Vacation to Kenting and Hengchun

By Charles Wetzel

Day 1 (October 24, 2010)

On October 24, I decided to go to Kenting. Kenting is a beach resort area at the very southern tip of Taiwan, in Pingtung County. I wanted to take a vacation there to celebrate two things: finishing my bachelor's degree (completed on October 23, 2010) and turning 24 (October 24). I had originally thought about going there but scrapped the plan due to Typhoon Megi, but at the last minute, Typhoon Megi veered off course and headed for China, and on re-checking the weather forecasts, I realized that yes, Kenting would be doable. I packed a backpack with toiletries, my laptop, and a few other indispensable things, made a reservation at the Surf Shack in Hengchun (a town near Kenting), went to Kaohsiung Main Station, and started looking around for transportation options to get myself to Kenting.

Basically, whenever a foreigner goes to Kaohsiung Main Station, he will be approached immediately by taxi drivers asking "KENTING? KENTING?" They know that foreigners like to go there. So many times, I have said "I don't want to go to Kenting" in Chinese, but for once, their trawling paid off. I asked the taxi driver how much a taxi ride would be to Kenting — only NT$300! Not bad! That's only about nine American dollars at the current exchange rate for a trip of between one and two hours. I told him I'd check the price of a bus ticket. It turned out taking a bus would actually be more expensive than taking a taxi, so I went for the taxi. I shared it with a Taiwanese girl. Unfortunately, the driver kept on chewing betel nuts and spitting out the masticated bits into a plastic cup in the cup holder right next to me. And the disgusting red juice went into the cup, as well. And it smelled. I thought about asking him to stop, but didn't want to get into an argument, so I just put up with it. However, on the return trip to Kaohsiung, I opted for a bus (slightly more expensive) rather than go with a betel nut-chewing cab driver again. Anyways, we soon arrived at Hengnan Road, the location of the Surf Shack, and I spotted this thing:

This is called Nanmen, which means "South Gate." It was constructed from native materials including coral, which is abundant on the beach nearby. The town of Hengchun was constructed in 1875 by the Ching (Qing in pinyin) Dynasty in response to the Mudan Tribe Incident.

The Mudan Tribe Incident happened in 1871. There was a ship with sailors from Miyako Island, which is an island in the Japanese Ryukyu archipelago. They became shipwrecked near the southern cape of Formosa (Taiwan) and wandered around trying to find a village. There were 66 who survived the wreck. Unfortunately for them, they stumbled upon a village of Mudan aborigines who promptly massacred 54 of the shipwrecked sailors. They expelled the remaining 12 to Japan. This greatly angered Japan, which later launched skirmishes (such as the one in 1874) against the aborigines and began to conduct more military operations in relation to Formosa, with the pretext of protecting Japanese citizens.

Ching (Qing) Dynasty China realized that they had to get the aborigines in far-flung Formosa under control, so they built Hengchun, which was a walled town. It had several gates. Nanmen, the one in the picture above, is the south gate, but there were others, like Dongmen. Shen Bao Jhen, a government official, was in charge of the construction of Hengchun, a frontier town (it is interesting to note that at the exact same time in history that the US federal government was expanding westward and coming into conflict with Native Americans, the Chinese government was expanding eastward and doing the exact same thing with Native Taiwanese).

Nanmen itself is a town that is not particularly big; it is possible to walk from the center to the outskirts (rice paddies) fairly easily. If you read on, you will see some pictures that I took of the various flora and fauna of the rice paddies. Still, it is large enough to have all the basic amenities.

I decided to take the bus to Kenting and swim in the ocean. The bus fare was 28 NTD and the ride was about ten minutes. The beach that I went to was called "Cesar Beach," because it was the beach of the nearby Cesar Resort. Here are some pictures (in addition to the one at the top of this photo essay):

Cesar Beach actually wasn't deserted, it just looks that way in this picture.

One major advantage of Kenting over Kaohsiung's Cijin Seaside Park (besides better cleanliness) is that Kenting's beaches have more coral and interesting shells.

