From the moment you arrive at Houtong Village in northern Taiwan, you’ll have no trouble knowing who the real stars are.
There’s a cat-shaped bridge, pet food bowls on the side of the walkways, street signs with cat motifs, cat-themed cafes and, of course, furry feline friends roaming freely everywhere.
The fall and rise of Houtong
In the early 1900s, Houtong, in New Taipei City, was the biggest and most technologically advanced coal-mining site in Taiwan. It was a prosperous town with about 6,000 residents and workers, before the mine fell into disuse in 1990.
As most young residents moved away for better opportunities, Houtong became a sleepy village with about 100 residents.
But in 2010, Houtong’s fame surged after a cat lover and photographer started blogging about the village’s growing stray cat population. Houtong was transformed into a cat-lover mecca while also providing a source of income for local villagers.
Many of the stray cats, now given affectionate nicknames, are taken care of by local villagers as well as a troop of volunteers.
In addition to the village’s many cute kitty-themed shops and cafes, the local government has also seized the opportunity to revamp Houtong and highlight its long history.
An award-winning pedestrian cat bridge was built. Metal plates featuring tiny paw designs were embedded into streets. A cat information and education center opened in 2014, featuring elevated cat walkways on the façade of the building.
A museum park dedicated to the town’s former mining life opened in 2010, later hosting a cat lantern festival in 2012.
It all appears to be paying off. The town now draws an estimated one million visitors every year.
But Houtong, now under the spotlight, isn’t completely purrfect.
According to local reports, the town has become a magnet for those looking for a place to abandon their unwanted pets.
During the most recent survey, the New Taipei City Government Animal Protection and Health Inspection Office estimated that the village is now home to about 286 cats – 50 heads more than two years ago.
With the constant patting and feeding from visitors, some also flagged concerns about the health of the furry residents. The department works with local residents and volunteers to vaccinate the cats and provide regular medical treatment.
Signs have been erected around town advising visitors how to behave while also pleading pet owners to be responsible.
For a quick peek inside Houtong, check out the above video by Black Buddha.
Houtong is about an hour’s train ride from Taipei Station. To reach Houtong Station, visitors can take a train on the Yilan Line towards Ruifang.