Kenting National Park, Taiwan’s Blue and Green Paradise
Kenting National Park in Taiwan is the most lush place I’ve been in recent memory. The park is filled with bright green fields, forests of unique tropical pine trees, the bluest ocean waters, and billowing white clouds overhead. After spending a few days in the nearest major city, Kaohsiung, I boarded a bus and fell in love with Kenting almost immediately.
The national park is situated on the southernmost peninsula in Taiwan, and offers everything that an outdoorsman or outdoorswoman could want in a destination. There’s lots of hiking opportunities and a number of white sand beaches to choose from.
In addition to all the outdoor attractions, Kenting is a great place to soak up some authentic Taiwanese culture. The area is admittedly touristy, but most visitors to the area are regional tourists. Therefore, you’ll undoubtedly come in contact with “the real Taiwan” on your visit to Kenting. If you’re especially interested in the cultural side of things, you can stay in the nearby town of Hengchun, which has a very traditional vibe as well as a surprisingly poppin’ restaurant and bar scene that’s worth checking out.
Since there’s not a ton of infrastructure set up for international tourists who aren’t fluent in Mandarin, getting around Kenting may be slightly harder than navigating big cities and more famous beach destinations in Asia. That’s why I’ve written this guide: to give some basic information about the park and its vicinity. Read on to find out why Kenting should be your next beach destination!
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Kenting and the surrounding townships are home to a number of sandy beaches. Here are the two that I liked the most.
White Sand Bay
White Sand Bay is beautiful. There’s not much more to it than that. Despite being sandy and great for swimming, there are some rocky portions right past the shoreline which give the water there a full spectrum from light, pearly blue to the darkest navy.
Since White Sand Bay is about a twenty minute drive from the Kenting hotels, it’s a little less crowded than most of the other beaches in the area. If you only visit one beach in Kenting, this should be it.
South Bay Recreation Area
This is the other beach that I recommend. If the sun is shining, the waters here are also incredibly pretty. It’s right off the main road, so there are more beachgoers as well as people who will approach you to ask if you want a jet ski ride or a surfing lesson. Traffic also zooms by, so you have to be careful when crossing the street or getting back onto the road.
In addition to these beaches, there is also a large public beach located right along the hotel strip. If you have a favorite beach in Kenting that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments section!
Kenting is home to more than just picturesque beaches. Most of the area’s nature trails are located in wooded areas further away from shore. Here are some of the best places to visit for short hikes.
The Parks at Sheding
Getting to Sheding requires driving for about twenty minutes uphill from the beach. Therefore, the area offers some of the best panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and beaches. A couple of specific spots are mentioned below.
This was my favorite attraction in Sheding! It’s not a park (officially) and there’s no entrance fee to see it, although the grass in the fields looked much too tall to walk through. However, the views from the road are still so stunning. You have to turn off the main road, and there was literally no one else there when I drove by.
Views of 大尖石山, A Striking Rocky Cliff
Dà jiān shíshān (大尖石山) is a massive stone mountaintop towering over the beachfront roads and hotels of Kenting. I didn’t visit the summit, but if you want the best views of it from below, drive down Daxi Lane.
Ocean Views from Shexing Road
There isn’t a park here, but Shexing Road (社興路), especially from this point down to beach level, offers some of the best views of the water below.
Sheding Natural Park
This free park offers a main trail loop that is worth a visit mainly because it overlooks the ocean to the east, which most of the Kenting area does not. There are two main lookout towers: one located here and the other here. I preferred this park to the National Forest Recreation Area mentioned below.
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area
I recommend this park least enthusiastically of all the attractions in Sheding because it’s not free. The main trail going through it felt like any old hike through a nondescript forest. There is a seven-story viewing tower, which probably is the highest viewpoint around, but it’s far enough away from the ocean that it’s almost hard to see anything clearly. The park is also home to some small caves, greenhouses, and gardens. In all honesty, many of the free views from the road were more impressive than what this recreation area had to offer.
Guanshan for Sunset
This little hill overlooks the ocean to the west, which makes it a phenomenal place to watch the sunset. Guanshan is one of the few places that actually draws a crowd in the area, but you’ll understand why after you experience a sunset there. If you want to get in, you’ll have to pay a small fee of 60 NTD to get in, but it’s worth it.
The Southernmost Point in Taiwan
I imagine most travelers to the area will want to check out Taiwan’s southernmost point. However, once you arrive, it’s a little anticlimactic. There’s just a single statue on a wooden deck, and you can’t actually walk out to the beach because it’s so rocky. I’m not saying don’t go, but don’t expect anything too jaw-dropping.
Nearby is a tiny village called Eluanbi. It looked like it might be worth exploring because it’s got a few parks and a lighthouse. Unfortunately, I visited the area right at sundown so I didn’t have time to check anything else out.
