Kenting is not the easiest place in Taiwan to reach, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Located on the south coast of the tiny island, the beach town has a rising reputation among travellers. The tourists flock here in high season and while many ex-pats suggested we check out the beautiful east coast, our attraction to Kenting endured.
Having just climbed the highest mountain on the island, we craved sun, sea and sand rather than more trekking and hiking. Ergo, Kenting defeated Taroko Gorge hands down. A simple check of the weather was all it took to sway the vote.
The journey from Taichung to Kenting is anything but short, clocking in at over six hours via Kaohsiung.
But between scooters, buses and taxis, we made it to our accommodation as dusk fell.
The following day was far from well-planned but we certainly made the most of our short time at Taiwan’s premier beach town.
Here are the top five things you should do in Kenting:
1 – Go Camping
No vacation would be complete without the sunshine.
We had recently bought some new camping gear at Decathlon so Kenting served up a great chance to sleep rough.
Kenting Stony Brook Nature Farm is a large campsite with bathroom facilities just a short walk away from Kenting Street – the centre of the nightlife action.
The staff at the campsite were extremely helpful, especially one girl who spoke English and arranged taxis, scooters rental and maps with a smile.
There is also a large Tuscan villa on the property, close to the campsite, which we mistook for our tent on arriving home the first night, somewhat inebriated.
The campsite security guard abandoned us there after we jumped on the back of his motorbike. He had tried to take us to our tents but apparently got too distracted by our terrible George Michael renditions.
We never saw him again after that night. Some say he retired.
2 – Rent electric scooters to travel Kenting
Taiwan has much stricter laws on motorbike rental than their South East Asian neighbours.
While Thailand will happily gift motorbikes to anyone with a wallet, Taiwan sees fit to demand some credentials.
Foreigners here will have real trouble getting a scooter without an ARC (Alien Resident Card) or Taiwanese driving licence. You may also need your passport and an International driver’s licence for back-up.
While many ex-pats find ways to fly (or drive) under the radar, we lacked the connections in Kenting to organise a sketchy, illegal motorbike deal. Anyhow, for 24 hours it wasn’t worth the hassle so we decided to do the most touristy thing possible in Kenting by renting electric scooters.
I feared these would be criminally slow and we would die of boredom during our drive. However, they were actually pretty fun, reaching top speeds of 60 km/h (on a decline) and allowing us leisurely thinking time as we cruised the coastal roads under the glorious sunshine.
One tip though – ensure you have two batteries and try to get a newer bike. My old heap of junk began conking out towards the end of the day. It wouldn’t be fun to be stranded on the other side of the island waiting for the maintenance man.
3 – Try Surfing at Jialeshui Beach
The operative word here is ‘try’.
I’m not a surfer but was keen to give it a go at the ‘best surf spot in Taiwan’.
There are prettier beaches on the island. Also, there were beaches closer to our campsite. There are also beaches with more people and amenities such as food and refreshments. But, we had made the journey so we had to check it out.
Finding a surf shop, we rented two boards for NT$1000 (500 apiece = $16 US = £13) and then cheerfully walked to the ocean.
It didn’t take long for us to see why the beach was deserted.
Indeed, Mother Nature wasted no time in kicking our ass. The waves were, without doubt, the strongest I’ve ever experienced. The ocean relentlessly bashed us to the ground, showing no mercy as wave after wave crashed into us without respite.
As any novice surfer will know, it is not fun when you struggle to your feet only for the board to be swept away from your fingertips once again. The board has a short cord which is in turn strapped to your ankle. When the board escapes, inevitably, you will soon follow, whether you are ready or not.
I found myself being dragged all over the place by my featherlight board as the waves smashed into it time and time again, eventually beating my exhausted body to the seabed and spitting me out of the ocean onto the beach.
There, I scrambled helplessly to clamber upon my board before the sea could grab hold of it and drag me back into its torture chamber.
Diana had claimed to have surfed before but she suffered a similar fate. Determined, we tried again, and again, and maybe once again. But it was futile. We literally couldn’t get past the first break near the shore. This was clearly a rough day or just a spot for the pro surfers. Maybe both.
What made it worse was the seabed was a horrible, rocky surface that offered little cushion for the feet. The beach was also quite stony.
As the waves thrashed my flailing body towards the beach for the umpteenth time, I sat upon my board and admired my pebble-dashed skin.
Dusting the debris from every crook and cranny of my aching body, I looked up at Diana. She stood beside me on shaky legs, equally defeated.
“What are you eating?” she asked, listening to the crunching sound come from my mouth.
I looked up to her wearily, silently cursing the ocean.
“Dirt”, I replied.
4 – Enjoy a bag cocktail
Kenting Street isn’t far from the campsite, so we managed to enjoy a few visits during our short stay.
The strip is long enough to entertain for at least a couple of nights and offers a range of fare including quite a lot of Thai options among the street vendors and souvenir shops. The local grub is there in abundance and you’ll have no trouble getting a drink.
Prices here were definitely a little higher than anywhere else on my trip but finding good value is just a matter of looking. To get the best bang for your buck, avoid the dodgy hawkers offering 5% alcohol shots. They charge a base rate, with a ridiculous fee to increase the strength of your drink.
Instead, try to find this guy. He was located about half-way up on the left-hand side of the street, some 100 metres before the Family Mart on the opposite side.
This man was clearly equipped with skills honed in an environment much grander than Kenting Street. There was a little bit of waiting time involved but as passers-by stopped to admire the show, we licked our lips in anticipation.
For about NT$200 we each got a bag full of delicious cocktails that blew our socks off and sent us down a slippery slope that ended with the aforementioned friendly motorcycle hi-jacking.
5 – Eat authentic Taiwanese food in Hengchun
I’ll be honest with you. This food was not amazing. It wasn’t bad but what I really was craving was the famed beef noodle soup.
Almost two weeks had passed and the stars continued to conspire against me. The campsite receptionist had spoke highly of the traditional food on offer in the ancient town of Hengchun. We arrived with high hopes.
Sadly, we rattled around the streets on our little scooters finding little more than crowded streets and closed shutters.
Chinese New Year was upon us and the available dining options were not what our starving, surf-beaten bodies were hoping for. This was the best we could do.
What it lacked in looks it made up for in value for money. I haven’t a clue what it was called but if you make it to Hengchun, know that even the bargain basement food isn’t going to poison you. It certainly didn’t horrify me the way Korean food once did.
Making it back to our tent that evening, we were exhausted, sunburnt and hungry. We also needed a good wash and a phone charge. On reflection, we realized almost nothing went exactly to plan yet there was very little we would change.
My best advice would be to hire the scooters and get out of the blocks early. That way, you can do a circuit of the lower half of Kenting and be back before sunset. You may even make it through Hengchun to reach the west coast for sundown.
Kenting may be a little out of the way but even with the crowds of Chinese New Year it was a great weekend.
Any tourist site will give you great advice on the popular things to do there but if you want to break away from the crowds and do things a little differently, you’ll have no problem creating your own adventure there.
Have you visited Kenting? What was your favorite thing to do? Did you almost die surfing at Jialeshui? Let me hear about it!