The world is truly full of unbelievable natural beauty. The landscapes on our home planet are varied just like different planets from one side of the world to the other. When I was young, I would see pictures of warm coastal beaches and was unable to believe a place like that is actually real, especially coming from snowy Canada. Kenting is the southern-most part of Taiwan, consisting of that little peninsula visible on the outline of the country’s silhouette on a map. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country with sandy beaches against the ocean (unlike Hualien [花蓮] on the East coast which is all rocky beaches), mountains full of lush green vegetation, and tons of palms trees! Spending three beautiful days in Kenting was almost like spending three days in paradise.
Travelling alone is always convenient, you never have to wait for anyone or compromise on plans. However, the best memories are made among friends. I traveled to Kenting with two close friends and can’t help but smile as I remember our adventures. We took the HSR, the Taiwanese high speed rail from Taipei (台北) to Zuoying (左營), and it only took about 120 minutes. I expected it to be like a roller coaster for some odd reason, but alas, it was a very gentle ride. It was capable of traveling at 324km/hr max speed and was incredibly smooth. Generally the speed of the train kept in the 250ish km/hr range. It was so efficient, timely, and convenient. If anyone plans to travel by HSR, there are early bird prices if you buy ahead of time. You can expect around $1200NTD for an economy class ticket.
Arriving in Kaoshiung (高雄), we were immediately hit by the heat. It was extremely hot and humid as were finally within the tropic of cancer! It was much hotter than Taipei even though they are on the same small island. After looking around the station for the right buses, we boarded a small bus for a 2.5 hour ride to Kenting towards a small little hostel on the old street. It was a quaint hostel with four beds to a room, and I was able to sleep on the top of a bunk bed for the first time in my life! I was only worried about falling off and falling to my death the first night. After that, I was used to it. The hostel was located on the old street, and there are many hostels in that area. Most of them are shared room and bathroom, but are certainly cheaper than hotels. The hostels can be booked ahead of time and are great for groups, budget travelers, and students. Taiwan is an extremely safe country, but practice caution.
On the day of arrival we went to the beach at night because we arrived in the evening. The three of us sat at the shore to watch the tide come in. The waves had a peaceful sound under the starry sky with a half moon. We sat together and wrote our names on the soft sand while infinity hung above us. Our writings were short-lived though; the sand didn’t stay in one place as it was washed away by incoming water or flying away due to the wind blowing the words away. The beach was peaceful, empty, and quiet in the night compared to the busy night market on the street only a few metres away which was full of lights, sounds, and people buying delicious food. The smell eventually wafted towards us as we went on a late night feast. We were stuck in the slow moving crowds of the night market as we bought Taiwanese popcorn chicken (soooo good!), papaya milk, kimchi scallion omelette, pork belly, and other small snacks. It’s hard to resist trying all the different kinds of food, except stinky tofu (which I have eaten, but it was only okay, not that great). Afterwards at night, like school girls, we talked and laughed for hours before falling asleep. It was just us three in the room on the first night.
To get around Kenting, the most common and most conveinet way is by bike. You can rent bikes, electric scooters, and even motor scooters from many places. The Old Street is full a variety of rental stores. Another way is by bus, however the bus does not come very often. Taxi is also an option, but definitely more expensive than bus or bike rental.
The next day we traveled to the most southern part of Taiwan on the eastern peninsula of Kenting. This is where Eluanbi Park (鵝鑾鼻) was: home to a famous historical lighthouse. The lighthouse was built during the Qing dynasty, damaged in previous wars, and was rebuilt with a white cover. As well, it was enjoyable hiking on the trails in the park, exploring caverns and seeing where the bottom of the sea had once been. It’s a picture of history. There were gorgeous views to behold from the pavilions on the seashore and on the cliffsides in the park. Furthermore, for anyone who loves geological history, coral reefs that had been pushed up to the surface are also an interesting sight. There are a lot of fascinating geological and historical features in Eluanbi Park.
Next stop was Chuan Fan Shi rock, a huge lonely rock, seemingly misplaced. At the bus stop there were small stone seats shaped like small animals overlooking the bluer than blue Pacific Ocean. Supposedly Chuan Fan Shi rock was also a coral reef, before on the seafloor, but now pushed up overseeing the shores of Kenting. It really is an odd sight because it looks like a giant misplaced rock, like a monster had just dropped it and left it there. My friend and I found a hidden path to get closer to the rock. The other tourists stayed on the road, while we went to down to the small crevices, where there were little valleys of ocean water and we watched the water enter and crabs crawl about. I really felt like a small ant compared to the vastness of the endless ocean below a mound of ancient coral.
