A Travel Guide to Pingtung, Taiwan’s Holiday County

Sand dunes to the coast in Kenting National Park, Pingtung

Pingtung (屏東 or Pingdong) is the southernmost county in Taiwan. Travelers will know it for its two big-name holiday hot spots: Xiaoliuqiu Island and Kenting National Park.

While most visitors are unlikely to venture much beyond these two places, there’s a little more to the county for those who like to go off the beaten track.

Come to Pingtung for its stunning beaches, year-round good weather, watersports, growing chocolate producing scene, and snorkeling with giant sea turtles – this is Taiwan’s weekend getaway destination!

In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know for visiting Pingtung, including its most famous and lesser-known attractions, how to get to the them, what to eat, where to stay, best tours, and more.

Pingtung Introduction

Secret Beach on Xiaoliuqiu, shot from above, with three people in the water
Secret Beach on Xiaoliuqiu Island

The Pingtung region was originally inhabited by plains Taiwanese aboriginals. In one well-known historical incident, aboriginals on Xiaoliuqiu island killed Dutch sailors stranded on the island’s shore two separate times. The Dutch retaliated by killing 300 of the locals, known as the Lamey Island Massacre.

Pingtung is both a county and its capital city of the same name. Pingtung City is located inland, near the Gaoping River, which separates the county from neighborhing Kaohsiung. It’s a modestly sized city of 200,000, with many residents commuting to Kaohsiung City nearby for work. Pingtung County‘s total population is only 800,000 and continues to shrink as its inhabitant move to larger cities.

Located entirely south of the Tropic of Cancer, Pingtung has tropical weather, generally warm enough to swim in the sea year-round.

A white lighthouse building on a grassy hill
Eluanbi Lighthouse at the southern tip of Taiwan

Kenting National Park, which occupies the southern tip of mainland Taiwan, became Taiwan’s first national park in 1984. It is known for having some of Taiwan’s best beaches, the closest thing Taiwan has to a beach party scene, its biodiversity, and historic Eluanbi Lighthouse.

The annual Spring Scream alternative music festival, started in 1995 but no longer active, made Kenting the unofficial party venue for the April long weekend. In 2008, Cape No. 7 was filmed there, followed by scenes of Life of Pi in 2012 (in fact, Ang Lee was born in Pingtung!)

These events made Kenting extremely popular among local holidaymakers in the 2010s, but that popularity has waned, with many locals now preferring to fly to Japan for their holidays.

Simultaneously, miniature Xiaoliuqiu off the Pingtung coast has exploded in popularity in recent years, especially for its snorkeling, freediving, and scuba diving opportunities. It is quickly becoming one of the most popular islands in Taiwan.

In the last decade or so, Pingtung’s has taken off as a cacao-producing region, with more than 300 hectares set aside for growing it.

Getting to Pingtung

Two orange and white high speed rail trains parked at the platform in Zuoying HSR Station
Zuoying HSR Station in Kaohsiung is the best access point for Pingtung

Kaohsiung city is the main access point to Pingtung. Coming from Taipei, it’s fastest and most convenient to ride the High Speed Rail (HSR) to Zuoying Station in Kaohsiung. Buy discounted HSR tickets here and read my guide to purchasing HSR tickets.

From Zuoying Station, this shuttle bus will get you to Kenting National Park in 2 to 2.5 hours, passing the town of Hengchun (恆春) on the way. Taxi drivers can get you there faster – they hang out at the bus station trying to tempt passengers waiting in line for the bus. The price is not bad if you share the car with others.

Also from Zuoying Station, bus 9127D will get you to Tungliu Line Wharf in Donggang, where you can catch a ferry to Xiaoliuqiu. This video shows how to get the bus from Zuoying to the habor.

There most updated ferry-schedule can be found here on this exellent Xiaoliuqiu-focused website.

A ferry boat that says Xiaoliuqiu to Donggang on it
Ferry from Donggang to Xiaoliuqiu

If you’re coming from Kaohsiung’s city center, or from Hualien or Taitung on the east coast, take the TRA train to Fangliao in Pingtung, where you can hop on the Kenting-bound bus or a taxi (30 minutes / TWD 500) to the Xiaoliuqiu ferry terminal. Read my guide to reserving train tickets in Taiwan for more info.

You can also find share taxis to Xiaoliqiu or to Kenting from the south side of Kaohsiung Station in the city center.

