Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kenting travel guide

Kenting: Taiwan’s seaside getaway

By Jonathan Adams

(a version of this appeared in the October 2008 issue of Silk Road, Dragonair's inflight magazine)

As Taiwan’s prime seaside resort, Kenting's beaches loom large in the island’s imagination. But Kenting's nearby forest recreation areas are overlooked gems, rich with wildlife and stunning views.

“Kenting” actually refers to the entire 18,000-hectare Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan. The area combines beach relaxation and nighttime fun with raised coral forests, windswept grasslands, rugged rocky coastline and one of Asia’s top bird sanctuaries.

April through November is most suitable for tourism. The peak season for Taiwanese is July and August, but locals say early fall is the best time for a visit – it’s usually still warm enough to swim then, but without the intense heat and crowds of summer.

Most of the top resorts are clustered on the main coastal road near Little Bay (小灣). That and South Bay (南灣) are the most popular beaches, with swimming areas, jet ski rentals and other water activities. Little Bay is also the place to arrange scuba, boating, and other activities, try an agent like Hai Zhong Tian (海中天, No. 27 Kenting Road, (886) 8-886-2015-6).

At nighttime, the stretch of road near Little Bay turns into a noisy carnival. Vendors hawk seafood, barbecue, trinkets and games as Taiwanese crowds pack the main drag's shoulders. The nightlife here includes dance clubs, dance shows and roadside massages.

This part of the coastline includes Frog Rock – so named because it looks like a frog set to leap into the ocean – and the Kenting Youth Activity Center, with its restored, traditional Fujian-style courthouse homes (No. 17, Kenting Road, 886-8-886-1221-4).

But the best of the area’s daytime sights are a short car or scooter ride away. Renting wheels is essential to fully appreciate the area (see car and scooter rental information below). A good first stop is the Kenting National Park headquarters (No. 596 Kenting Rd, (886)-8-886-1321). Here you'll find exhibits on the area’s environment and history. Kenting was once home to a Japanese whaling base, and is the homeland of the Paiwan Aborigines.

Between the park headquarters and Little Bay is the entrance for the road up to the Kenting Forest Recreation Area. This features forest hiking paths, an observation tower and a stalagtite-rich “Fairy Cave.” The coral forests here were thrust high above sea level by powerful tectonic plate collisions.

Just to the east is Sheding Nature Park, one of Kenting’s highlights. The wild boar and muntjac deer the Paiwan Aborigines used to hunt still roam the slopes. Trails wind up to scenic viewing pavilions, and Formosan rock monkeys clamber down cliff faces overgrown with wind-bent trees.

In the fall, Sheding is one of the prime viewing points for watching migratory birds of prey, including the gray-faced buzzard and the Chinese goshawk. May and June are ideal for viewing butterflies and insect life, and yellow crabs clamber down from these hills in April and late fall to lay their eggs on the beach (thus the occasional “Crab Crossing” road signs).

A road winds from Sheding back down to the coast near Sail Rock or “Nixon Rock” – so named because of its likeness to the former US president in profile. This area is a great spot for snorkeling, and also includes several budget bed-and-breakfasts.

The scenic coast road continues around Eluanbi, the southernmost tip of Taiwan, and passes its lighthouse. Then it winds back up the east coast into grasslands with spectacular ocean views, before dipping down toward cliffs and dunes. Stop at Fangchueisha, a popular photo-taking spot.

In the other direction from Little Bay, to the northwest, lies Longluan Lake, a favorite spot for bird-watchers. From September to April, migratory birds like tufted ducks and egrets stop here. The area’s most pristine and relaxing beach is nearby White Sand (Baisha) beach, which has several campsites.

About a 15 minute drive up the scenic west coast road from there is Taiwan’s National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium (2 Houwan Rd, Checheng, 886-8-882-5678) This massive, state-of-the-art museum boasts a whaleshark (the ocean's largest fish, at up to 12 meters long), beluga whales and penguins.

