About an hour's train ride from Taipei, there's a small village that has gone to the cats.
Houtong was once the nucleus of Taiwan's coal production, boasting 900 households and a population of about 6,000. In the 1970s, things started going south for Houtong as the coal industry began to wind down and the younger members of the village sought opportunities elsewhere. By the 1990s, the mining industry had tapered off completely and the town's population barely topped 100.
The village's fortunes began to turn around in 2008 when a cat lover and blogger with the handle Palin88 visited and shared a number of photos of the village's many stray cats. Over the next couple of years, Houtong became something of a cat mecca as tourists came to visit the village taken over by 100 to 200 stray cats.
A group of volunteers cares for the cats, microchipping, spaying or neutering and vaccinating as they can. Feeding the cats is up to the residents and the tourists who trek into town to explore and hang out with the cats.
For their part, the cats have a good reputation with visitors, even if some will bolt if a human gets too close. Most seem content to get a few snacks here or there and some pets before going back and down their own thing.
Houtong has embraced its new identity as a destination for cat-lovers. Even the town's railroad bridge, pictured above, is vaguely cat-themed, with ears at the entrance. (It also gives cats a safe place to traverse the tracks and greet visitors.)
Shops around town offer cat-themed treats (for both humans and felines) and souvenirs, and a "Cat Info Station" that helps orient visitors is decorated with cat illustrations. There are also a few restaurants that offer more substantial fare than the popular pineapple pastries.
If you're considering a visit to Houtong to soak in the feline atmosphere, consider making it a day trip. While there are a number of trains back and forth between Houtong and Taipei, most of the shops and restaurants close around 5 or 6 p.m.
And if you can't get to Houtong any time soon, let these pictures give you just a taste of the village's feline charms.