Once in Kenting or Xiaoliuqiu, you can rent a scooter (IDP required) or electric bike (IDP not required) for getting around. Kenting also has several useful shuttle bus lines to the main attractions – buy a shuttle bus day pass here.

Here’s a map of the routes. Hengchun is the central point where the bus lines intersect.

Nick Kembel on a red scooter on the highway with the coast of Kenting visible behind him
That’s me riding a scooter in Kenting National Park

The regular (TRA) train provides access to Pingtung City, going directly east from Kaohsiung Station to Pingtung City, then veering south again towards Fangliao before going across Taiwan to the East Coast.

If you’re driving down the East Coast of Taiwan, it’s fastest to cross to the west side of Taiwan on Highway 9, then drive down to Kenting via Hengchun.

A much slower, but more scenic and remote route is to take highway 9, veer onto 199, then take 199甲 to the coast. Then follow Highway 26 past the Gangzhi Desert (港仔大沙漠) (yes, a desert!), through Manzhou and down to Kenting. The road is sometimes very narrow, but it’s super well paved and a heavenly ride for cyclists or motorcyclists.

Read more about renting a car here.

Two kids on a scooter on the coast of Xiaoliuqiu
Riding a scooter with my kids on Xiaoliuqiu

Where to Stay in Pingtung

Two kids looking over the balcony at a harbor and the sea in Xiaolouqiu
Our sea view hotel in Xiaoliqiu, Ocean Dream

On Xiaoliuqiu Island, I highly recommend Ocean Dream夢海 (see on Booking / Agoda). This friendly guesthouse is walking distance from the main harbor, the rooms have ocean views (you can see the lights of Kaohsiung in the distance!), and the owner can arrange scooters and snorkeling tours.

If you want to experience Pingtung’s chocolate scene, stay at Fu Wan Villa (see on Booking / Agoda) in Donggang (the town where you catch the ferry to Xiaoliuqiu). The hotel is on a chocolate farm and has a small chocolate museum and shop on site. It’s just a few steps from Dapeng bay, lovely for sunsets and cycling.

In Kenting National Park, you’ll have to decide which beach you’re staying on before you choose a hotel. I introduce each beach in detail in my guide to where to stay in Kenting.

On Nanwan (South Bay), which is best for swimming and watersports, I recommend Nanwan Station (see on Booking / Agoda).

A large white resort facing a beach, with a mountain sticking up behind it
Hotel on the beach in Kenting

Most of Kenting’s hotels are found around Kenting Main Street, where Kenting Night Market is located. It has the most action, but you can’t swim on the beach here.

In this area, I recommend Kenting Space Capsule (see on Booking / Agoda) for budget travelers, Kenting Moon Bay Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) for mid-range travelers, and Caesar Park Hotel Kenting (see on Booking / Agoda) for the best resort with a pool.

If you don’t mind being a little out of town, Gloria Manor (see on Booking / Agoda) is a lavish resort with amazing views – arguably among the best luxury resorts in Taiwan.

Chairs on a balcony overlooking a hotel swimming pool with a mountain in the distance
Gloria Manor (image provided by hotel and used with permission)

At Sail Rock Beach (Chuafang Rock Beach), which allows swimming but is the furthest from Kaohsiung, I recommend the tropical Red Garden Resort (see on Booking / Agoda) or Kenting 4 Sisters Villa (see on Booking / Agoda) for a more upscale experience with an amazing breakfast.

Some people stay in the town of Hengchun, which is not on the coast but is close to Kenting National Park, and on the highway from Kaohsiung to Kenting. Hengchun has a few attractions of its own (see below) and a decent night market. In Hengchun, try Onion Inn (see on Booking / Agoda).

If you’re visiting Pingtung City, try Lu Zhou Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) for budget rooms or Weifeng Boutique Business Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) for mid-range quality at a budget price. Both are near Pingtung Station.

Top Things to Do in Pingtung

I’ll arrange the below Pingtung attractions into Donggang & Xiaoliqiu, Hengchun & Kenting, and Elsewhere in Pingtung

Donggang & Xiaoliuqiu

A vase shaped rock just off the coast and beach on Xiaoliuqiu island
Vase Rock on Xiaoliuqiu

You’ll need to travel to Donggang, a town on the coast of Pingtung, for getting the ferry to Xiaoliuqiu. Donggang itself is famous for two things: the triennial Wang Ye Boat Burning Festival (see “Pingtung Events” section below) and for bluefin tuna caught off its shore (see “What to Eat in Pingtung” section below). Dapeng Bay is a lovely harbor for cycling and watching the sunset.

