February 20, 2016

Houtong Cat Village: Of course Taiwan has a village full of cats

Note: I currently live in Norway, but I lived in Taipei from August 2014 to June 2015 and am slowly making my way through writing posts about my time there.

Taroko Gorge. Taipei 101. The National Palace Museum. Sun Moon Lake. Shilin Night Market. Jiufen These are a handful of Taiwan's most popular tourist attractions, exemplifying Taiwan's beautiful scenery, achievements in architectural engineering, preservation of historical Chinese artifacts, vibrant street food culture, and mo—

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Wuuut CAT VILLAAAAGE (and restrooms).

OMG OMG OMG!@#!^@%#! THERE'S A VILLAGE FULL OF CATS!!!!

[Violently shoves nature/museums/night markets out of the way, runs towards cats while flailing like an inflatable waving tube man and yelling like every goat combined.]

Before 2008, Houtong exemplified the decline of a once-prosperous coal mining village. Since 2008, it's exemplified how to resurrect a dying coal mining village: Just add cats. According to the Internet, in 2008 a local cat-lover organized volunteers to help take care of the village's stray cats. As photos of the cats circulated online, the village's new identity as a cat haven attracted enough tourists to turn it into an official cat-themed village with cat houses, cat sculptures, cat murals, cat-shaped food, a cat-themed walkway, and other cat things to take selfies with. All of this centered around a hundred-something real cats.

Point at the kitty
Yes, fluorescent pink child! Delight in the miracle of kitty!

Houtong Cat Village may be one of Taiwan's less significant tourist attractions for people who prefer mountains and museums and temples and food and stuff, but according to the cat version of TripAdvisor, it's the #1 significant tourist attraction in Taiwan for cat lovers.

This is pretty much all I googled
I probe the Internet good.

...That is, if we lived in a world where a TripAdvisor-like website solely dedicated to cat-related attractions existed. We don't. At least, I'm 99 percent sure we don't based on my cursory research. (To any future readers who have reached this page by googling "cat version of TripAdvisor," I am sorry.)

GIANT CAT wait that's not real
Ginormous not real cat.

Last year I visited Houtong with a few friends on an overcast Monday in March. Weekday + cool, cloudy weather = no crowds! And probably not as many cats as you'd find on a warm, sunny day. There were enough cats and other activities to keep us occupied for four hours, though. Maybe we would've stayed longer if most of the village hadn't closed by 5 p.m. If you want to buy souvenirs, don't leave them until the end or the shops might be closed.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Houtong train station sign.

The sign on the platform at Houtong train station features a cat, a coal miner, and a monkey. Houtong (猴硐) means "monkey cave", named after a cave in the village that used to be inhabited by monkeys. What happened to the monkeys? No idea.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Charlotte, Stephanie, and Kåre with...cat box thing!

We're still on the train platform because we had to take a photo with this cat box thing on the platform bench. We soon learned we couldn't take photos of ourselves with every cat and cat-related thing or else we'd never go back home.

FIRST REAL CAT!!!
FIRST REAL CAT!
FIRST REAL CAT!!!
MUST DOCUMENT!

FIRST REAL CAT SIGHTING! ...We're still in the train station. We'll get to the village proper eventually. Yeah.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village map
Cat Village map.

Here's a tourist map of the area. Not noted on the map is that normal people live here, too. You'll probably walk right past their doorsteps. Some residents set up stands outside their homes selling cat-related trinkets and other things.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Hei Bi lives FOREVER.

This is a statue of a cat named Hei Bi (黑鼻), or "Black Nose". This cat has been given the title of something like "Eternal Train Conductor," as well as named one of the guardians of the village. Or something like that. My Chinese is too painfully inadequate to read the accompanying explanation.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Kåre and 小花.
猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Escape the bush! You can do it!...no, wait, you can't, you're not real.

Above are a few of the other cat sculptures scattered throughout the village.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village Shaved ice kitty 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Local shops.

At the top is a shop specializing in cat-shaped pineapple cakes. Also, some cat-themed signs for food stands.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
STAMPS!

Pop inside the visitors' center to fill your stamp book with cat-themed stamps! (BTW, your Taiwanese tourist kit should include a notebook for collecting stamps.)

Cat houses 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Cat houses, and Stephanie!

A row of cat houses! Plus some cats!

Cat box 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Cat houses.

