Getting to Kenting
Getting to Kenting takes a bit of commitment and the right mind set
There is only a small, regional airport in Kenting and the area’s strong, seasonal winds provide less than favorable landing conditions. Despite the fact that southern Taiwan has more than 6 million visitors annually, minimal load factors have caused all but one regional carrier to pull service from the area.
Ground transportation is the best way to reach Kenting. Fortunately, the first half of the journey can be conducted by High Speed Rail (HSR) between Taipei and Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city. Unfortunately, the rail does not stretch all the way to Kenting.
Taipei Station has two types of regularly scheduled rail service to Kaohsiung. The express train takes about two hours and the more leisurely "local" takes a half-hour longer. Both are comfortable, convenient and feature plenty of English signage. Visitors can buy HSR tickets online, but for peace of mind, I used Los Angeles-based All State Travel (which offers a nominal commission to travel agents) to book my tickets.
Once in Kaohsiung, things get trickier. The most popular method used by locals is to catch the "88" bus, also known as the Kenting shuttle. We were warned not to confuse this shuttle with the city buses, but we found the dedicated bust stop with ease. It was so easy that at first we thought maybe we had found the city bus by mistake. The driver assured us, in broken English, that he was headed to Kenting. We planned ahead, however, and had someone write "Kenting" and the name of our hotel in Chinese, just to be on the safe side.
While waiting for the shuttle, we were approached by several, very pushy taxi drivers. We were a little put off by their aggressiveness, and opted not to use their service. We later learned that the taxi fare isn’t much more than the bus fare, about $20 to $12. Keep in mind, though, that each driver sets his own price, so fares can vary wildly. On the plus side, the trip by car takes about an hour less than the bus excursion.
The most important thing to know is that the Kenting Shuttle will provide a very in-depth view of the southern part of Taiwan, as it meanders along many country roads, stopping at nearly ever small town between Kaohsiung and Kenting. What we were told would be a two- to 2½-hour ride took well over three hours.
By the end of the excursion, we had passed nearly every major hotel in southern Taiwan, and I started hallucinating, convinced that every hotel was ours.
As our trip stretched beyond two hours, then two and a half, then three, I could feel my tension levels rising. I was starting to panic, worried that we had missed our hotel altogether and that we would have to back track to find out way home. By the end of the trip, we were tired, hungry and I had developed a headache.
Just as I’d decided to get off the bus in the next small town, ready to catch whatever taxi we could find, the driver turned to let us know that our stop was coming up. Sure enough, he dropped us directly in front of our resort.
Had we been prepared for the journey, I think we would have enjoyed it a lot more than we did. We definitely got to enjoy our fair share of local flavor, and we also drove along some gorgeous coastline just as the sun was setting. Our ongoing concern of "where the heck are we?" kept us from fully appreciating the excursion.
On our return to Kaohsiung, my mom threatened to disown me, unless I figured out a faster way back to Kaohsiung. The Howard Hotel, as with other area properties, can arrange a private driver for about $50 between Kenting and Kaohsiung. Be aware that these rates can also vary wildly. Even our hotel quoted us several different rates, as high as $100, and we had to talk with the driver directly to negotiate our final price.
The drive back shaved about an hour off our travel time and was conducted in a comfortable, air-conditioned town car. Allen, our English-speaking driver pointed out key sites along the way, but didn’t chatter, so we were also able to enjoy some well-deserved quiet time. I can’t recommend highly enough finding a reputable driver, or a tour operator to arrange transportation between Kaohsiung and Kenting.
We’re exploring the "Waters of Taiwan" exhibit at Taiwan’s massive National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, when my sister points to a tidal exhibit and exclaims with joy, "Look, the Mudskipper. Isn’t he so cute?"
All I see is what appears to be a guppy with feet, playing in the mud. My sister corrects me.
National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium
"It’s not a guppy, it’s a member of the goby family. He’s a fish, but he is totally amphibious so he can live both in water and on land. Cool, right?"
This is how it is with my sister, the marine biologist. She always has the insider 411.
Her Ph.D. in Marine Science pretty much guarantees that any trip we take together will involve at least one visit to an aquarium or marine institute. So, when we started talking about visiting Taiwan, it was a no-brainer that we’d be taking the trip south to Kenting to check out Taiwan’s massive attraction.
I was a bit concerned during our planning stages. Very little information on the Kenting aquarium can be found online and I didn’t want to make the long trek just to end up in a small facility with limited displays. One blog compared it to the aquarium in Monterey Bay, Calif., but I was skeptical.
I need not have worried. We spent nearly seven hours in the aquarium, practically having to be dragged out at the closing bell.
Getting to the aquarium, once in Kenting, is quite easy. A local bus passes by most of the area’s main resorts and hotels, and it took us about 20 minutes from the Howard Hotel Beach Resort.
"Isn’t this aquarium on the water?" my sister asked.
I just shrugged. Although we were directly outside the facility, we saw no sign of an ocean. As we approached the building, however, we found that it was just so large that the shoreline had been hidden beyond our sightline.
Once past the entrance and the ubiquitous Starbucks, we saw that the aquarium could indeed compare in size and scope with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. After we took some time for photos in front of the water fountain with a life-size whale statue jumping above the surface, we headed inside.
The aquarium’s attractions are almost too numerous to recount. My sister’s favorite exhibit was a sunken-ship display, where literally thousands of fish made their home. The enormous tank was constructed in such a way that we could wander around the ship and have a view from nearly every angle. My mom was particularly taken with the walk-through tunnel and the sheer number of rays and sharks that swam above us.
My favorite exhibit didn’t involve any real fish at all. "The Deep Sea" display depicted all the fish that are predicted to be living at the deepest part of the ocean, many of which have rarely, if ever, been viewed by humans. These fish are represented in an amazing virtual-reality display that played on the four walls around us.
Despite the fact that we knew we weren’t watching actual fish, the exhibit was so vividly real, we felt as if we were standing in the middle of a tank full of enormous, sea creatures. What’s more, we watched the show for a good 20 minutes and not once did the film reel repeat itself. A whole lot of science and imagination went into bringing the display to life.
But that’s true of the entire museum. Any aficionado of ocean sciences considering Asia should be absolutely sure to add this stop to their itinerary. Even if they aren’t traveling with a marine biologist.