In the hills of northern Taiwan, alongside the Keelung River, you'll come across a village that relies almost exclusively on cat-related tourism. Everything in the village is cat-themed, from the feline murals to the shops selling kitty kitsch and playing music consisting of cats meowing. Plus, you'll see hundreds upon hundreds of cats, posing for photographs.
Welcome to “cat village” Houtong in Taiwan.
Houtong used to be a coal-mining village. Since its mining industry collapsed in the 1990s, residents have moved out and cats have taken over the place.
A small team of volunteers looked after the cats by spaying and neutering and administering vaccinations. In 2008, local cat lover Peggy Chien posted photos of the Houtong cats and talked about the village's efforts to look after them. Her pictures attracted cat worshippers from all over the world, and Houtong is now officially known as “cat village.”
Most of the Houtong cats are strays but well-cared for. While they tend to shy away from the huge crowds and love to sleep near the quiet cottages clinging to the hillside, they are used to tourists and will usually accept to be petted and played with (though some of them will leg it at the sign of an outstretched hand). You can lure them with cat food and dried fish sold from the shops. Many tourists will do this, so make sure not to overfeed them.
Houtong is also the perfect place to buy gifts for your cat-loving friends. Most of the shops sell cat merchandising such as cat purses, cat brooches, cat key chains, cat coasters, cat socks, and much more.
When you've done enough petting and shopping, you can sit down for a coffee and some cat-shaped cookies.
However, it's not all about cats in Houtong. You can also visit former mining facilities and museums which depict how the local miners used to live. There's even a train that takes you into a mining tunnel. In the surrounding hills, you'll find lots of great hikes that pass through tunnels, across bridges and snake around railway tracks.
Maps with suggested walks are available from the visitor information center.
To get there, you'll have to take the Yilan train from Taipei to Houtong. The ride lasts about one hour and costs NT$50. The last train back to Taipei is at 9pm, but everything in Houtong shuts down around 6pm.
Houtong is situated close to cat village Jiufen and you can book a day tour which combines both cat villages.
See more pictures of Houtong Cat Village here.