May 30, 2010
Going South: Kenting

I've lost count of the number of times I've been told, "Must have nice beaches where you are." The confusion being Taiwan sounds like another country in the general area more associated with beautiful beaches. And while Taiwan does not have the huge array of beach options of the other place, there are, however, some options.

The most famous beach destination in Taiwan is without doubt Kenting. Situated on the southern tip of Taiwan in Pingtung County, Kenting has grown from a sleepy seaside village to the popular destination it is today.

Kenting was always centred around the main drag, and it still is. You can still walk from end to end in less than twenty minutes and many of the hotels that were there from years gone by are still there, albeit with glittering new facias and fancy lobbies.

Kenting is expanding though, and every time I visit there are new "resort" hotels, such as the Howard Plaza. Thankfully these large complexes haven't usurped the older family run hotels, where you can get a clean room with aircon for NT$600 a night off-peak.

A newer trend in recent years has been the rise of "homestays", more akin to bed and breakfasts in the West. Many of these homestays however are purpose built, and come in a dazzling variety of colors and styles. For example a split level floor of a house that can sleep six, with a small front garden, large living room, and even a bar. Not always the cheapest option as you might expect (I think the small family run hotels still offer the best value), but they can be fun if you have a group.

The main drag is where most of the restaurants, pubs and shops are located, so when you book your accommodation, take this into account. We stayed in the aforementioned homestay which was great fun (and did I mention there was a small beach across the road), but without transportation you are at the whim of the taxi firms who appear to set rates according to head count and the direction of the wind.

I should mention another area that seems to be growing every time I visit, Nanwan or South Bay. It's a few kilometers outside of the main drag, but there is a nice beach and enough restaurants that you should be able to get by.

The beaches themselves are reasonable, although erosion has been a problem, and there are dangerously strong currents (at least according to the warning signs) in the waters around the beaches. A lot of the beach front has been swallowed by the large resort hotels as well, although they don't really seem to enforce a guests only policy on the beach. Regardless there are limitations to the water activities so do take note of the signs.

Apart from the beaches, there is actually quite a lot to do and see in the area. Again transport will be a big help, and you can rent scooters (at your own risk) and even four-wheeled transportation in Kenting (bring an international license).

One place that I do recommend (especially if you are bringing children) is the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium (http://www.nmmba.gov.tw/english/index.aspx). It's well-organized, well air-conditioned (the penguin hall is heaven in the summer), everything is bilingual, and adults seem to enjoy it as much as the kids. The walk through reef display replete with genuine wreck is excellent. The two belugas are breathtaking and the whale shark equally so. There is also an interesting area devoted to "Taiwan waters" if you'd like to learn more about the waters in and around the country.

There are a couple of areas outside where the kids (and I guess adults) can play in water alongside life-size models of whales. You can also grab lunch at one of the three restaurants I noticed, or grab a coffee at yet another branch of a very well-known coffee chain.

It's a little pricey at NT$450 for adults and NT$150 for children, but it's well-worth visiting, especially if it's raining. You should be able to get a bus ride out from any hotel in the area.

I'll write about the other things to do in the area in separate posts, but with the beach and aquarium alone you can spend a fun weekend.

Getting to Kenting has never been easier with the High Speed Rail. You can zoom from Taipei to Zuoying (a part of Kaohsiung) in about an hour and a half, then the bus to Kenting takes about 2.5 hours. Even if the beaches aren't as spectacular as countries in  South East Asia, you can relax in Kenting and appreciate the more relaxed side of Taiwan that is otherwise somewhat difficult to experience.


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