The Cat-tastic Taiwanese Village Where Felines Are in Charge

The Cat-tastic Taiwanese Village Where Felines Are in Charge

Houtong: Where cats rule.

SourceWikimedia Commons

Why you should care

Because all of YouTube’s cute cat videos pale in comparison to this place. 

The competition is over: The most photogenic cats are in Taiwan’s Houtong Cat Village. Here, inside Taiwan’s cat-themed town, the famed felines adore the camera. Their casual bask-in-the-sun poses would put even supermodel Bella Hadid to shame. But on one bright Sunday morning, as I kneel down to snap a quick pic of a tiger-striped tabby, my eyes turn blood-red and my lungs start to cave in.

Did I forget to mention that I’m deathly allergic to cats?

Houtong, taiwan 01

You’ll find snoozing felines practically everywhere in Houtong.

Source Wikimedia Commons

Once the heart of Taiwan’s coal industry, the town of Houtong nearly fell off the map as the village dwindled from 6,000 residents to just a few families during the rise of electricity in the ’90s. Many left behind their cats, who fended for themselves for years. Until, that is, 65-year-old Chan Bi-yun decided to take all the stragglers under his wing a few years ago. It wasn’t long before Houtong’s cat population began to boom. These days, more than 100 friendly fluffballs well outnumber their human neighbors. (Bi-yun, who’s most likely trapped in a kitty cuddle puddle somewhere, didn’t respond to requests for comment.)

Imagine litters of kittens scurrying across a lush Games of Thrones–esque backdrop of gurgling streams and emerald-green mountains.

Unable to resist the prospect of cozying up to these infinitely cute critters, but also not wanting to risk anaphylactic shock, I called a doctor to explore my options. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology estimates that some 50 million Americans suffer from cat allergies. And other than simply avoiding cats, immunotherapy — or allergy shots — is the only tried-and-true treatment, says Dr. Steven Cole, an allergy specialist at the Park Lane Allergy and Asthma Center in Texas. Which is far from convenient: Not only does the treatment require more than 100 shots over the course of five years, it is also “incredibly time-consuming,” Cole says. So, I popped a few Zyrtec instead — anything to boost the Insta following, right?

Houtong is the ultimate Eden for crazy cat lovers. Imagine litters of kittens scurrying across a lush Games of Thrones–esque backdrop of gurgling streams and emerald-green mountains. Simply follow the concrete trail of paw prints etched all over town and you’ll soon find trains plastered with Hello Kitty posters, souvenir shops filled with kitschy Pusheen-adorned tote bags and cafés that sell kitty-inspired sweets. There’s even a cat-shaped bridge so that cats and humans alike can cross the Keelung River, which cuts through the village. “You will reach your ‘cuteness’ quota within minutes of coming here,” says Chen Minghong, who bakes and sells cat-shaped pineapple cakes by the dozens each day. And of course, you’re guaranteed to stumble across oodles of friendly felines snoozing, meowing and romping along the way.

Houtong Cat Village. A small village that’s full of cats. All the cafes etc. are cat themed, naturally.

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But there’s a dark side to Houtong’s budding status as a cat sanctuary. Pet owners from all over Taiwan drop off their unwanted cats here — many of them unvaccinated, according to locals. Which means the thousands who flock to Houtong every weekend could risk disease with their kitty cuddles. Still, volunteers who live in the town make sure the cats are clean and healthy, providing free veterinary care and food, says Minghong.

As for me? I leave Houtong unscathed, sans a few sniffles. Kittens may be my kryptonite, but trust me, a visit to Taiwan’s crazy cat village is worth the cat-astrophe.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag:

GO THERE: HOUTONG CAT VILLAGE

  • How to Say It in Chinese: 猴硐貓村 (Hóudòng Māo Cūn)
  • Directions: From Taipei Main Station, take a local train toward the Ruifang District. The round-trip journey cost around NT$120 ($4) and takes an hour each way.
  • Pro Tip: Keep your dogs at home, obviously.

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