Friday, August 13, 2010

Kending (Sucks) and Eluanbi (is Awesome)

In my continued effort to be a better blogger, here are some photos from our trip to Kending and Eluanbi last month:


This trip completed our trio of planned rental car trips – conveniently all before Emily leaves, as neither Brendan nor I are good drivers, and neither of us have an international permit. A few months ago you may have seen my post on the North Cross-Island Highway, then the other day I posted about the Central Cross Island Highway (such as it is – more like the road from Puli as the actual highway remains unrepaired), and so here’s Kending.

Before I arrived, Brendan and Emily wandered around Kaohsiung with Emily’s friend Robin who, bless his heart, manages to look like the most generic Taiwanese college kid or young office worker in…well, in Taiwan. I wasn’t around for this part of the trip as I had a seminar, so I can’t report on it much. I heard, though, that it was very hot (thanks Captain Obvious) and they drank, among other liquids ingested continuously during their blistering, scorching walking tour, a Kaohsiung specialty: green tea with cream.

Very nice and Typical Taiwanese Kid Lookin' Robin.

I should note that I wasn't in Kaohsiung - all of the photos above were taken by Emily Taylor. (Some may have been taken by Brendan, but I am pretty sure they're all Emily.)

Donggang's Huaqiao Seafood Market.

I met them at the HSR station at about 8pm, and we rented a car with Car Plus. Emily chose the cheapest thing on the car menu and we ended up with a Yaris. In her words, “it aspires to be a car. It’s got the engine of a blender and the protection of a plastic bag, really brilliant cupholders.” We made fun of the poor Yaris through the entire trip: “I think I can I think I can I think I can!” while climbing even mild hills or passing someone on the highway. With its 1600 CC engine (or so), I joked that it was about as powerful as two large pearl milk teas (700 CC each) on a skateboard. “Do you think this thing could do 100?” “It wouldn’t do 100 if you chucked it off a cliff!”

We stopped in Donggang for dinner after getting lost in Zuoying – we ended up going the wrong way on the highway and having to turn back, and getting lost. Fortunately Donggang, small as it is, stays up late – probably due to fishermen coming in fairly late. We found a grill-your-own seafood stand still open by the harbor, and had an amazing meal of fresh seafood, mostly unseasoned. Think just-grilled oysters, flavored only with their own deliciousness and some sea salt. Giant crab claws. Eel on a stick. A big pile of fresh clams. A fish sprinkled with sea salt, pepper and lemon. A few grilled veggies (peas and mushrooms). We downed it with lots of beer – well, we two non-drivers had lots of beer. Emily had one tiny cupful.

I do rate Donggang’s Huaqiao Seafood Market as one of the best meals in Taiwan – where the old guidebook writers got off saying that Shida Night Market is in the top five but this place isn’t clearly didn’t know what they were talking about, or have no tastebuds. Shida is good, but it pales in comparison to this. Only in Keelung have I had seafood this good (and Yehliu – that was good too.)

Cold coconuts available at Eluanbi - they chop the top off with a machete and give it to you with a straw to drink the juice. Refreshing and healthy!

We hit the road after that and reached Kending at about 2am. The place was still hopping with a makeshift night market (oxymoron that) full of shell necklaces, friendship bracelets and surfer t-shirt shops alongside mediocre looking snack stands, a few bars and what appeared to be a strip club. We moved on and ended up in Eluanbi – quieter and more to our taste. We agreed that our first stop the next morning would be the southernmost point in Taiwan – quite near our camping area. I do recommend camping here – it’s not that expensive and facilities are good. We stayed just over from “Coconut Forest” (椰子林) which looked creepy and abandoned, and the owner woke up for our late arrival to find us a spot, and gave us a discounted rate thanks to the late hour.

The view from just below the nuclear power station to the east of Eluanbi. This is a nice place to stop, get out of the car, walk to the cliff and take photos.

There are outlets – if you do camp, bring a fan. Otherwise the humidity and heat make it unbearable even at night. By the end the accumulation of sweat and bug spray had me waking up feeling like I was covered in a viscous slime. (I don't have any good photos of Slimy Jenna, so I posted this below that nice picture near Chuanfan Rock). Our sleeping bags acted as mattresses - it was too hot to sleep in them - and we had to air htem out and wipe them down with water before moving on - they were really...horrid. Think sweat, sunblock, oily skin and bug spray all coming together to form something truly otherworldly and disgusting.

