a Oodo Battery Powered Bike by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kenting National Park on wikipedia
- Check out Off the Beaten Track for ideas about hiking and other outdoor activities in Kenting
- Spring Scream (Kenting) music festival
- For a night or so of stylish living, stay at Hotel de Plus
If you have any great ideas for the ideal Kenting Road Trip, please let me know.