Now that you know what to see, you might be wondering where to stay. Read on to see why it’s worth it to stay a little further out in the next town over.
The Case for Staying in Hengchun
Visitors to the Kenting area will basically have two different areas they can choose to “set up camp.” The first is the small town of Hengchun, which is located a few miles north of the beaches. The other option is to stay in the touristy area located here with resorts aplenty and a beach across the street.
I chose to stay in Hengchun mostly because I found a guesthouse there that cost about 15 dollars a night for a private room. At first, Hengchun felt very quiet and honestly a bit boring. However, by the end of my trip, I had come to really love this small town that’s a little more out of the way. I recommend that you stay in Hengchun too, and here’s why.
First and foremost, I think Hengchun is probably cheaper. Since the town of Kenting is basically a road filled with resorts, I’m guessing everything from lodging to food is more expensive there. But perhaps more importantly, Hengchun offers what felt like an authentic experience. It’s a small town where people live and work, and it still has a distinct traditional vibe. It’s quiet and relaxing but still close enough to the beaches via electric scooter.
Restaurants, Cafes, and Bars
The one other thing about Hengchun is that it has a pretty cool bar and restaurant scene, although the best places were hidden in plain sight. To read a mini-post on food options, click here!
Things to Consider
Here are a few other pieces of information to note about Kenting.
As far as I can tell, Kenting National Park doesn’t have strictly defined boundaries. I never passed any signs welcoming visitors into the park. As such, you won’t have to pay for admission into the park, although some attractions require a small entrance fee, such as Guan Mountain.
Even if you decide to stay next to the beach, the only real way to get around the area is on electric scooter. Unfortunately, beaches in Kenting are just too spread out to walk between them. There is a bus system, but I think if you used it to get around, you’d spend most of your time and energy figuring it out instead of enjoying the sites.
Scooter rental places are everywhere, but this is one situation where English might not be well understood (the rental agreement was only in Chinese). I rented one a block away from my guesthouse and paid 600 NTD per day. I saw other places advertising for as low as 400 NTD per day, but if someone tries to charge you significantly more than this ballpark, turn them down because they’re ripping you off.
Electric scooters have a relatively low speed limit and do not require presentation of a license, international or otherwise (gas-fueled motorbikes do, however). In fact, I didn’t even have to present a passport or put down a deposit (which admittedly was very strange and unexpected). The scooter is easy enough to ride even if you’ve never driven one before. Keep in mind that they are powered by battery, not gas, so you have a limited range. The shop I rented from offered as many battery exchanges as I needed without charging extra, which was nice.
It goes without saying that you need to wear the helmet which should be provided with the rental. You’ll be sharing the road with cars and other motorbikes (the gas-powered ones go way faster), so drive defensively and stay focused.
Language barriers can be real in this part of Taiwan and anyone who doesn’t speak or read Chinese needs to be prepared for that. Compared to the other places I’ve been to in Asia since I moved here in March, Kenting probably had the least English signage. Since I can speak a bit of Mandarin, I never really got to see how well local people spoke English, but the fact that most locals spoke to me in Chinese suggests that proficiency might overall be low.
The two areas where I think tourists would encounter the most challenges are while driving (street signs) and menus. In particular, lanes are marked as forbidden for motorcycles with only the following: “禁行機車.” They tend to be the left lanes on the major road connecting Hengchun to the coast, but that might be one string of characters to try to learn to recognize. That’s probably the most critical, but even signs for directions tend not to be bilingual.
Menus also tend not to be translated into English, and some don’t have pictures. Luckily, there’s less at stake when it comes to ordering a food at a restaurant than riding a scooter on a busy road. Language barriers are a thing that all serious travelers will eventually have to learn how to deal with. Alternatively, learning some basic spoken phrases in Mandarin before visiting can potentially go a long way.
Getting to Kenting
The closest major city to Kenting is Kaohsiung, which is about two hours away from the park by bus. I went to this bus station in Kaohsiung, which only allowed ticket purchases for the day of travel. The drop-off point in Hengchun is located here, but I believe there are a number of other stops throughout Kenting.
Tickets cost a little more than 300 NTD for a one-way journey. The bus I took was comfortable but had no bathroom (a trend I’m noticing in Asia). They leave fairly frequently so you shouldn’t have to worry about booking in advance, and as far as I could tell, they don’t sell round-trip tickets.
Now that you’ve read about it and seen how beautiful it is, has Kenting made it onto your bucket list? After visiting Kaohsiung and the national park, Taiwan has skyrocketed to the top of my list of most highly recommended destinations. It’s beautiful, relatively affordable, the people are so welcoming, and it has such an interesting culture and history that are worth reading up on.
Have any thoughts or questions about Kenting? Leave a comment below! I for one cannot wait to go back and experience Taipei and other parts of Taiwan at the earliest opportunity! Until next time, fellow caffeinoholics!