I've posted before about Taiwan's (and Asia's) obsession with cat cafes, but Houtong, a small village wedged in between the mountains of northern Taiwan, takes it one step further.
It is an entire town devoted to cats!
Being the animal fanatic I am, I have no idea why it took me nearly five years to finally make it to this whimsical place, but make it I finally did.
A friend and I hopped on a slow train out of Taipei headed for Yilan. The ride to Houtong took about 45 minutes and cost us less than $2 USD.
We had a lot of fun exploring the village, shops, and river front.
Houtong was a hit for a few reasons, first and foremost because of the adorable creatures:
The cats of Houtong are stray cats. However, they are pretty well taken care of by the locals who have come to depend on them for tourism. From what I understand, vets do check in on the cats, and overall, visitors seemed pretty respectful of them. While there are signs posted all over telling visitors not to pet the cats, some cats seemed to genuinely enjoy attention from people. Hissing made it pretty obvious which cats were down for petting and which were not. Visitors are advised not to give food to the cats unless they buy it from a designated area in town, and cat houses are set up all over the village so the felines can have shelter and privacy.
From what I understand, some people actually come to Houtong to dump their unwanted cats, which is exactly how Houtong became a sanctuary for them. A kind local started tending to them, and it just snowballed until Houtong became known as the cat village.
Another reason Houtong was such a hit? The locals embraced this new label with great gusto:
All over Houtong, there are adorable pieces of cat-related artwork adorning homes, walls, walkways, businesses, and, of course, the train station.
The artwork ranges from murals to statues to signs.
It was so much fun wandering the alleyways of Houtong and stumbling across painting after painting or stature after statue.
All of that said, Houtong is more than just a cat village. It is a classic Taiwanese small town. Homes in different stages of disrepair amble up the hillside. Narrow alleys form walkways in between them. Mountains poke up in the distance, and the blue-green Keelung river snakes through the town.
It is a beautiful and photogenic place worthy of exploration with or without the cute cats that have made it famous in Taiwan.