If you’re not a cat person or are even slightly allergic to cats, this place is not for you. This is cat heaven and your worst nightmare.
But I like cats. They’re derpy, sometimes jerks, and maybe even adorable. And there really is no better place to see them in their natural habitat than at Houtong 猴硐貓村 [hou dong mao cun]. 貓村 literally means “cat village”. Houtong is a tiny village in the Ruifang 瑞芳 District of Taipei nestled between the numerous mountain ranges of Taiwan; you can get there by the Mountain Line and it’s about an hour’s train ride from Taipei Main Station.
Houtong 猴硐 actually means “monkey cave” in Chinese. It was named so because there used to be a cave inhabited by monkeys. Houtong was a rich, small mining town during Japanese rule, and I’m guessing that it’s because of all the development in the area that there are no longer any monkeys left.
When the mining industry died out, a cat lover organized volunteers to provide abandoned cats in the village with a better life. The response from cat lovers all over Taiwan was so overwhelmingly positive, that Houtong has now developed into a cat haven and popular tourist destination.
The first sign you encounter stepping off the train is a map of the village, and cute cartoons of cats holding signs. A particularly prominent one is: “不建議帶狗來訪 [bu jian yi dai gou lai fang”, or “bringing dogs (狗 [gou] ) is not recommended”.
It was a rainy weekday, so a lot of shops were shuttered close and the typically bustling place was rather deserted.
The entrance to the rest of the village was lazily guarded by security cats as well.
We wandered onto a small platform overlooking the river, and found the local cat condo community. Cozy, wooden cat houses with aprons for doors, built on a brick platform. Luxury. They even had a great view of the railway bridge! The rain started to pour at this point, so we squatted in the center of the community, getting acquainted with our new hairy friends.
But people live here too! We stopped at a food stall on wheels to browse through their wares.
I was still battling a rather persistent stomach bug from our trip through China’s Silk Road, where we were a few days prior, but you only live once. So I shakily hiked up several flights of stairs in cold sweat with my mom to reach an overlook of the village and catch a glimpse of village life.
We probably didn’t spend any more than an hour at Houtong, unfortunately, since we had to hit the road and I needed to find some facilities to purge the bug (TMI? maybe). But I’d definitely visit again on a sunnier and busier day and spend more time exploring, just not with a stomach bug.