At one point, the Taiwanese village of Houtong was one of the largest providers of coal in the country, but as the population declined and the town threatened to disappear, it was saved from the brink by an influx of lovable felines.
During its height, Houtong encompassed around 900 households, fostering a population of around 6,000 people. Yet by the 1970s the town’s fortunes began to fall into decline. As is often the case in such situations, the younger residents of the town quickly began leaving for greener pastures and opportunities in the bigger cities. By the 1990s, the mining industry had died off in the area completely, and the population of the village had dwindled to less than 100 people.
Most villages in this situation would have simply fallen off the face of the Earth, but luckily for Houtong, it received a little feline salvation. By 2008, the tiny village had accumulated dozens of stray cats that nearly outnumbered the humans. Seeing this as an opportunity to inject a little life into their town, the human inhabitants began advertising themselves on the internet as a cat-friendly sanctuary, where visitors could come and commiserate with the meowing mousers that had control of the streets.
The image stuck, and today Houtong is a fairly popular tourist destination that sees people train in from all over to see the cats (now numbering over 100) that freely roam the area. Shops selling cat paraphernalia and the like have sprung up, but the true draw is still the beasts themselves.
Know Before You Go
From Taipei Main Train Station, take the TRA to Rui Fang Station, then change train to go to Houtong Station.