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Stray cats are turning a defunct Taiwanese mining town into a tourist attraction
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The dilapidated mining town of Houtong is now drawing thousands of visitors during weekends. And it's all thanks to stray cats.
Houtong, also known as Taiwan’s “cat Mecca” for the hundred-odd cats that roam its streets, is an increasingly popular day-trip for Taiwan’s amateur photographers.
The first thing you’ll notice when you make your way into town are the cats -- more than a hundred of them, snoozing on benches, clambering up tin rooftops, or reluctantly playing with whatever enthusiastic photographers push their way.
“The cats seem to be used to crowds, and weren’t too bothered by the fact that I kept on snapping away at them. They just continued sleeping,” a blogger notes.
The tabbies and calicos at Houtong are smart to stay. All strays at Houtong are regularly fed, groomed and petted by locals and volunteers, and many of them are given affectionate nicknames.
Houtong was one of Taiwan’s biggest coal-mining sites up until the 1970s, according to the Tourism Bureau of Taipei County. Then electric trains took over, oil took the place of coal, and the town suffered a steady decline.
Houtong became a train stop along the Yilan line that most travelers bypassed, until a cat lover who goes by the name of “Palin88” set up a series of cat photography events at Houtong in 2008.
Houtong residents are cashing in on the tourist surge by opening souvenir shops and selling cat-shaped pineapple pastries, local press reports. The local government is trying to give tourism an extra push by setting up mining history museum at Houtong, which opened this July.
But there are downsides to Houtong’s growing fame. Many pet abandoners, assuming that strays will be looked after by Houtong locals, have chosen the town as their dumpsite, according to Taiwanese news reports.
Cat numbers have swelled by 20 percent in recent months and volunteer caretakers are trying to get the cats vaccinated in time to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
Getting there: Take the Taiwan Railway Administration Eastern Line. Houtong station is located along the Yilan Line, the northern section of the Eastern Line. Details of the Houtong mining park can be found here (Chinese only).
Here are other adorable cat pictures taken by visitors to Houtong: