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Kenting: Rocking the Taiwanese Riviera

Teaching English in Taiwan

One minor downside of being a buxiban (cram school) teacher in Taiwan is that it can seem hard to get away for a weekend. Most teachers work full Saturdays, and some schools have adult classes on Sundays as well. Of course, this is when the students are available. What’s more, Monday and Friday nights are the busiest nights of the week here, so it’s much harder to find a sub - everyone else is just as busy as you are.
It’s often easier to shoot for a Tuesday-Thursday three-day break, as it’s much easier to find someone who fancies making a little extra money by covering your midweek classes. One of my earliest trips in Taiwan - to Taroko Gorge and the east coast, which might be the subject of a future blog - was arranged in just this way. I only had a couple of classes to cover, and escaped Taipei’s busy metropolis for some fresh air and stunning scenery. Another bonus go taking a midweek trip is that the places you visit are far less busy, and you don’t run into any difficulties booking hotel rooms, transportation, etc.
These days, as I’m a part-time teacher, part-time editor, it’s easier to get away for weekends, so that’s exactly what we did a couple of weeks ago. Our destination was Kenting, a well-known resort town on the southern tip of Taiwan. There’s a large national park down there, but the principal attraction for most people is the beaches, bright sunshine, and laid-back atmosphere. Kenting is below the Tropic of Cancer, so the weather is pretty good all year round. I’ve been there in early January, and it’s still short-and-T-shirt weather during the day, though you’ll want to slip on something warmer when the sun goes down. The town is always crowded on weekends, so it’s advisable to book your hotel a little in advance, which we did.
The southern city of Kaohsiung is the first stopping point for people heading to Kenting. The quickest way to get there is by High-Speed Rail (HSR), 90 minutes from Taipei. Slower trains are cheaper, but at NT$1,600, the HSR is good value for money, and the time saved makes it worthwhile. From the Kaohsiung HSR station (actually in the Zuoying area), you can get one of several Kenting express buses that drop you right on Kenting’s main street. These are NT$650 return, and the trip is 2.5 hours, again pretty good value. Tickets can be booked in the HSR station itself. Another option I’ve used before is shopping around outside the station. There are plenty of taxi and minibus drivers who specialise in running people to Kenting and back. You might end up paying a little more (depending on luck, season, and your negotiation skills), but you’ll get to Kenting a lot quicker.
We took both HSR and bus, and arrived in Kenting just as the sun was going down. Once we located our hotel, a lovely quiet place set back from the main street with a nice view of “Big Point Mountain” from the little balcony, we were feeling pretty hungry, having skipped lunch during our journey south.

(Our hotel room)

There are plenty of good places to eat in Kenting, though my wife did point out that the prices were a little higher and the portions a little smaller than in Taipei, which is what you’d expect from a popular tourist town that makes a lot of its money from Mainland Chinese and other foreign visitors. There are a number of Thai and western style restaurants as well as night market stalls for snack and Taiwanese rechao places. These are NT$100-a-dish eateries where you can get a wide range of local dishes, traditionally washed down with plenty of local beer. However, I was relying on a memory to get use something a little better. On my first trip to Kenting, five years previously, I had found (with the help of a Lonely Planet, I confess) a really good Southeast Asian restaurant, Warung Didi, that did excellent food and was semi-hidden around the back of the main street.

(Outside Warung Didi restaurant)

What we found was that not only is it still there, but it’s quadrupled in size! Where once there was a restaurant, there was now a big outside eating area with a sit-down bar and a vastly increased staff. What hadn’t changed was the quality of the food, and we enjoyed a great meal to celebrate the start of our trip.

(Great food in Warung Didi)

The next day we spend on Xiaowan, or “small bay,” Kenting’s main public beach. Sadly, the much bigger Dawan (big bay) is owned by the big Caesar’s Park hotel, and off-limits to non-guests. There are other beaches up and down the coast, particularly the one at Nanwan (south bay), but Xiaowan is where most of the tourists go.

(Xiaowan - South bay - very early in the morning when there's no one about) There are beach activities - volleyball, jetskiing, banana boats, and the like - for those that want them, plus some nice walks nearby. The stroll around Frog Rock, also just off the main street, is quite pleasant.(View from Frog Rock walking path)If we’d had another day, we would have hired a scooter, which is pretty cheap, and checked out some of the other points of interest nearby, such as Sail Rock, the cliffs at Maobitou, and the lighthouse and scenic area at Erluanbi. I’d seen all these years ago with my parents, and we’ll visit them next time we go down. Sadly, and to bring my blog around to what I started with, sometimes it’s just not that easy to get a four-day long weekend when you’re teaching in Taiwan!