Oh and bug spray? Totally doesn't work that well if you get the nice-smelling kind like I did. I still got many huge bites from these nasty black mosquitos.

I have to say that Kending town did not impress us even a little bit - we aren't really ones for bars, Thai food (like it's trying to be Krabi, Ko Samui or Bali) and cheap shell necklaces. We never went down to the beach - if the crowded road was any indication, it would have been packed and filthy with the hordes of people. So not our thing. Good place to go if you want to party - or if you are taking the bus, as you can get a hotel and walk to the beach and shops, but not really leave. But not if you want a relaxing vacation with good scenery and peaceful ocean scenes. In fact, I felt the whole town was trying way too hard to be something it should never have become. I was also a bit put off by all the backpacker food (overpriced Thai, lackluster Mexican, underwhelming American) - half the quality at twice the price! Give me some fresh oysters from Huaqiao anyday - and you can get there by bus, too.

So yeah - Kending? Not recommended.

Kending National Park and Eluanbi, however, I highly recommend. Unfortunately, these require a car. There are buses - we saw buses that said "Eluanbi" on them, and there are stops marked - but we would rarely see a bus actually go through the small town, and never saw one coming up the other way past the nuclear power plant.

This was, however, the most beautiful part of the trip.

Southernmost Point in Taiwan

We started the next morning at the southernmost point in Taiwan - a spot you can drive to on a side road leaving the main one. You drive up, then down, then park near an abandoned old house (what a cool house - I would totally live there if it were liveable. You don't get more southern than that). Then it's a 500 meter walk along a good path through mangrove forest, where you see huge, colorful butterflies. I'd say many were almost the size of my open hand. We also saw lizards - larger than the usual tiny, skittering ones you see hiking up north. There's at least one grave - I wonder about the feng shui of that.

We didn't stay at the platform at the true southernmost point for long, as large insects had taken it upon themselves to dive bomb me relentlessly. Probably because my bathing suit (I had forgotten a t-shirt so wore my very conservative bathing suit top) was covered in giant hibiscus flower patterns.

Then we drove up towards the nuclear power plant, where the views are vast:

And turned around, not realizing that the best drive was straight ahead. We came back through Chuanfan Rock, or rather the road near it:

There's a lackluster beach here with a rocky surf that is nice for a quick warm-water dip but Better than Kending town though!

I was amused by the strip of stores - snorkel rentals, a 7-11, souvenirs, boring food - and then across the street a blue truck blaring Taiwanese music (the old kind - think like the stuff taxi drivers listen to) skids into the parking lot and quickly "opens for business" - fresh fruit, vegetables, a small cache of seafood, some other sundries - and all the locals converge on it to do their daily shopping. The contrast was striking. I was more interested in the truck than the shops, personally.

We then headed up to the park office and got a map, driving on through Sheding, where we stopped for a noodle soup lunch at a restaurant/karaoke "bar" (by "bar" I mean they sell beer and have a karaoke machine). We met this interesting fellow:

And sang a few songs with him. We figure he's the tiny village's Good Time Guy, or he was 20 years ago but since there's nothing else to do in town, it sort of stuck.

At that point we ended up back in Eluanbi and drove the old route - we passed the power plant again and rounded a hill, where we came to a gorgeous aqua beach with soft golden sand and very few people. We stopped here for a swim and it was far better than anything Kending could offer. This is the beach I recommend if you want to come and have a real swim.

The water was clear and cool - cold even - the waves were mild, fun for playing but not scary - and the depth stayed shallow fairly far out. It was clear enough that even several meters out you could see your feet.

The only downside - those tiny fish that bite you, even through swimsuits. I hate those.

Back by the parking area, you can wash off for ten kuai, buy a coconut to drink or a sausage and get cold water from a cooler - a local has set up a little blue-truck business there offering these things and it was welcome refreshment.

Then we drove through Kending National Park, which has lovely hills and scenery:

Passing vans and trucks with kids sticking out the sunroof or on the back enjoying the sun (you'll note in the first picture that Brendan was terrified of sunburn after his Penghu experience and as such wore his shirt into the water, to hilarious effect).

Hengchun is worth a quick drive through and stop for maybe lunch or juice, but not all that interesting. We did stop to see the old city wall:

And the cool tank they have on display:

...and the "old street" is nice enough. But not really exciting.

It was starting to get dark as we headed back, and we were just south of Donggang by sundown:

Along the highway many coffeeshops have sprung up beside the rocky beaches, where you can stop, have a cold drink and enjoy the ocean one last time before driving back up to Kaohsiung.

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