Everyone who lives in Taiwan, and many who visit, will have at some point made the journey down highway numbers 1 and 26 to visit Kenting, Taiwan’s only beach resort. Whether you are in your own car, have hired a taxi in Kaohsiung, or have even braved one of the Kenting Express coaches, which more than live up to their name in the way they barrel down the dual-carriageway at breakneck speed, you will have spent a good two hours of your life on this seemingly mundane crawl through deadend towns and settlements.
It is easy to just keep your eyes on the road and push on through until you reach the sun-drenched beaches of Kenting. But to do so would be to miss an opportunity. Because there is no shortage of attractions just off this well-worn road which precious few visitors ever bother to make time for. For my money, some have much more to offer than Kenting itself does, but I will let you be the judge of that after checking out my Top 10 attractions on the road to Kenting, listed (approximately) from north to south:
- Linhousilin Forest Park (林後四林平地森林園區)
(Image from recreation.forest.gov.tw)
Most traffic to Kenting will make its way out of Kaohsiung on Expressway 88 before joining Freeway 3 for a couple of junctions and then hitting the Kenting road. But if you’ve already had a long journey, stick to the 88 and then make you way through Chaozhou Township (which has some decent street food in the town center) to Linhousilin Forest Park.
This pretty ecological park which was only established in 2008 is being developed as a lowland forest reserve. It is free to enter and is a great place to stretch the legs and enjoy a bit of scenery. As well as views over the Dawu Mountains, there are plenty of open green spaces, trees, and the obligatory modern art installations to explore. It also boasts a working railroad and stations. With plenty to do for adults and kids, it is a perfect place to break the journey before the long road south.
- Donggang 東港鎮
(Wikimedia Commons image)
If you prefer a more urban interlude, why not join Freeway 3, but then miss the Kenting turn and instead continue to the end of the road where you can visit Donggang. Donggang is most famous for its fishing industry and you can still visit the famous fish market, which is next to the ferry terminal to Xiao Liu Qiu (小琉球). Here you can buy freshly caught fish and have it cooked to order in one of the many restaurants and food stalls that adjoin the market.
Other Donggang sites of interest include the impressive Donglong Temple (東港東隆宮), which has been in the community since 1706. The current building dates to around 1900 after its predecessor was destroyed by a tsunami in 1894. But it is nonetheless and beautiful and historic example of a Daoist temple. You could also stop off at Dapeng Bay (大鵬灣), a man-made lake which is also home to what is (currently) Taiwan’s only motor-racing circuit.
- Jiadong Township (佳冬鄉)
(Wikimedia Commons image)
Instead of turning right off the end of Freeway 3 to visit Donggang, you could also turn left and make your way to through Linbian (林邊鄉) to the Jiadong Township. Jiadong’s higgledy-piggledy old town center is full of tight winding streets which are home to some beautiful examples of traditional architecture.
Many impressive old structures remain including the Old house of the Siiao Family (蕭家洋樓 & 步月樓,) and Zhang Family Business building (張家商樓). It is well worth parking your car and exploring on foot for an hour or so. Architecture fans will find much to enjoy while Jiadong also offers a great insight into small town life in southern Taiwan.
- Kayoufeng Waterfall(卡悠峯瀑布)
Just before you reach Fangshan Township (枋山鄉), there is a turn to the left which will take you up into the mountains to explore a real hidden gem of the region - Kayoufeng Waterfall (卡悠峯瀑布). The turn is marked (but blink and you’ll miss it) and the road rapidly becomes a winding farm track through the mango trees. Stick with it and you will end up in a newly modernized parking lot (with toilets). A short walk of some 15 minutes or so (mostly uphill) will then take you to the beautiful Kayoufeng Waterfall.
There is a decent sized pool at its base, perfect for swimming, as well as having a raised viewing platform to help you get that perfect photo. It’s a perfect place to kick off your shoes and relax, maybe with a picnic lunch, in a little oasis after the madness of the road. There are other waterfalls close to the Kenting road you could also head to as well, such as Qikong Falls (七孔瀑布), near Hengchun.
- Pointy Mountain (車城小尖山)
(Image from panoramio.com user Jason Lai)
One of the landmarks of the road to Kenting is a pyramid-shaped mountain which has understandably been given the nickname pointy mountain. Most people will drive on by and maybe take a picture out of the car window, but an adventurous few will stop and take on the challenge of climbing to the top.
It is not as easy as it might first appear. There is a parking lot, but the path up the mountain is not well maintained and it can turn into a scramble more than a climb at some points. There are no shortage of mosquito’s too, but once you get to the summit, you will understand why you made the effort. The reward is panoramic views back up the coast, down south towards Hengchun (恆春) and Kenting and into the mountains too. Just be sure to have a change of clothes and a sweat towel waiting for you back at the car.