Donggang is also a great place to experience Pingtung’s growing cacao-producing industry. Visit FuWan Chocolate Shop (福灣巧克力), which is on a small farm. You can also spend the night there (see the hotels section above). It’s right next to Dapeng Bay.

You can also try picking cacao at Choose Chiu’s (邱氏咖啡巧克力), the region’s first chocolate grower. Take a taxi there from Donggang or Pingtuhng city. Pingtung’s chocolate is usually harvested from March to June and September to November.

The main activity on Xiaoliuqiu, Taiwan’s only inhabited coral island, is snorkeling with giant sea turtles. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see some of theisland’s nearly 1000 resident turtles.

Scuba diving, freediving, and kayaking/SUP are also popular on the island. These can be done year-round.

Three people snorkelling right above a sea turtle
Me and my kids snorkeling with giant sea turtles

Besides snorkeling and scuba diving, the best thing to do on Xiaoliuqiu is rent a scooter or electric bike and cruise around the tiny island. There are several beaches, cave walks, temples, rock formations (the most famous is Vase Rock), and lookout points. You can also learn how to do Thai massage on Xiaoliuqiu!

See my Xiaoliuqiu guide for all the details. 

Hengchun & Kenting National Park

See my Kenting National Park guide for even more info than I’ll provide here.

Traveling south from Kaohsiung or Fangliao (for train connections to the East Coast), there are a few possible stops and detours along the way. In the town of Checheng, Checheng Fuan Temple is one of the most famous temples in Southern Taiwan.

A 15-minute detour by car/scooter can bring you to Sichongxi Hot Spring Park (四重溪溫泉公園), which has foot-soaking tubs, Japanese architecture, and capybaras (see all the places to see capybaras in Taiwan).

Looking through the arch of a large, ancient brick gate with Chinese characters on it that mean South Gate
Hengchun South Gate

Next, you’ll reach Hengchun, which has a few notable attractions in and around it: 4 Old City Gates (North, South, East, and West) which remain in excellent condition, and Hengchun Old Street (恆春古城魅力商圈). Hengchun Night Market (恆春夜市) is more local than the night market in Kenting.

Just north of Hengchun, Kenting Capybara Park (墾丁鹿ㄦ島水豚生態園區) has more capybaras. You can even swim with them for an added fee, and it has a Japanese shrine with a capybara god! Nearby, Paradise of Deer (鹿境梅花鹿生態園區) is similar but with sika deers.  

Northwest of Hengchun, National Museum of Marine Biology (國立海洋生物博物館 or Kenting Aquarium) is the country’s largest aquarium, although I personally preferred Xpark in Taoyuan (see why in my Xpark guide). You can even spend a night in Kenting aquarium if you arrange it in advance!

Although it may not seem so, the aquarium is actually in Kenting National Park (墾丁國家公園), as a thin strip of the national park runs along the coast to it.

Note that Kenting (墾丁)  is pronounced Kending.

Sea of umbrellas at Nanwan Beach in Kenting National Park
Nanwan on a very busy weekend

The first beach you’ll encounter when driving in to Kenting National Park is Nanwan (南灣 or South Bay). This beach is popular for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, and water activities, with a handful of guesthouses across the highway.

Pretty Baishawan Beach (墾丁白沙灣, not to be confused with Baishawan in New Taipei City) is nearby but away from the main highway, so it has less people and amenities. Houbihu Snorkeling Area (後壁湖浮潛區) is where most snorkeling and scuba driving trips in Kenting start.

Crowds of people on a beach at sunset time, with a large resort on the beach reflecting the sunlight
Kenting Main Beach

Right after Nanwan, you’ll reach Kenting Main Street (墾丁大街). This is the main tourist village of Kenting National Park. Most hotels, restaurants, and the popular Kenting Night Market (墾丁夜市) are all found there. You aren’t technically supposed to swim at the long Kenting Main Beach beside the town. Some people still do, or you can sneak in a swim if you walk to either far end.

Kenting National Forest Recreation Area (墾丁國家森林遊樂區) is a 10-minute drive up a road from Kending Main Street. The park features casual walks through the jungle, with unique uplifted coral and karst topography and some really cool caves. Buy your ticket online here.

A path with rail through a cave
Limestone cave in Kenting National Forest Recreation Area

Just past Kenting Main Beach, Xiaowan (小灣海水浴場 or Small Bay) is a small, secluded beach at the end of town. It has a beach bar and is mainly used by guests staying at Caesar Park Kenting and Howard Beach Resort, two big resorts just above it, but anyone can go.

Continuing along the coast, Sail Rock Beach (船帆石小沙灘 or Chuanfan Rock Beach) is the last main beach in the national park. It is named after the large, distinctive rock just off shore and is similar to South Bay, with swimming, watersports, and a handful of guesthouses.

A long view of a coast with some mountains along the sea and palm trees in the foreground, and orange/purple sky at sunset
Looking down the coast from Eluanbi Lighthouse at sunset

Eluanbi Lighthouse (鵝鑾鼻燈塔) is a historic lighthouse stunningly located in a coastal park at the southern tip of Taiwan. This park was the original venue of the Spring Scream music festival before it stopped running. This is the furthest many tourists make it in Kenting. You can get there by bus from Kenting Main Street.

There’s still quite a bit more to the national park, though. You can continue up the coast to Longpan Park (龍磐公園), which has beautiful coastal views. See coastal dunes at Fengchuisha (風吹砂). Past that, walk across Gangkou Suspension Bridge (港口吊橋, currently closed but you can still see it).

An expansive view looking up a coast in Kenting National Park
Longpan Park

Even further, if you’ve got the time and a way to get there, you can climb up to a natural water pool at the top of a waterfall called Seven Holes Waterfall (七孔瀑布). You can either drive there from the sights I mentioned above, or take the green line shuttle bus from Hengchun.

Elsewhere in Pingtung

A red wall with Chinese characters on it inside a Confucius Temple in Pingtung
Pingtung Confucius Temple

Congrats if you ever make it to Pingtung City (屏東市) – very few travelers ever do! Shengli New Village (勝利星村創意生活園區) is one of the city’s top attractions. It’s a military housing complex converted to arts district (similar to 44 South Village in Taipei or Guangfu New Village in Taichung). Expect lots of public artworks, cutely restored buildings, ice cream shops, and so on.

Pingtung Confucius Temple (屏東孔廟) is one of the smaller and lesser known Confucius temples in Taiwan. It was recently restored, so it is looks stunning right now. Pingtung Night Market (屏東夜市) is where you want to be in the evening.

Intrepid explorers with their own transportation can uncover aboriginal culture, waterfalls, and hiking trails in the mountainous eastern side of Pingtung county, especially up the remote by highly scenic Provincial Highway 24, which goes up into Rukai aboriginal territory.

Some spots to seek out include Shan Chuan Suspension Bridge (山川琉璃吊橋), Liangshan Waterfall (涼山瀑布布), Dajin Waterfall (大津瀑布), Yila Falls (伊拉瀑布), and the river trace to the beautiful Hayu Creek Golden Water (哈尤溪黃金瀑布)  – for experienced river tracers only.

Try Taiwan Indigenous Culture Park (台灣原住民族文化園區) for learning about Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

Best Pingtung Tours

Nick Kembel and his two kids wear snorkeling hear and facing the camera while floating in the sea and holding a red floaty
Snorkeling with kids in Xiaoliuqiu

There are no tours to Xiaoliuqiu, but you can book a lot of the things you need on Klook, like ferry tickets, scooter rental, kayaking/SUP, semi-submarine trip, scuba diving, and snorkeling with sea turtles.

Here’s a classic Kenting day tour from Kaohsiung, but do try to stay in Kenting for a few nights if you can. If you want to make your own itinerary, book a private driver here.

You can also book many activities in Kenting on Klook, like surfing and water sports at South Bay, snorkeling and scuba diving at Houbihu, and SUP.

Note: it’s always a good idea to have travel insurance in Taiwan if you’re planning to do any adventure activities, or even if you’re not!

How to Plan Your Pingtung Itinerary

If you’re doing a full circle around the country, as many travelers do, consider Pingtung as a side trip off your main circular route around Taiwan.

If you’re going in a clockwise route around Taiwan, take the train from Taitung to Fangliao, where you can catch a bus to Kenting or a taxi to the ferry terminal for Xiaoliqiu. Coming back, take the Kenting shuttle to Kaohsiung’s HSR station or a share taxi to the Kaohsiung city center.