Further north are the Shuchungshi Hot Springs, and the Shihmen Historical Battlefield. In the 1870s, the Paiwan Aborigines killed a group of shipwrecked Okinawan fishermen. In retribution, Japan sent 4,000 troops and wiped out a Paiwan army at Shimen. Now, every year in late May, descendants of the Okinawan fishermen and the Paiwan gather for a ritual feast of reconciliation.


The Kenting area boasts five high-end resorts. Three – the Chateau, the Caesar Park and the Howard Plaza (886-8-886-2324) – are just off the main coast road near Little Bay. The Yoho Beach Club and Spa is further up the west coast, and the newest entry – the Leofoo Resort – is in Haikou Village, off the Kaohsiung-Kenting road (886-8-882-5765).

The Chateau: The pick of the litter is the Chateau Beach Resort (886-8-886-2345, 451 Kenting Road, ) with its prime, beachfront location. Rooms start at NT$6,000 (HKD1,540) in high season (July and August), with discounts up to 30% other times of year. Included in that price are access to a range of activities – sailing, sea kayaking, bodyboarding, snorkeling, archery, croquet and mini-golf. No motor-powered boats are allowed on this part of the beach, which makes for a more relaxing atmosphere. There's an infinity pool, kid's pool, Jacuzzi and spa.

Caesar Park Hotel: This was Kenting’s first upscale resort and still gets high marks. Rooms start at NT$9,000 (HKD2,310) in the high season (July and August) but can be as little as half that in other months and weekdays. For a bit extra the hotel boasts "Jacuzzi villas" with their own garden entrance (NT$11,000 or HKD2,825 in high season). The hotel manages a beach across the road, and provides beach umbrellas, chairs and a bar for guests. A footpath runs from the hotel, along a creek under Kenting Road, and out to the beach. There's also a large outdoor pool. (6 Kenting Road, 886-8-886-1888)

Yoho Spa and Resort: This more remote option is away from the hustle and bustle of Little Bay. But it’s convenient for the Aquarium, and near the calmer White Sand beach. For those who want personalized attention, this resort offers “Yoho Buddies” who can accompany you on outings. Rooms start at NT$6,200 (HKD1,590) on weekends in the July and August high season, NT$3,666 (HKD940) other times of year. (27-8, Wan-li Road, 86-8-886-9999).


The best dining options are at the resorts themselves. Standouts include the beach barbecue with live music at the Chateau and the Yoho Beach Resort and Spa – note that the Chateau's barbecue is available to guests only.

There are also many casual dining options on or near the main drag at Little Bay. Some include:

Warang Didi. This Kenting standby serves up spicy pan-Asian food. Try the fiery Thai-style chicken with basil and pepper, or Sichuan-style kung pao shrimp. (No. 26, Wenhua Lane, Kenting Rd, 886-8-886-1835).

Ocean Blue offers pan-Asian fare and local specialties. Try the chicken with bamboo shoots or ginger shrimp, washed down with the "Kenting Blue" cocktail of Curacao liqueur, rum and pineapple juice. (111 Kenting Road, (886) 8-886-2600, ).
Fresh seafood options are plentiful in Kenting. Try the lobster -- served up fried or steamed with garlic – at the Lunan Seafood Restaurant. (No. 193 Kenting Rd, (886) 8-886-1036, ).


The nearest major hub is Kaohsiung. You can rent a car at the Zuoying high-speed rail station outside Kaohsiung or at Kaohsiung Airport; it's about a two-hour drive to Kenting. Rental agencies include Car Plus and Heyun Car Rental (High-speed rail station location 886-7-346-1515, airport location 886-7-807-0333).

Buses run from the high-speed rail station and the airport to Kenting (two to three hours, about NT$320).

Scooters (NT$500 or less per day) or bicycles can be arranged by your hotel, or rented from one of the many outlets in Little Bay.

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