That evening we watched the gorgeous sunset from the beach, where the sky turned light blue, to green, to yellow, pink, and purple. The barrage of colours over the oceans the mountains was a sight I didn’t think I’d ever catch in my life. It was astoundingly stunning as we stood on the white sandy beach as the warm water tickled our feet. The evening was peaceful and looked like it was out of a nature documentary or a cheesy romantic movie. I didn’t even have anyone to kiss… The beach had activities as well for people visiting, but we didn’t partake. My friends and I watched some people on banana boats be dragged by a jet ski for an adrenaline filled wild ride a stone’s throw away. Unfortunately, I respect the ocean a bit too much to ever go that far out from the shore with just a life jacket on. Maybe I’ll go some other time because my Thalassophobia is real.
The next morning, we rented bicycles with small electric motors to bike around the Western peninsula of Kenting. In front of us lay scenes that looked as if they were painted on a canvas, full of colours and life. My friend and I hopped on excitedly, even though I was very nervous about riding on the roads next to the larger, faster vehicles. Especially large tour buses, but luckily I never got hit. Our other friend decided to have another lazy beach day. About 30min into the bike ride, I realized my motor wasn’t working though, but I thought I’d be okay rather than to ride back and complain. Besides, workouts are always good; the day was warm and sunny. I wanted to be biking next to the ocean anyways, how hard could biking around mountainous Taiwan be?
About one hour into the bike ride I was dying, in 31C heat and sun and uphill, I could not believe I was still pedaling away. At least my friend waited for me and kept me motivated. Eventually we passed the old town of Hengchun (恆春) and made it to Chu Huo (出火). Chu Huo is scenic area a little bit away from Hengchun where natural gases in the Earth are released, igniting an eternal flame in the rocks. During the day, it was impressive, but at night, I bet it would look unearthly. I also heard people bring popcorn and sweet potatoes sometimes to try to bake them over the flame, though I didn’t see anyone do that. I wonder if they’d taste better…
After that stop, I realized that I’m very stupid. The reason my motor was not working was because I never turned the key for ignition… (Oh wow…) But after that light-bulb moment, biking was a lot easier. It was faster, uphill was no sweat, and harsh winds blowing against me were merely a breeze. We continued our journey towards a lowland lake called Longluan (龍鑾). That lake was on a flat part of land and acted as a wetland as well. Many different types of birds could be seen near the lake. It was a beautiful view on the way further south to Maobitou (貓鼻頭), a rock that looks like a cat. Biking with the salty ocean winds on the coast is a lovely feeling. The heat doesn’t feel as if it’s beating down on you if there’s constant wet winds from the sea. At Maobitou, I didn’t think the rock looked like a cat; I thought it resembled a dog. I thought the cliffside view was much more impressive than just that one rock. I mean, there were many many rocks overlooking the ocean, shaped by the violent erosion of crashing waves. It’s all amazing; especially with a backdrop of lush green mountains juxtaposed by the endearingly blue ocean. I wish I had more poetic words to describe it. Either way, as we left the torrential rain started, but the downpour was very brief. And the uphill climb away to Baishawan (白沙灣) was not a problem, not even in the rain thanks to my handy dandy motor bike.
Afterwards, my friends and I headed to the beach to play in the water and be hit by the waves for a really long time. It was enjoyable being washed by the warm salt water, especially when a huge wave came! It’s refreshing because I was covered by a day’s worth of sweat because I biked for around 5 hours. However, we got very sandy by the end of it, and walked back to our hostel dorms looking like a mess. I had sand everywhere! In my clothes, in my flipflops, in my butt! We washed off in the hostel showers, not believing how much sand actually fell off of us. I felt like I brought the beach back with me. Our late dinner was a pizza on road next to the beach. Kenting Old Street is full of wonders. We even saw fireworks go off for a little bit. It was a joyful last evening in Kenting as the next afternoon we would head back to our home in Taipei. We even decided to sleep in on our last day, relaxing like a true vacation because our train didn’t leave until the late afternoon. Zzz…