I’ve always passed by Houtong but only explored it last Friday. Thanks to my friend Rose, and an article on Murakami, I finally decided to see Houtong’s Cat Village. I went there thinking it’s just going to be another item crossed off my Taiwan bucket list, but it ended up being so much more than that.
The village has a special kind of charm enough to turn anyone into a cat-person.
From Taipei to Houtong
From Taipei, the easiest way to Houtong is via the local TRA. You can also buy tickets online from this site. The entire trip from Taipei to Houtong takes about an hour, so you should try to get reserved seats on the train. You’d find yourself walking a lot and taking lots of photos in Houtong so better preserve all that energy.
Exploring Houtong for the First Time
I didn’t really plan this trip that much. I just figured I’d go there, explore, and see where my curiosity takes me. I thought it wasn’t going to be that big, but I was wrong. The Houtong Cat Village has a rich history of its own, there’s more to visit than just the feline mascots.
Houtong, before becoming Taiwan’s Cat Village, was once a prosperous coal-mining district under Japanese rule. Eventually, business declined and put the economic future of the entire district in danger. Thankfully, a cat-loving lady transformed Houtong into a cat haven by bringing abandoned cats to live in the village, and attracted cat lovers to come and visit these guys for free.
And the rest, as they say, became Houtong Cat Village history.
My first visit was kinda a letdown because it rained. From the train station exit, I spent almost an hour watching the drizzle while judging if it’s still possible for me to push through and explore the area.
Since I have an umbrella anyway, I decided to head to the small building I saw and thought, “I might as well do this since I’m already here.” Turns out the small building was an extension of the Visitor’s Center, which housed the history of Houtong as a coal mining district.
After checking everything inside the Vision Hall, I decided to go back to the entrance and plan my next move. It was still raining hard, but the sight of the cats outside was enough motivation for me to brave the rain.
I must have looked foolish toting an umbrella while trying to take photos with my DSLR, but I didn’t care. I started to get really interested with the cats because all of them look healthy, friendly but quiet, and well-fed.
The feral cats near the Visitor’s Center were a but standoffish, though they don’t mind if you take their photos as long as you keep some distance. I wouldn’t recommend petting them unless you’re cat instincts are telling you it’s going to be fine. Or if you got cat food to give them in return.
Before taking a tour, you can buy some dry and wet treats to feed these local superstars.
I walked at the nearby sites searching for more cats. While walking, I saw that the village didn’t just earn its name because it’s got cat residents. Houtong Cat Village has more than lived up to my expectations because they also made cute homes just for cats!
While the air did smell a little funky (cat stuff maybe), the areas I saw were kept clean and beautiful. If only it wasn’t raining, I’m sure I would have been able to explore more.
When I returned to the Visitor’s Area, and with the rain still pouring, I decided to cut the trip short and return to Taipei.
Upon reaching the ticketing area, I noticed this cute sign for the first time.
Since I’m not really prepared to go home yet, I explored the tunnel. As I walked through, I realized that this tunnel was the same tunnel I noticed while taking photos of the Houtong railway.Inside, there were more cat homes and a few cats roaming around being photographed by people.
At the end of the tunnel, I saw a shop decorated with cartooned cats and decided to check it out.
I suppose my curiosity did get the best out of me as I discovered Cat Paws House. It was a place that sold cat items and souvenirs, and also got their own cats for people to socialize with. You just can’t feed their cats because they feed them with their own type of cat food. So you can look and play with the kitties, take photos, but definitely no treats.
I spent a good amount of time there, just observing the cats and getting more mesmerized with Houtong’s rural beauty.
I started to notice that cats (at least the ones in Houtong) have a way of just coiling their tail in front of them while hoisting themselves up on their two front legs. There’s just something so regal and at the same time so, “take my photo now” about it. They actually stop what they’re doing whenever they hear my DSLR’s auto-focus mechanism.And it’s like they knew they’re gonna be photographed so they prop themselves this way and well, give me a signature pose.
I swear these cats must be professional models.
Over this side of Houtong, I noticed that the cats have collars. I think most of them either live in the Cat Paws House or were allowed to roam around by their owners. They were also more subdued and patient around humans. AND THEY SURE KNOW THEIR ANGLES, thanksverymuch.
Where I Left My Heart
Around 5:30 PM, I finally decided to go back to Taipei. I took the cat tunnel again and on my way out, I found this well-behaved cat seated on the bench. I decided to take one last photo and sat down next to her. I saw that her head was bent down and her eyes didn’t fully open. As I looked closer, she was actually very sleepy but still trying her best to remain seated upright.
At first, I thought it was funny so I took a video. But after taking it, I felt a twinge of guilt and pity for this well-behaved kitty. I started to think that an evil owner might be forcing her to keep seated this way for the benefit of the tourists but that’s kinda paranoid, I know, since she can be photographed for free.
I decided I’d lie her down on the bench so she can sleep comfortably. I was already petting her so I thought she wouldn’t mind if I try to lay her down. As I tried to pick her up, she suddenly woke up, stretched a bit, and just walked straight to me and placed herself right on my lap.
It was both magical and, well, a little emotional for me. I know cats are not the most trusting animals, not as much as dogs. My mind tried to process what was happening and, as if trying to prove she belongs on my lap, she arranged herself and made sure she was smack in the middle of both my thighs. My thighs, well, they naturally locked themselves together to make sure kitty is supported. I then noticed that she was a bit cold and felt my thighs dissipating some heat to this sweet kitty, who eventually became a delicate black and white fur-ball resting on me.
I was speechless. Dumbfounded. The next thing I knew, my hand started to pet her again while the other carefully took out my phone to capture this moment. I only wanted her to lie on the bench but apparently, what she preferred was me and whatever comfort I can give her. The feeling… it’s actually difficult to put into words, writer that I am. I mean, how can a stranger like this trust me like that? I didn’t even give her any food and yet she just let herself sleep peacefully on my lap.
I sat there for as long as I could, petting her as people walked by looking at us. I figured she probably has good experience with humans so she didn’t hesitate to go to me. Plus, obviously, she was cold and the bench isn’t warm enough to sleep on. I wished then that I could stay longer, but it was starting to get dark. So when I finally saw a few girls who wanted to take her photo, I decided to lift her off me and placed her back on the bench. When I did, she looked at me with eyes that seemed to protest and say, “Are you leaving now?”
Next thing I knew, kitty was stretching out and walking on the bench. The rest was a blur because I didn’t linger anymore. I’m afraid I’d get tempted to take her haha. Although I really couldn’t because she has a collar. But I did look back before I finally lost sight of her, and saw that she was being petted and photographed by a couple of girls. Seeing that made me felt a little comfortable to finally leave her and go home.
As I walked along the tunnel, I felt like a rock lodged in between my throat while a hot sting spread on my nose welling up my eyes.
What a way to end that visit.
And of course, this wouldn’t be the last I’d see of Houtong. Since it’s very near, a quick day trip is just a matter of checking if the weather would be great.
Plus, I sure hope to see kitty and spend time with her again.