Hengchun use to only be an ugly, uninspiring transit point between Kenting National Park and the rest of Taiwan. Driving through this township once was seen as an annoyance and a waste of time. Not so anymore. The city has now a vibrant tourist industry thanks to hordes of Taiwanese and international visitors, and a local population who's openly welcoming the change.
Over the past few years, Hengchun has gone through a transformation where traditional noodle shops are turned into Italian cafes, worn out hotels morph into boutique guesthouses, and young Taiwanese from all over the island are eagerly replacing the older generation of shopkeepers and waiters in the hope of a more relaxed lifestyle away from the big cities.
That trend can also be felt all over the southern tip of the island, around Kenting, Nanwan, and Jialeshui where hordes of kids in their early-twenties move here to "practice" before going abroad on working holidays.
That being said, I would not recommend that you plan your whole vacation in Hengchun, or to spend most of your time there, but you shouldn't avoid it completely either. Hengchun is a great place to find accommodation when everything else is fully booked in Kenting or Jialeshui, and its the closest town where you can find supply such as grocery, camping / BBQ stuff, as well as services like hospitals, clinics, hair dressers, post office, and mechanics.
Hengchun South Gate (also called Ancient City Gate) is the main attraction in town. It's really easy to find because it's quite big and it's in the middle of a big traffic roundabout Hengnan Road, the township's main drag where most shops are located.
This historical building is one of Taiwan's most photographed structures, and it has become a symbolic image for tourism in Southern Taiwan and Kenting. There's no doubt that it's a really beautiful subject for photographers who want to shoot pictures of anything different than beaches and palm trees.
I filmed the following video of a Taiwanese man singing Karaoke in front of Guang Ning Temple. After he finished singing his song, the lady who owned the karaoke truck yelled: "Ok, OK, that's enough now... I have to leave, no more songs!" I wish I had filmed that part too.
If you happen to be in Hengchun and have some free time, you could take a walk around the little streets between South Gate and West Gate. This old part of town has ancient buildings that have been turned into cafes, gift / art shops, restaurants and some of them are still selling traditional stuff like Chinese medicine, Taiwanese tea, and temple offerings like ghost money and incense.
The following map shows you my favorite attractions, sights, restaurants, cafes, and hotels in Hengchun and Kenting.
Super-high store front rental prices in Kenting town mean that more and more people decide to open their business in Hengchun. That’s partly why there are more and more good options to eat and drink in Hengchun.
You can still find lots of traditional Taiwanese / Chinese food, tea, snacks, sweets everywhere around Hengchun, and there’s also quite a few good European / American restaurants and cafes in town.
My personal favorite is Kitchen Swell! This restaurant is located on a quiet street off the South Gate. On Kitchen Swell’s menu, you’ll find pizza, pasta, seafood, salads, real bread, desserts, pastries, beer, wine, and great coffee. They even have gelato! The atmosphere is warm, service is friendly, and parking (if you have a car) is a breeze. Highly recommended restaurant!
The reality is that the main reason why people end up in Hengchun is not to eat or sleep, or visit the sights. Most people only pass here very briefly on their way to Kenting, because the main bus station is here. Tourist and regular buses from Kaohsiung HSR, Airport, and Train Station, as well as buses from Pingtung and other cities around Taiwan stop here. Check schedules and fares at the bottom of this page.
The fastest way to get to Hengchun from Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Tainan is to take the high-speed rail train (HSR) all the way to Kaohsiung Zuoying Station. From there, you can catch a bus, taxi, or private car to Hengchun or all the way down south to Kenting.