Cat lovers boost tourism in Taiwan village as feline residents revive once-flourishing mining town

A cat in Houtung cat village in Taipei, 8 Jan, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

This photo feature was written by Kyle Lam and originally published in Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on April 27, 2024. An edited version is published below as part of a content partnership agreement with HKFP.

A once-thriving coal mining town in Taiwan has reinvented itself as a tourist attraction and home to over 100 feline residents.

Houtong, in Ruifang — west of the capital Taipei — was originally called “monkey cave.” During the 20th century, the area led Taiwan’s coal production, with 220,000 tons clawed from the earth each year. It spurred a population boom peaking at around 6,000 people.

Tourists take pictures with a cat in Houtung cat village in Taipei, January 8, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP. Used with permission.

But as in many coal towns, young residents emigrated as the industry faded in the 1990s, leaving fewer than 100 villagers as the job market dried up.

That was until 2008, when a local resident and photographer, Peggy Chien, began to take in abandoned cats. She showcased her efforts on Flickr and won over cat lovers across the island, according to state-run Taiwan Today. The influx of more furry friends helped rejuvenate the declining village and turned it into a cat-lovers paradise.

Cats in Houtung cat village in Taipei, 8 Jan, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP. Used with permission.

Today, the village is a tourist magnet and home to cat-themed cafes, shops peddling feline fare, crumbling relics of the village’s industrial past, and places to relax.

Kitties may be encountered welcoming visitors from Taipei on the railway bridge, sprawled across shelves and steps, or sleeping on roofs, benches and in corners.

Houtong was listed in CNN’s “Five Places Where Cats Outshine Tourist Attractions” in 2013.

A tourist feeds a cat with snacks in Houtung Cat Village in Taipei, 8 Jan, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP. Photo used with permission.

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