- Checheng Fuan Temple (車城 福安宮)
(Wikimedia Commons Image)
A little further down the road and you will reach Checheng Township, home to the famous Checheng Fuan Temple. This is the largest temple in Taiwan dedicated to the Land God Tu Di Gong (土地公). It has been constructed in a northern Chinese royal temple style which is unique to Taiwan. It attracts worshippers from across the country, chiefly because of its reputation for granting wishes and its unique paper money burner, which will suck paper money into the burner and spiral it around before it eventually heads over to the other side.
While there, check out the various food stalls nearby, in particular the Family Huang Green Bean Desert Shop. (正記 黃家綠豆蒜). They offer a beautiful shelled green bean desert (a local specialty) as well as a fantastic traditional shaved ice. A welcome place to cool off on what is often a long journey.
- National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium (國立海洋生物博物館)
(Wikimedia Commons Image)
It’s quite easy to miss Taiwan’s national aquarium, being situated, as it is, just off Highway 26 outside Checheng. But to do so would be to miss out on one of Taiwan’s best national museums. There are three huge aquatic exhibits packed full of sea life from around the region and beyond to explore. These are currently dedicated to separate exhibitions on Waters of Taiwan, Waters of the World, and Coral Kingdom.
The aquarium also boasts the largest underwater tunnel in Asia, which is possible to spend the night in, but you will need to have arranged that in advance. With a 3D cinema and all the usual facilities, it is a great place to stop for anyone with kids, or if you just want to learn about Taiwan’s unique marine ecosystem.
- Hengchun Old Town (恆春古城)
(Wikimedia Commons Image)
Before arriving in Kenting, you will first pass the small town of Hengchun. The view from Highway 26 is of a town littered with go-kart tracks and cheap B&B’s, but head into the center itself and you will find a beautiful and well-preserved historic town to explore. The jewel in Hengchun’s crown is undoubtedly its city walls. It is the best-preserved example of its kind in Taiwan and boasts all four gates intact as well as around half of the walls.
The total wall would have measured around 2.5 km in length and it is still possible to walk around the top of what remains and enjoy views of the town. Another site worth taking a look at is the Chuhuo Scenic Area (出火特別景觀區) just outside the town, a natural burning gas feature, where you can cook eggs on the flames coming straight out of the ground.
- Kitchen Swell Restaurant, Hengchung (迷路餐桌計劃)
(Image from taiwanese-secrets.com)
In Kenting itself, decent food can be hard to come by with most restaurants and the night market offering low-quality and overpriced fare. It is therefore well worth stopping in Hengchung to eat before taking on the last leg of the journey. There are plenty of local options to enjoy of course, but Kitchen Swell is perhaps the most interesting restaurant in the town.
It is situated in a beautiful old hospital building on Guangming Road (光明路), close to the old South Gate (恆春古城南門), which has been painstakingly restored. The old operating light can still be seen in the bakery section downstairs. Parking is a nightmare, but if you can find a place to park somewhere, they offer good quality western food as well as freshly baked bread and cakes, and homemade ice cream.
While they could be cheaper and portions could be bigger, it is nonetheless a beautiful place to eat before making the final short drive to Kenting. There are other interesting things to explore around the restaurant as well, not least of which is the shop over the road which was featured in the popular Taiwanese film Cape No. 7 and attracts hordes of local fans.
- Jioupeng Desert (港仔大沙漠 - 九棚大沙漠) and SyuHai Grassland Recreation Park 旭海大草原
(Wikimedia Commons image)
OK, I’ll admit that it is a stretch to say either of these places are on the road to Kenting, but they are both within an hour’s drive of both Kenting and Hengchun and offer something totally different to what can Kenting and the rest of the area has to offer. Both are situated on the East Coast and can be reached via the 200 road.
Jioupeng Desert is Taiwan’s largest sand dunes, which are more than 30 meters high in places and offer a well-preserved and completely unique environment to explore. The sandy beach is one of the best in country and is relatively unspoiled compared to some of its rivals around Kenting. Visitors can just enjoy the scenery or if you like a bit of adrenaline take on a 4x4 challenge.
A little farther north is the SyuHai Grassland Recreation Park (旭海大草原) where you can enjoy a pleasant walk through a pretty grassland area, which offers unspoiled views over the Pacific Ocean. There are three walking trails to choose from and visitors can enjoy both interesting wildlife and a little peace and quiet, which is in stark contrast to the buzzing nightlife of Kenting.