A few more cutely decorated cat houses.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village Cat smush Cat smush 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Cat pals.

Cats getting snuggly outside a store selling lucky cat-themed wares.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Booth cat.

We thought this booth would have a human in it, but there was only this cat.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Do as the sad cat says.

Some signs around the village display rules on how to interact with the cats. This one says, "Cats like cleanliness. Please do not place their food on the ground."

Cat rules
More cat rules.

This is the most comprehensive display of rules I saw in the village. The illustrations on this poster are pretty self-explanatory, but I'm gonna flex my deflated Chinese muscles and try to translate the rules anyway. [Breaks out dictionary.]

  • If the cats don't initiate close contact, please be quiet and keep your distance.
  • Chasing the cats as well as speaking to them loudly will scare them.
  • When the cats are resting, please speak softly and don't bother them.
  • Do not bother the cats with cat teaser wands. The wands may injure them and spread disease.
  • Please take away your food, utensils, and garbage. Keep the area clean.
  • Do not indiscriminately leave behind food for the cats. Doing so will make the environment dirty and messy.
  • Please place cat food, canned or otherwise, into a bowl before feeding it to the cats.
  • Feeding the cats multicolored, low-quality food, fish bones, or "people food" will make them sick.
  • Bringing in pets is prohibited. They may carry infectious diseases or become injured in a fight.
  • When taking photos of the cats, please do not use flash.
  • After feeding or playing with the cats, please wash/disinfect your hands to avoid illness.
猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Cat information center?

I think the black building is a cat information center. It was closed during out visit, so we couldn't check out what was inside.

Oh nooo mousie
It looks like the mouse is clinging onto the mouse trap's wall for dear life. Sorry, mousie.
猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village :P Sleepy kitty 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village Hey there
CAT CAT CAT CAT CAT etc.

A bunch of random cat sightings!

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Cat things.

A bunch of random cat things that aren't real cats!

Hide and Seek Cafe Hide and Seek Cafe

We popped into Hide & Seek Cafe to grab a bite. And maybe caffeine. It's tucked along a strip of cafes and galleries at the highest level in the village.

Hide and Seek Cafe Hide and Seek Cafe Hide and Seek Cafe
Hide and Seek Cafe.

It's a comfortable spot with a small menu of desserts (cakes, waffles) and a few savories, plus a cat who might try to eat your tote bag.

Hide and Seek Cafe Hide and Seek Cafe Hide and Seek Cafe Hide and Seek Cafe
FOOD!!!

The food wasn't anything special, but it was good enough. Especially those chicken nuggets and fries. WE WERE SO HUNGRY.

If you want a cheaper meal, you should grab food at the food stalls down by the train station. But don't go too late. By the time we got down there after leaving the cafe, they were closed. I don't know if they closed early because it was a slow day or if they usually close before dinner.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Model of the coal refinery.

Remember that there's a whole non-cat-centric history to the village? Houtong gives you multiple opportunities to learn about the heyday of its coal mining years under the Ruisan (瑞三) Mining Company, such as with this interactive model of the coal refinery.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Some part of the old refinery.

Today's view from the coal refinery ruins.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Old railway bridge.

This bridge over Keelung River once connected the quarry to the refinery. Walk to the other side and you'll get to...

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Coal inside!

...This train ride through the old coal mine! But first...

We're totally miners 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Absolutely nothing hokey about this.

Head to the museum/gift shop located in the former Ruisan office building and you can take a photo in a pretend coal mine with un-pretend tools. They're super heavy. I would've been a shit coal miner. If you want to go ALL THE WAY, you'll also put on a coal miner uniform and spread some black coal goop on yourself.

Kitty doesn't wanna move Kitty doesn't wanna move
"SOFT BAG. MY BAG. NOT YOUR BAG."

This cat decided Charlotte's tote bag was THE BEST BED EVER, or the best bed in close proximity at that point in time. It was very cute, until we realized how much it didn't want to budge, and then we felt bad for thwarting its attempt to nap.

There are cute depictions of cats everywhere, but what about the monkeys? WHAT ABOUT THE MONKEYS? THEY NAMED THE VILLAGE, DAMMIT.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
The cuteness never stops.

...Here's one.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
Waiting for the tiny train.

Back to the tiny train ride! It goes something like this...

CHOO-CHOO
Stephanie and Charlotte enter the coal hole.

First, you enter the coal hole.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
It's dark.

