Kenting Tongue in Cheek
“Kenting? I swear you go every weekend?” Such is the tongue-in-cheek reaction I elicit from my colleagues when I mention I’m going to Kenting (again) for a two or three-day weekend. Their surprise (and perhaps disapproval) is certainly deserved, with the travel time from my doorstep to the emerald-green waters of Kenting usually being over five hours.
However, it’s is a place worthy of my obsession, which possibly borders on addiction. While Taiwan temporarily puts on hold domestic tourism amid a sudden COVID-19 spike (international tourism has not been allowed since early 2020), this seems the perfect time to highlight why expats and tourists alike simply cannot miss out on visiting Kenting when its sublime shores open their doors again.
Beaches and Coastline of Kenting
The obvious starting point in any reference to Kenting is its stunning beaches and its coastline. Representing the southernmost peninsula of Taiwan, also called the Hengchun Peninsula, Kenting (墾丁) is home to an array of world-class beaches. Although the warm-blooded Taiwanese tend to steer clear of the waters in the comparatively cooler winter months, most of us enjoy the crystal-clear waters year-round.
Being a Brit, accustomed to the somewhat nutty tradition of Boxing Day swims in the murky and frosty, brown waters of Britain’s south coast, my British friend and I were especially enamored by our opportunity to swim (comfortably) on Christmas Day at Nanwan Beach (南灣). Nanwan Beach, or South Bay, is one of three renowned lounging beaches in the area.
Whilst Nanwan and Little Bay (小灣) can be reasonably crowded due to their proximity to Kenting Town, further afield, Baisha Beach (白沙灣), famous for its appearance in Ang Lee’s film Life of Pi, offers the opportunity to experience a quieter stretch of bright white sand and glassy blue waters.
As someone less inclined to lounge on beaches for hours on end, I have personally enjoyed the more adventurous options the Kenting coastline offers. Indeed, Elanbui Lighthouse (Taiwan’s Southernmost tip), Longpan Park, and Jialeshui on Kenting’s Eastern fringe, allow you to witness truly remarkable vistas over Kenting’s windswept seaboard and fascinating rock formations. Renting a scooter, an option open to even those without a Taiwanese license, is necessary to reach these areas.
I’m neither a surfer nor am I usually in a fit state to catch the early morning waves before the heat of the midday Kenting sun.
Although I’m clearly far from an expert in these matters, my wave-inclined friends seem to wax lyrical about the remarkably quiet surf spots scattered around the region.
With a water temperature that never drops below 21 degrees Celsius, year-round surfing is possible on a number of beaches, with Jialeshui and Nanwan providing the most consistent waves. Whilst the bigger swells are usually a feature of the winter months (besides immediately after a summer typhoon), summer is best for beginners wishing to simply rent a surfboard or get a surf lesson.
Afei surf hotels/hostels at Nanwan and Jialeshui are not only fantastically friendly places to stay, drink and eat, but also provide a number of good-value deals on renting surfboards or beginner lessons (especially for paying guests).
Nightlife in Kenting
Perhaps my most pleasurable (and subsequently painful) Kenting pastime is participating in the liquor-heavy antics, which occur in the sunset and post-sunset hours. As something of a foreigner haven even during a period without tourists, my friends and I have been far from alone in perpetuating Kenting’s boozy reputation.
There are a number of great spots to participate in this foreigner-friendly tradition and enjoy a sunset drink or two (or ten). Amongst a range of bars at the top of Nanwan beach, the highlight has to be the foreigner-friendly vibe at Cowboys Beach Bar & Grill. This place has everything a young expat could hope for in a beach bar; cheap beer and cocktails, two happy hour times a day, live music every weekend and very welcoming bar staff.
While Nanwan is, besides some inebriated antics at Cowboys, a fairly quiet spot at night-time, Kenting town comes alive at dusk.
After watching the sunset at shore-side Little Bay Beach Bar, visitors can enjoy beers and cocktails from a number of bar trucks that materialize at the sides of Kenting Rd and within the well-renowned Kenting Night Market. On this note, those looking for non-liquor-filled night-time activities should not miss out on enjoying the vast array of Taiwanese culinary delights and fun games, which this uniquely Taiwanese experience provides.
With its sun, sea and stunning mountain summits (perhaps ‘mountain’ is a slightly strong word for the hills of Kenting National Park), all within a couple of hours drive of Taiwan’s southernmost metropolis, Kaohsiung, Kenting should be squeezed into any travel itinerary.
The mere fact that one can go from the hustle and bustle of Taiwan’s cities to the beautiful seclusion (perhaps not always as quiet at weekends) of Kenting, is a testament to Taiwan’s diversity as a travel destination. I hope my obsession with this place, already shared by many of my friends, can also be extended to whoever is fortunate to visit this beach paradise.
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by: Oliver Sanders