I am a bit torn with how to feel about these called "Cat Cafés" that has been popping up world wide in recent years (heck, even Aberdeen has one!). However, hearing of the Taiwanese cat VILLAGE was a different story. One that quickly made it to my itinerary.
When exiting the the train onto the platform, you will notice a sign welcoming you to Houtong. Just beside the title are three symbols: a cat, a miner, a monkey. Quite the mix; and also a brief history of the village.
A Cat Village called Monkey Cave: How it all started
Houtong translates in English to "Monkey Cave"; a (very innovative, in retrospect) name given from the peculiar finding of monkeys residing in a nearby cave. Whatever happened to these monkeys remains unclear, but the name lives on.
During the 1920's, under Japanese rule, coal was found in the area. The tiny village reached town-status as its population boomed; reaching up to 6'000 by the 1970's. But as coal became old news in the 90's, the mining pits have closed down. Without any more jobs in the area, the population thinned out once again. People left for the cities, leaving behind mines, homes, ...and cats. Plenty of cats.
CPR for a dying coal mining village: simply add cats
In 2008, a local animal rights activist (or what we like to call: crazy cat lady) started organising volunteers to care for the left behind felines roaming around Houtong. As photos of the cats started circulating online, the sleepy village started attracting enough tourists that they decided to go all-in on the cat card.
And indeed they did. It is cat galore as soon as you step out of the train. Cat sculptures, cat shaped pineapple cakes, cat houses, cat shrines... Today it is estimated about 200 cats reside in the area, which is double the amount of the human population!
the downside of being a famed purridise freetown
While Houtong growing into its newfound role as Taiwan's Cat Village did bring the village back to life, with more visitors and thus business arriving back to the area, it also had its downside. People, looking to get rid of their four-legged pals, would simply travel out to Houtong on such business. This of course is not allowed and if you see something looking suspicious, you are asked to report this to local authorities (and first off, take photos!)
regulations and common sense
For the sake of the cats, there are some rules of conduct in the area. Like, no dogs allowed (DUH!) but also to respect the personal space of the cats. If they show no interest in your outreached hand, so leave them be. This is common sense but it cannot be stressed enough. Same goes for making loud noises, chasing the cats around, feeding them food off the ground, not using the flash on the camera...
The railway splits Houtong in two; here is the view from the cat village - located upon the hill behind the train station.
Like it? Pin it for later!
Regardless if you are visiting Houtong from Taipei or Jiufen, you will need to make a stop in Ruifang where you change to either train (one stop on the Pingxi line) or bus 808/F808 which departs across the road from Ruifang train station.
From Taipei: By train: From Taipei Main Station, take the Yilan line. Get off at Ruifang station. By bus: Take the Jiufen bound bus 1062. Departs outside Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station, Exit 2. Get off at Ruifang.
From Jiufen: Bus to Ruifang (most buses will pass there!) is your only option.
Suggested Lunch Stop for Vegans
With the train station and cat village at your back, walk to the second last of the food stalls on the left hand side, before the Mining Museum. This is run by a lovely, very accommodating couple that also own a vegetarian store! Prices in Houtong are a little on the steep side (~NTW80 for a soup) for regular street stall food, but then it is a tourist area.
If you enjoyed reading this post it would be grand if you could click the heart below, as it gives me an indication of what type of content you prefer reading! x