North Taiwan has Taipei, glamour, and tall buidlings. Few people venture south but there is certainly a lot to do and visit. It has beaches, culture, and real cultural-eats:
The best airport to fly into to discover South Taiwan is the Kaohsiung International Airport (KHH), otherwise arrive by high-speed rail/bullet train from Taipei to Kaohsiung Tsuoying Station. From there if you want to skip Kaohsiung city and head straight to the south coast, you can buy tickets for the Kenting Express in the arrival hall. It’s comfortable and air-conditioned and takes you straight to the main towns along the coast mentioned below.
1) Learn Surfing in Jialesui
Similar swimsuit/rashguard here.
I would argue that Jialesui is one of the best places in the world to learn surfing, for the following reasons:
- There is a calm little river estuary right next to the main surf beach where first-time learners can practice the moves on their surfboard in still water rather than on waves straight away.
- Private surf lessons are cheap and of high quality. Surf lessons with a private instructor go from about $1500nt for half-day lesson (9am-12:30pm) and the rest of the day to practice yourself.
- The waves at Jialesui are small-medium sized most of the year and friendly to beginners.
Private 1-1 lessons go for around $2000nt for half a day, and groups of two or more for $1500nt/half day, including surfboard hire +- wet clothing/booties. They can be booked in advance via the hostel/hotel you’re staying at, and usually include pick up and drop off. But if you make your way to Jialesui yourself you can just pick up a lesson there too without much trouble.
A decent and cheap surf hostel is Rainbow Wave in Hengchun, where they have comfortable air conditioned dorm beds (no bunk beds) for 500nt and also private rooms.
2) Hike Kenting National Park
It takes under an hour to do the route at a leisurely pace stopping at every vista, and fine to walk in sandals/flip flops if that’s all you have. There are beautiful scenic vistas along the way such as the one above.
3) Eat street-food at a Night-Market
Stinky Tofu!! (臭豆腐) The most infamous smelly street food in the world! It took me years to try my first plate, but since then I get it – tofu is just another kind of cheese, and 'stinky tofu' is just like blue cheese, a little but fermented. When this is fried it magnifies the smell, hence the reputation. If you can get over the smell, it's worth a try. ☞ This plate of authentic stinky tofu for $35nt go to the place in the location tag!
Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s food capital – I would recommend avoiding Liu-her Tourist Nightmarket (yes, it’s actually has “Tourist” in the name) and instead going to a real local one such as Lingya Nightmarket (on every night of the year), or if it’s shopping rather than food you’re after Ruei-Fong Nightmarket. If you’re in Kenting, know that it’s a very expensive night market by Taiwan-price standards, but you’ll still be able to sample a good range of traditional Taiwanese food!
4) Get Lazy on an Empty Beach
Taiwanese people don’t particularly like to swim. Many can’t or are afraid of the sea:
Combined with few tourists, most beaches are fairly deserted, or only lightly populated. The beautiful beach in the image above is at Chateau Beach Resort in Kenting, but Baisha Wan Beach is a nice alternative with white sands if resorts are not your thing. Nan-wan beach is generally packed and full of people doing water-sports/jet-skiing. Unless that’s what you want to do there, I don’t recommend it as a beach to relax in.
Similar neoprene bikini here.
5) Watch the sunset on the beautiful coastline
Fong-cuei-sa (風吹砂), in the photo above, is probably my favourite coastal view in all of Taiwan. Just off the western tip of the island, it’s incredibly windy, so nobody swims there, but that makes for great views as far as the eye can see without a single person in sight to ruin it. I’ve heard rumous that some mainland Chinese tour busses have started stopping here so everyone can hop off, take a photo, and hop back on. But I hope this isn’t true and I haven’t yet seen any….
If you’re getting around by car or scooter, you have freedom to stop anywhere along the beautiful drive.
6) See Earth on Fire (出火)
Natural underground gases escape from cracks in the earth at this place:
the ground is literally on fire.
Usually burns a blue-orange hue. It’s pretty cool to see – but the size and amount of fire varies from day to day (or season, I don’t know about natural gasses). Years ago it used to be common for people to barbequeue on these fires, and I confess I’ve done it myself bringing corn on the cob and marshmallows. But it’s since been banned (probbaly for good reason) and the parts of the ground spouting fire have been cordoned off like in the picture above.
Still worth a visit one night in Kenting! It’s 10min from Hengchun town. There are vendors outside selling fireworks, but that’s now been banned too so I don’t recommend setting any off there.
7) Hike Shou-Shan (壽山) in Kaohsiung
Or what I call Monkey Mountain. A pleasant 1-2 hour long walk/hike to the top with great views over the city. Cute pavillions along the way make for nice tea-stops. Beware of monkeys stealing food from you or unzipping your bags! Don’t scrunch plastic bags – monkeys associate the sound with food and may pounce!
The way is wooden-planked so you don’t need any special shoes. It’s a good idea to bring plenty of water on hot days and a snack for when you reach the top! You’ll be rewarded with great views of the city.
8) Bathe in a forest Hot-Spring at night
Taiwan has no shortage of hot-springs, and many will wonder why anyone would want to bathe in a hot spring when it’s 35C outside. But if you go to the hot springs in the mountain, the temperature there often drops to a pleasant cool, and then bathing in a hot thermal bath at night suddenly becomes a very pleasant prospect.
The Taiwanese believe hot spring water heals a number of ailments, and that will be the primary reason locals visit. In a proper hot-spring hotel, the bathroom taps should spout actual hot-spring water, so if you’d rather bathe in privacy, you can run yourself a hot-spring bath!
9) Visit Lotus Lake (蓮池潭) in Tsuoying
Walk through the Tiger and Dragon Pavillions and feed turtles and giant goldfish at the neighbouring pagodas. A bit further down the lake is Confucious Temple for a nice stroll through traditional Taiwanese courtyards.
It’s a nice thing to do on a spare afternoon in the city. The streets alongside are lined with shops and snack stalls.
10) See the Rice-Paddies of Southern Taiwan
If you’re travelling around south Taiwan by bus or car you’ll likely see plenty en-route! If you’re lucky and visit at the right time of year you can see farmers planting the seedlings, and interesting process to observe. If you offer a helping hand – many will gratefully accept and show you how to plant a few lines of rice yourself!
11) Have Bubble-Tea where it was invented
If you’ve tried it abroad and decided you didn’t like it – try it again. I have yet to have bubble-tea anywhere outside of Taiwan that tastes like it should! Get the normal plain bubble tea with large black tapioca balls. Give the weird and wonderful flavours and colours a miss for now. But if you’re feeing adventuous try the Yam-flavoured tea with traditional large tapioca balls.
In all drink shops in Taiwan, levels of sugar and ice are customisable. So nobody would look at you funny if you ordered “a large bubble tea with 25% sugar and 50% ice”.