Broken Catamaran

Hermit Crabs Abound

Another Hermit Crab

A Shell

A Stream Flowing into the Ocean at Cesar Beach

I swam in the ocean at Cesar Beach for a while. There were certainly certain advantages of Cesar Beach over Cjin's Seaside Park. For one thing, it is cleaner. There are more interesting shells and types of coral washed up on the beach. The decor is better, especially the thatched "umbrellas." There are more people on the beach, which could be an advantage in certain situations. However, there were disadvantages, as well. The large number of coral and shells (as well as more rocks) mean one must be careful when wading in the water (Cijin Island's beach is sandier). The shower facilities (an absolute MUST for Taiwan — failing to wash off sea lice right after exiting the ocean can result in itching so hellish, it has sent me to the hospital, as well as various surfers) cost 20 NT dollars, and they don't even have hot water (the shower facilities on Cijin are free). There is a bar/restaurant on the beach, but the prices are absolutely outrageous. Overall, I'd say it was a more high-class beach than Cijin's, but there were a few drawbacks, as well.

There were probably more people on the beach than there would be at Cijin's beach at the same time of year (not many people go there in October). Although most were Taiwanese (or Chinese, I can't really tell the difference since they both speak Mandarin), there were also some foreigners. I spotted some Russians, for example.

In fact, Kenting is quite a popular place for expats and English teachers. This is attested to by the fact that there are many foreign-owned bars and restaurants in Kenting. In fact, my hostel (the Surf Shack Hostel, Bar, and Grill), the restaurant I ate at in Kenting, and another roadside bar were all foreign-owned. My hostel was owned by a Canadian and his Taiwanese wife; the restaurant I ate at near the beach was British-owned, and I also saw another foreign-owned bar-in-a-truck near the beach. I would consider myself an enthusiast of foreign-owned establishments in Asia — as someone who has lived in Asia for a long time and would love to transcend his position as English teacher, I have often thought about opening a business someday in this part of the world, and seeing three (or more) successful examples of other westerners who are doing it was an inspiration. At the British-owned restaurant, I had a ham sandwich and clam chowder. Not cheap — NT$330 when the service charge was factored in, but it was delicious nevertheless.

Here are some various photos of the Kenting area:

Expat Bar Area

Palm Tree Sky

Mountain Peak

That night, I returned to the Surf Shack Hostel, Bar, and Grill. It is owned by a Canadian and his Taiwanese wife. It has rooms upstairs (I was put in the Japanese 3 room, a Japanese-style cubicle [the wall didn't completely reach the ceiling]). It was a decent place. It has a bar that serves various types of food, including the "Bitburger" (presumably a large, American-style cheeseburger), a certain platter of food so big that they will give it to you for free if you eat the whole thing in 25 minutes, etc. However, unfortunately, the bar seemed to be closed most of the time due to the lack of patrons in late October.

The room itself was, as mentioned, a cubicle. The wall did not reach the ceiling (probably for ventilation purposes, since a ceiling fan was used rather than an air conditioner). It seemed to work well, though, since my room was consistently cool despite Kenting's location right across the Luzon Strait from the Philippines. Wireless access was available sporadically in the building, but unfortunately not in my room. Overall, the room served its purpose, though, and the price was right, at 450 NTD (about US$14) per night.

I hung out with another guest, an Australian, who lives in Tokyo and comes to Kenting to surf. He is married to a Japanese woman, and his profession is translator (Japanese to English). He said he'd been studying Japanese for about 15 years, and lived there since '07. He was talking about the sea wasp in Australia, and how it makes otherwise beautiful waters unswimmable in the summer because it is lethal about 75% of the time. He also talked about how many of his translation gigs were online, and how he had been able to completely fund a large portion of his trip through Europe while sitting on trains, translating. Certainly he was an interesting fellow.

That night, to celebrate my birthday, I had some beer. Then I went to sleep, with grand plans for what I would do the next day.

