Home to Taipei 101, bubble milk tea and stinky tofu, Taiwan is slowly but surely becoming a must-see destination among history buffs, culture fanatics, foodies and adventurers. With rolling mountains, delicious street food, great hikes and temples galore, it’s easy to understand why. Whether you prefer cycling down the beautiful East Coast, feasting on street food at the Keelung Night Market, lighting a sky lantern in Pingxi or exploring Longshan Temple, one thing is certain: This little island is full of scenic, culinary, cultural and quirky surprises. One surprise bound to delight cat loving travelers, is the charming mountain village of Houtong Cat Village (猴硐貓村). Hidden in the hills of Taiwan’s northeastern Ruifang District and based along the Keelung River, this small town offers visitors scenic mountain views and a fun day with feline friends.
About Houtong Cat Village
Once a prosperous coal mining town, Houtong is today better known for something quite different; its furry inhabitants. Cats of all shapes, sizes and colours are found lounging in pots, baking in the sun and even dozing off in the many small cafes lining the mountain. Which is why, Houtong is the purrfect spot for cataholics and shutterbugs.
A unique name
Houtong, which means ‘Monkey Cave’ was literally named after a group of monkeys which inhabited one of the caves in the area. Although it is not quite clear what happened to the monkeys, Houtong is a popular tourist spot today, thanks to its purring friends. For this reason, the town was renamed Houtong Cat Village.
A deep-rooted mining history
Houtong came into existence during the Japanese Colonial era and was an important stop on Taiwan’s Yilan Line. The small village, played a vital role in Taiwan’s coal mining industry during the 1970’s and attracted thousands of miners to the area. At its peak, Houtong yielded the largest amount of coal in any single area of Taiwan. Towards the 1990’s however, the town began to spiral down. As the coal ran out, officials were forced to seek more cost-effective and sustainable resources to fuel its trains. Soon after, residents started looking for better opportunities elsewhere. This led to a rapid decline in the population. So much so, that only a few 100 people remained here.
Cats to the rescue
In 2008, things took an unexpected turn when a local resident started caring for the multitude of stray cats left here by their owners. In an effort to create awareness about the cats’ dire circumstances, she started sharing posts of the town’s fur balls online. This led to an instant buzz and attracted cat lovers, volunteers and tourists from near and far. Today, Houtong is able to properly care for its furry friends, by providing food, fresh water, shelter, vaccinations and lots of tourist love.
The town has grown so fond of its furry friends, that it even embraced a cat-theme. Cute cat signage is displayed throughout town, whilst cats and pawprints are painted on walls, footpaths and stairways. There is even a cat-themed footbridge with an elevated “catwalk” ensuring both visitors and cats can cross the train tracks safely.
Kitty Do’s & Don’ts
If you do decide to visit Houtong, be sure to follow the town’s rules. Clear signage is posted throughout the town, but here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when you go:
- Do not feed the cats ‘human’ food; it can make them sick.
- Cat food can be purchased at some of the shops, but it’s best to only feed each cat a few nibbles.
- Please use the provided cat bowls when feeding the cats. These are easily found throughout town.
- Do not bother, chase, tease or initiate close contact with the cats. Instead wait for the more friendly and playful one’s to come to you.
- Please don’t bring any pets with you on your trip.
- Don’t use your camera’s flashlight when taking photos of the cats.
- Wash your hands regularly for hygienic purposes.
- Keep the area clean and always remember to take your garbage with you.
With the influx of tourists, locals started to embrace and even capitalize on the town’s cat-theme. Whilst exploring the many galleries, gift shops and cafes, you will soon discover just about everything in this little town is ‘kittified’. A treasure throve of kitty knick-knacks, postcards, hats, socks, stationary, stamps, bags and even cat-shaped pineapple cakes, lollipops and cream cakes awaits every cat lover out there.
A strip of eateries and food stalls selling Taiwanese favorites, such as noodles, dumplings and fried foods, is based at the train station’s entrance and the small street lining the train tracks. For a good cuppa and a variety of desserts or light meals, head to the cottages and houses on the hill – here you will find a number of cute cafes, tea houses and small eateries.
Houtong is roughly an hour’s train ride from Taipei Main station. The ride will set you back NT$56-91 depending on which train you take. Generally take the Su Ao train which stops in the heart of Houtong. Alternative if you are coming from Jiufen, it is only a 10 minute ride from the Ruifang Station. Check the Taiwan Railway website for the most accurate times and prices, here.
If you do plan to visit Houtong, be sure to add one of these nearby villages to your trip.
- Pingxi (平溪): 29.6km from Houtong
Pingxi is most popular today for its sky lanterns and the annual International Sky Lantern Festival. If it’s not too crowded take a ride on the old Pingxi train.
- Shifen (十分): 26.4km from Houtong
Shifen’s Old Street is a great place to snack on street food. Alternatively head to the Shifen Waterfall, at 40m wide, it is the widest waterfall in Taiwan.
- Jiufen (九份): 7.2km from Houtong
A picturesque town, famous for its narrow alleys and tea houses. Jiufen is also a popular international film shooting location.
Houtong Cat Village