If you’re going in a counter-clockwise route around Taiwan, just do the reverse. Take a share taxi from Kaoshiung city center or the Kenting Shuttle from Zuoying HSR station to Kenting, or a share taxi from the Kaohsiung city center or bus from Zuoying HSR station to the Xiaoliqiu ferry terminal in Donggang.

How many days you spend at either Xiaoliqiu or Kenting depends on who much R&R time you need. I would say at least two nights is ideal for either one, but some people squeeze in Xiaoliuqiu or Kenting as a day trip from Kaohsiung.

What to Eat in Pingtung

A plate of bluefin tuna and salmon sashimi with wasabi
Bluefin tuna and salmon sashimi in Huaqiao Fishing Harbor

One of Pingtung’s most famous products is bluefin tuna (黑鮪魚 or “black tuna” in Mandarin). It is considered the king of tuna. Its raw meat is darker and more delicious than regular tuna. The bluefin tuna season is April to June.

The best place to try it is in Huaqiao Fish Market (東港漁港漁產品直銷中心), which is right next to the Xiaoliuqiu ferry harbor in Donggang. If you’re there out of season, you can still try other delicious sashimi, fresh seafood, and other foods, so definitely try to eat here before or after your ferry to/from Xiaoliuqiu!

A hand holding a cake shaped like a sea turtle
Sea turtle cakes on Xiaoliuqiu

In Donggang, don’t miss trying locally made chocolate at FuWan Chocolate shop (福灣巧克力).

On Xiaoliuqiu, there isn’t as much seafood as you might expect. Restaurants are limited and often fully booked by locals in spring and summer. Most restaurants and food stalls are in Baisha Village, where most ferries stop. There are two 7-Elevens on the island and only one ATM (don’t count on it).

Don’t miss the rose and saffron ice cream at Iran Bazaar (伊朗市集), sea turtle shaped cakes at Bear Egg Cakes (小熊雞蛋糕), and deep fried cheese rolls at Yoyo Cheese Rolls (起司捲). Twisted roll cookies (麻花捲) are a local specialty.

A young girl holding up a fried cheese roll in a paper bag, with long melted cheese strings from her other hand to her mouth
My daughter with a Xiaoliuqiu cheese roll

In Kenting, Kenting Main Street / Kenting Night Market has by far the largest concentration of restaurants and food stalls in the national park. Hengchun Night Market nearby is a more local night market (read about the best night markets in Taiwan here!)

For a high end experience, AKAME restaurant (here) does high-end aboriginal-French cuisine. The Rukai aboriginal chef trained under Andre Chiang, Taiwan’s most famous chef. You need to book far in advance and you’ll need to drive there.

Pingtung is also known for its delicious mangos, pineapples, and a special kind of sweet and very delicious chestnuts called banli (板栗). You’ may’ll see whatever is in season for sale from vendors along the highway.

Pingtung Events

A whole boat on fire on top of a mound of burning things
Donggang Boat Burning Festival

Once every 3 years (2021, 2024, 2027) in October or November, the Wang Yeh Boat Burning Festival takes place in Donggang. The festival dates back 1000 years to China. Locals torch an entire boat all night long, with all kinds of rituals and parades leading up to it. They do it to appease the Wang Yeh deities, who are thought to prevent disease.

If you visit Donggang at other times, you can still pay a visit to Donglong Temple (東港東隆宮), which organizes the boat burning.

On Xiaoliuqiu, locals celebrate Kuanyin’s birthday at Biyun Temple (碧雲寺), the island’s most important temple, on the 9th day of the 2nd lunar month. It’s important to know that the island becomes very busy among local travelers in spring and summer. Try to come on weekdays to avoid the worst of the crowds.

A small crowds of people sitting in the grass watching a concert, with a Taiwanese woman holding a toddler up to see
My wife and kid at Spring Scream in Kenting

Kenting used to be famous for the Spring Scream and Spring Wave music festivals, which always took place on the April long weekend (a 4-day long weekend at the beginning of the month). These festivals made Kenting into the party hot spot of the country on that weekend.

Although Spring Scream ceased and Spring Wave is now held in other parts of Taiwan, April long weekend remains an extremely popular weekend to visit Kenting. The local government now holds the free Taiwan Music Festival (台灣祭) on the main beach in Kenting on that weekend.

In winter, there are usually lots of Christmas lights in Pingtung Park (屏東公園) in Pingtung City.

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