Calling all cat connoisseurs: take your feline fancy to the max with a trip to Taiwan’s cat-filled Houtong Cat Village. We show you what to see, do, and eat while petting every cat you meet. Note: All cat puns in this article are on purrpose.
When in Taiwan, carve out some time for the Houtong Cat Village in Taipei’s Ruifang District, where almost 200 cats (yes, you read that right!) rule the roost. Here’s our roundup of things to do in Houtong Cat Village—cat cuddles included.
Located 35km away from Taiwan’s capital city Taipei, Houtong Cat Village was originally a small mining town in Ruifang District. However, coal production petered out in the 1990s; the industry’s decline resulted in Houtong’s residents moving out of the village, leaving behind a few surviving hundred residents… and their cats. The cats’ imminent rise to fame began in 2008, when photographer Peggy Chien posted photos she took of the village cats to her Flickr account. True to the internet’s mania for cats, her series of cat photos took off, changing the abandoned mining town into a hit tourist destination you shouldn’t miss. The cats are one thing, but the mountain backdrop, lush green hills surrounding the village and the clear Keelung River are bonus reasons to pay a visit.
Today, Houtong Cat Village is roughly sectioned in two; the commercial area filled with restaurants and souvenir shops that you see immediately after you exit Houtong Station; and the residential area (with a few cafés around) where all the cats prowl. Getting to the cats is as easy as crossing an abstract-looking bridge that links the commercial area to the cats; it’s aptly named ‘Cat Corridor’.
Address: 224, Taiwan, New Taipei City, Ruifang District, 224Taiwan, Fengjia Road, Ruifang District, New Taipei City
You’re here for one thing only: the cats are the obvious stars of the show! Before you rush to fill your pockets with cat treats to spoil the cute critters, it’s best to just coo over the cats as they’re well-fed by people in the village and have more than their fair share of munchies. In other words, if you’re absolutely determined to feed them, give them only very little kibble.
The cat figures dotted all over the village are apparently a tribute to the beloved cats of the past—such as Hei Bi (Black Nose) who stands tall at the Houtong Station entrance as the village’s ‘Eternal Train Conductor’.
Wear your tourist hat with pride and make a beeline for the many kitschy souvenir shops at the village brimming with cat-shaped paraphernalia. Dig past the cutesy cat village façade and find out how Houtong came to be. For more nuggets of kitten knowledge to impress people at your next trivia night, the Monkey Cave coal mining tour (literal translation of Houtong from Mandarin) detailing the village’s history should be more than enough to crown you the winner.
It’s the only paid attraction in Houtong Cat Village and the funds assist with the village upkeep, so shell out NTD$150 per ticket to help the cats and their human caregivers. Before you go, take note that the tour will be fully conducted in Mandarin only.
The tour starts with you and a few other tourists riding a minecraft through the old coal mining tunnels. After a short whizz on the tracks, the whole entourage alights at an open area and your guide will begin his speech on the history of Monkey Cave and its time as a prosperous coal refinery under the Ruisan Mining Company, the coal miners’ everyday lives, and their triumphs at work. The museum and gift shop in the former Ruisan office building offers plenty of photo opportunities as you’ll be given a coal miner uniform, hard hats and drills to pretend you’re a coal miner! The experience is rounded up with a serving of a bento box of food, which is a miner’s typical lunch meal.
Look out for the tourist and information centre, which has maps of suggested walks so you can best dole out your cat pets; the guided walks will give some structure to your strolls.
Both bustling street stalls and quiet cafés line Houtong Cat Village, so the ball’s in your court when it comes to food choices. Warm yourself up with a bowl of noodles with fishcakes and pork slices at Guzaowei Noodle Shop or wander to other restaurants for braised pork rice, ramen and tempura. Once you’ve had your main course fill, stop at a few other stalls next to each other for handmade chicken rolls, meatballs, fried squid and lemon jelly. Remember to get cat-shaped pineapple cakes from the pastry shop Mei Zhi Xiang next to the noodles stall!
Café-wise, Walk and Taste Cafe at the residential area offers club sandwiches and smoothies, perfect for a refreshing meal. For long, in-depth conversations about the cats of Houtong, slink into 217 Cafe, where you can munch on pizza and talk to the friendly owners (and their cats!). Cute desserts abound at Hide & Seek Cafe, so order their puffs and cakes, all adorably shaped like cats.
Before boarding a train in Taiwan, get yourself an EasyCard. Buy one for NTD$100 from any MRT station, convenience stores such as 7-Eleven or FamilyMart, and the airport too. Remember to immediately top up the card with some credit after buying it, as cards are issued with no balance!
Now that you’re armed with an EasyCard and ready to visit Houtong Cat Village, head to Taipei Main Station and take a northbound train on the Yilan Line (don’t get on the Keelung-bound trains, you’ll hurtle to the opposite direction) towards Houtong Station. The train ticket should be around the NTD$50–60 range. Make yourself comfortable for the one-hour train ride when you get on board; now’s the time to appreciate the scenery so settle down in a window seat.
Make a mental note of these before you visit:
Lace up your sturdiest shoes when you go a-petting at the cat village. Two hours should suffice for the casual cat fan, but if your love for these critters go above and beyond, it’s good to budget four hours for your day trip here; the extra time owes it to the many restaurants, cafés and shops hawking cat trinkets!
Aim to arrive after 10am; any earlier and most stores won’t yet have opened for the day. However, the cat village opens at 8am, so that’s an option if you only have eyes for the cats. Not a morning person? Dropping by in the late afternoon will throw you into the thick of things as the cat village swells with both cats and people.
Take note that shops start shuttering their doors around 5pm, meaning it’s best you reach Houtong Station by 3pm at the latest. Be sure to start your souvenir shopping early!
Before you visit, check your weather app; rainy days at Houtong Cat Village will see you huddled in a café sans cat, so give it a miss if a downpour is predicted.
Mark your calendar for a weekday stop if you want to spend some one-on-one time with the cats, as the village can get crowded with cat fans during the weekends.