After hiking Elephant Mountain and paying a visit to Laomei Reef, I decided it was time to travel to Houtong━a village in Taiwan renowned for its high population of cats. Similar to the origin of the rabbit island I visited last month in Japan, this was originally an old mining town that has attracted hundreds of cats (the former was a nuclear testing ground that is now overrun by rabbits). Fortunately there are a number of residents, volunteers, and tourists that look after these cats every day. If you are an feline lover, this is simply a day trip that cannot be passed up in Taiwan.
Getting to Houtong from Taipei is quite easy; from Songshan Station you can take a cheap 40 minute train directly to Houtong Station. When you get off at the station, you will notice there are two exits; one goes up into the hillside of the village where most of the cats lounge around and play, and the other leads to the roadside with nearby souvenir shops and restaurants. If you are eager to see the cats like I was, I would recommend taking the stairs to the hillside first. In fact, you may even see some furry friends lounging around in the station!
There are a number of things about this village that really charmed me. First of all, I loved how the cats acted like they owned the place. They weren’t afraid of humans at all and some of them were actually very friendly despite having to put up with us invading their space every day. I also loved the Neko Atsume cookies and pineapple cakes they were selling here. The shops had so many free samples that I tried every flavor (the chocolate pawprint-shaped pineapple cakes happened to be my favorite). I was informed by the shop owner that apparently these are the most delicious cakes in Taiwan, so I decided to bring back some souvenirs for my roommate and friends in Japan. They definitely had the cutest shape out of all of the pineapple cakes that I had seen here!
I also enjoyed the simple decor of the village. You could tell that the volunteers put effort into making helpful signs and guides for tourists as well. These adorable cat-like ornaments were hung in the station:
It really doesn’t take that long to explore the village; I spent about an hour and a half doing photography and exploring the shops. However, cat-watching is definitely something that you could spend all day doing. You can purchase food for them at any of the shops or cafes (I stopped by one to order a vodka latte for myself so I could warm up). I enjoyed watching this kitty run across the souvenir table:
Houtong truly reminded me of a mountain town in Japan because it was peaceful and had the same kind of atmosphere. Other than the cats, there is a river and a number of temples that you can see nearby. It is considered to be rural but the trains run here pretty frequently. On the way back to Taipei, I decided to stop by the Golden Waterfall that you can reach by bus from the nearby Ruifang Station. You could also combine this with a trip to the Jiufen lantern town if you want!
Unfortunately it was pitch dark when I reached the Golden Waterfall, but this is the best picture I managed to take:
Afterwards, I decided to go back and relax at my hotel. This is trip is a great way to see the countryside east of Taipei and also see the unforgettable village run by cats. Since Jiufen inspired Spirited Away, I can’t help but wonder if Houtong inspired The Cat Returns…