Day 2 (October 25, 2010)

October 25 was a day that I began with great ambitions, but unfortunately, one thing led to another, and the day was rather unimpressive overall. At the beginning of the day, I made it my goal to visit the Ganzai Desert (better translated as the Great Gangzai Desert, although I'll go with my information pamphlet's official translation for this photo essay) as well as the Baisha Beach in Kenting. I also decided to send postcards to a friend in Sweden and a friend in Japan. However, since a man can't work on an empty stomach, I decided to get some tonkatsu (Japanese-style pork cutlet) at a budget restaurant along Hengnan Road. The price was only 50 New Taiwan Dollars (around US$1.61) for rice, a tonkatsu patty, a small salad, soup, green beans, and black tea. An absolutely incredible deal. The restaurant had fairly basic but pleasing homemade decor:

Homemade Yet Artsy Japanese-Style Menu

I like the way they did the cherry blossoms.

After having breakfast, I meticulously wrote the following postcards and mailed them to the respective persons in Sweden and Japan. See below for an example of a postcard with beautiful Kenting scenery. The water isn't really that brilliant blue, so my guess is that they applied some sort of filter to the camera or the image like Lomography.

I'm guessing they used a camera filter or plugin for The Gimp to make everything in this picture look bright and vivid. Kenting looks nice, but is there really a beach on earth that looks as heavenly as the one depicted on this postcard?

This is the postcard I sent to my friend in Japan. Since it's in Korean and the readers of this site generally don't speak Korean, I consider the privacy of all parties sufficiently protected. :-)

This is the postcard that I sent to my friend in Sweden. I shrank the image down to an extremely small size on purpose to protect her privacy.

Then, at 4:25 PM, I boarded the bus for the Ganzai Desert. It was my plan to go to the Ganzai Desert, arriving around 5:25 PM just before the sun set, trek around the desert, get some nice desert photos including a sunset, come back, and then hit Baisha ("White Sands") Beach for an evening of quality beach time. However, it did not work out the way I had intended, unfortunately. First of all, the bus I was riding wasn't a regular bus, as I had imagined — it was essentially a school bus that an odd tourist here or there could ride on for a 97 NTD fee. Therefore, almost all the other passengers were middle schoolers and elementary schoolers (more of the latter towards the end). And they acted as elementary schoolers generally do — imitating my accent and making fun of it. Great, just what I took a vacation for. And I was playing Lunar on my laptop when the elementary schoolers got on, and they wanted to play (never mind that the game is in Korean and none of them had a clue what was going on). Then they asked me if I had any other games, so I put on Civilization II, but predictably, they tired of that in one or two minutes and wanted to play Lunar again. After an extremely loud, aggravating bus ride in which my laptop spent the majority of the time seated on a Taiwanese boy's lap, the bus began to climb a steep and bumpy mountain. This was somewhat worrisome, as only a few days prior to that, Typhoon Megi had sent buses in Taiwan tumbling off cliffs. Fortunately, we got the empty chamber in this game of Taiwanese mountain-ascending Russian Roulette and arrived in the Ganzai region unscathed — but by that time, it was well into the evening and the sun was down. I was still determined to reach the Ganzai Desert, however, and use my camera to capture some pictures using the flash. Unfortunately, the students notified me that there was no bus back to "civilization" until the next morning! One of the girls told me my only option would be to stay at a minsu (small inn) in the Ganzai region and set out back for Hengchun in the morning. The students told me there was only one bus to Hengchun per day, and it left around 6:30 AM. This was a major problem for me because I needed to teach the following day, and missing the bus would essentially mean missing/not showing up for my job the evening of the following day! However, I didn't seem to have much choice.

I inquired at the minsu about prices — 700 NTD for one night! Highway robbery! The room I was staying in back in Hengchun (which is actually a civilized town) was only 450 NTD, so 700 NTD for a basic plain white room with concrete walls in the middle of nowhere next to a desert seemed like an awful price gouge (as my bus driver on the way back later agreed, saying that he thought 300 NTD would have been a fair price for that room). I began to walk down the road towards the Ganzai Desert, and inquired with a couple slightly down the road to find out if the bus rumor was true. They told me that I still had one chance to catch a bus back to Hengchun — in about five minutes! I decided to abandon my plan to trek the Ganzai Desert in favor of safely returning to Hengchun on time, and got onto the bus — the exact same one that had taken me to Ganzai. What a waste of time and 194 New Taiwan Dollars... I didn't get a single picture of the desert.