Then, you get educated in the coal hole. There are facts about the tunnel along the ride, but I couldn't read any of then quickly enough. CHAAAIIINEEESSSEEEUHGGGHG [shakes fist]. I guess this says this tunnel was built in 1935 and used until 1980.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
A horror element appears.

Creepy mask for some reason.

TINY TRAIN DANCE PARTY
[UNCE UNCE UNCE UNCE]

At some point the tunnel throws colors in yo' face and becomes a DISCO RAVE PARTY SOMETHING. Gotta spice things up somehow. Also, disco rave coal mine tunnel party sounds fun.

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village 猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
The other end of the tunnel. There's an old building. There is no party.

I don't remember much about what awaited us on the other end of the tunnel. If you understand Chinese then you'll learn some facts from the guide. If you don't understand Chinese you'll wander around kind of aimlessly and maybe hit some rocks with a pick.

The train ride is the main attraction in Houtong Leisure Park, the former mining company grounds that was renovated with new facilities and attractions. But it's hard to consider spending a lot of time there when just across the river await CATS CATS CATS.

Cat Village Problems

猴硐貓村 Houtong Cat Village
"Cats cannot eat human food."

The English Wikipedia page about Houtong Cat Village doesn't give much detail about the village beyond, "It's named after monkeys, and it used to have coal, and then it didn't, and then almost everybody left, and now it has cats." The the Chinese Wikipedia page is more in-depth, including a large section absent from the English page titled, "Cat Village Problems." It seems like something worth mentioning. I can't translate it because I have the reading level of a Taiwanese five-year-old. ...But our ol' pal Google can! Not fluently, but well enough to earn a bright yellow star-shaped achievement sticker that says, "Awkward, But Good Effort!"

What I glean from the Google translation is that Houtong has had problems originating from outsiders bringing their cats to the village and abandoning them, leaving the village to deal with cats who aren't accustomed to living by themselves in a new environment, as well as these cats bringing diseases that may spread to the local cats. The article notes an outbreak of a disease in 2012 that killed a few cats and reinforced safety precautions in the village. The latest controversy happened in 2014 when this Facebook post lambasting the village as a popular tourist spot at the cost of the cats' welfare went viral.

Houtong is a small, popular tourist village with an unnaturally large cat population. Yup, problems may arise. But the volunteers who work to keep the cats healthy shouldn't be overlooked. If you want to learn more about these volunteer groups, check out these Facebook pages:

猴硐貓友社志工隊
猴硐貓咪獨立志工社

How to Get There

Local trains from Taipei Main Station to Houtong take about an hour. Tickets cost NT$56 each way. If you have an Easy Card (which you should), I'm preeettttyyy sure you can use it to take the local trains by scanning your card at the gates. Check the timetable at twtraffic.tra.gov.tw or enter the route on Google Maps.

Addresses

Hide & Seek Cafe (躲喵喵咖啡館)
Taiwan, 新北市瑞芳區光復里柴寮路223號 (map)

Posted by roboppy at 1:35 AM

Tags: activities, cats, Charlotte, Houtong, Houtong Cat Village, Kaare, New Taipei City, Stephanie, Taiwan

Comments

comments powered by Disqus

stuff here

Search

previous entries

» 03/31/17: Looking for podcast recommendations? Here are 16 of my favorites from this month

» 02/27/17: The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, celebrating Chinese New Year in the valley of the BURNING SKYYYY

» 11/30/16: Shou Tian Pin (手天品), home of my favorite pineapple cakes in Taipei

» 08/31/16: I ate too much soft serve in Taiwan, and you can too!

» 08/09/16: Thank you for nominating me in Saveur's 2016 Blog Awards!

» 05/29/16: This Taiwanese food-themed deck of playing cards is my favorite souvenir from Taiwan (plus here's a map and list of the foods in the deck)

» 04/18/16: Over 50 places I'd want to eat, shop, and visit while on vacation in Taipei

» 03/26/16: My 12 favorite places to eat in Shida Night Market (plus 12 honorable mentions)

» 02/20/16: Houtong Cat Village: Of course Taiwan has a village full of cats

» 02/05/16: Favorite Taipei Things: Late night bike riding along Xindian River (plus midnight breakfast)

Something Random From the Archives

Social Media

instagram.com/roboppy

flickr.com/photos/roboppy

twitter.com/roboppy