On the way back, an elderly woman wanted to board the bus, but lo and behold, the door was jammed and wouldn't open. Therefore, the bus driver opened the emergency door at the back of the bus and the elderly woman struggled to pull herself up into the bus, eventually succeeding. By around 7:00 PM, we arrived back in Hengchun. I chatted with the bus driver in Mandarin and it turned out he had been on trips to both mainland China and Vietnam, did not like the People's Progressive Party (the PPP), and preferred the nationalist KMT to them. He seemed to be relatively pro-China, but seemed to be fairly nice.

I arrived back in Hengchun, unfortunately not with enough time or energy to go to Baisha Beach. Instead, I found the movie "House Sitter" with Goldie Haun in a budget bin for 20 NTD and watched it on my laptop back at the Surf Shack. A completely forgettable, average movie.

After the misadventure to Ganzai, I talked with the woman who ran the Surf Shack and she informed me that the Ganzai Desert is best traversed on a 4WD vehicle. She also noted that it was not actually a particularly impressive desert when compared to deserts such as those in America, but the impressive part was that a desert could even exist in Taiwan. And that's true — Taiwan has a tropical marine climate, is a small island, etc. and it is strange for a sandy desert with dunes to form in such a location. I hope to one day return to the Ganzai region and see the desert properly.

As for other interesting things I did that day, I traveled to the outskirts of the town of Hengchun and took some interesting pictures of various things on the rice paddies. I will include the pictures below:

This is the makeshift bridge I crossed to get over a canal and onto one of the rice paddies.

Some Sort of Pod, Presumably an Insect Pod

This is some sort of growth, pod, egg case, or something like that. It is not a raspberry. I not only found them on plant stalks, but also on concrete walls near the rice paddies. I wonder what they are, exactly?

View Out Over the Rice Paddy

A Snail I Found Underwater in a Rice Paddy (and subsequently returned to where I found it)

This is called a "tudi jiepiao." That means "land sphere/territory marker." It marks property boundaries.

Want to make a quick 300+ US Dollars? If you're in Hengchun right now, you're in luck! Find this beloved dog and the owner will pay you 10,000 NTD!

Day 3 (October 26, 2010)

Finally, it was the day to head home, as I had to teach at 6:00 PM in Kaohsiung. Although I initially entertained the idea of hitting the beach early in the morning, the sound of thunder and a few raindrops discouraged me from doing this. Oh well, at least I hit Cesar Beach on Day 1. I bought a bus ticket for 320 NTD (so I wouldn't have to stare at a cup of masticated betel nut and red juice and a vampiric taxi driver). The bus was extremely fast and I arrived back in Kaohsiung by noon. The total cost of the trip from less than 3,000 NTD (in other words, less than $96.77 for a three-day vacation, all expenses included). An incredibly low-budget, fun, enjoyable break from the usual routine, and something I do not regret doing. Perhaps in the future, I can return to Kenting and experience some more of what it has to offer (for example, surf lessons via the Surf Shack, returning to Ganzai, hitting more beaches, or other things). Here are some pictures of things from the third day, to round out this photo essay/scrap book:

This is a bird's nest that blew down from a tree on the third day. The winds were strong, there was the sound of thunder, and I felt a raindrop or too — it was probably good that I headed back for KHS (Kaohsiung) when I did.

My Bus Ticket Back to Kaohsiung

View from Bus on the Return Trip


Beautiful Outdoor, Artsy Relief Map of Hengchun

This is the map from my pamphlet "Walking Kenting." It shows Kenting and Hengchun, as well as other nearby places in Pingtung County. Note the Open Xiao Jiang/7-Eleven product endorsement. 7-Eleven has over 4,000 stores in Taiwan, various famous mascots like Open Xiao Jiang (the character with the rainbow for a hat), and even a professional baseball team, the 7-Eleven Lions.

Here is a map of Pingtung County. Note that Fongshan, the place where I live and work at the time of this writing, is right near the border with Pingtung. However, I would be unable to walk all the way to Kenting in a short time, only to northern Pingtung County, which probably wouldn't be worth it.

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