Houtong (Cat Village) Travel Guide

While Jiufen has transformed itself from an abandoned mining community to one of Taiwan's prime tourist spots, Houtong (侯硐, also Houdong) is just on its way. Turning a coal mining village, with little other than sealed up mines and dilapidated old coal processing machinery, into a desirable travel destination can't be an easy job, but Houtong is sparing no effort in trying, with bustling (somewhat improvised) cafes, a sparkling new tourist centre with helpful, English-speaking staff and even bicycle rental. The collection of coal mines and remaining buildings has been collectively called (an oxymorn?) the Houtong Coal Mine Ecological Park. I found the quieter, more laid back vibe of Houtong a welcome change from the intensity of Jiufen Old Street.
What can a town do with an old coal dressing plant for a town centre do when it wants to clean itself up and transform itself into a tourist attraction? Declare the old plant itself THE tourist attraction. And breed a lot of cats. It appears to be working miracles.

But most tourists come not for its coal mining history but its cats. Houtong has become famous as a "cat village", being home to hundreds of very tame cats, which lure domestic and international tourists (especially from Hong Kong) to pet, feed and photograph them. The ethics of keeping (and feeding) domestic cats is an issue beyond the scope of this guide, but to answer common questions one might ask the cats 'belong' to local residents (not the government), no fee is collected to pet or feed them and if you wish to feed the cats healthy vegan pet food it's available from iVegan and the Huaining Loving Hut.

I find the mining history most interesting, but most visitors to Houtong come to feed the cats.

I highly recommend the Siaocokeng Ancient Footpath to (harder) or from (easier) Jiufen, but it's just one stop from Riufang Stationif you don't fancy the walk.

Visitors Centre

Houtong Visitors Centre

The visitors centre is a small site offering English advice, an excellent map of tourist sites (there'll probably be more by the time you get here) and a scale model of the area. It's worth the few minutes walk from the train station, or if you come from Jiufen via the Siaocukeng Ancient Footpath Trail it's on your way.

Ruisan Mine

The Ruisan Mine, built in 1940 during the Japanese era, was at its time the largest and most advanced coal mine in Taiwan, and it provided much of Taiwan's energy needs. There were highly organised systems of monitoring and managing who was in the pit at any time, and rigorous checks to ensure lighters and other unsafe equipment weren't taken down the mines. It was a four kilometre journey into the site of mining, which was four hundred metres underground. Coal was taken across the coal bridge to the now-rotting coal dressing plant, before being carted out on railways abroad to be sold overseas. The Houtong Mine Site (directly over the coal bridge from the railway station) and the attached Business Affairs Office have  been re-opened for tourism, and appear to be run a relaxed and friendly local family.

Mine Tour
A tour of the Houtong Mine (also 150NT) includes a ride into the mine on the original, Tokyo-built diesel cart, and a brief introduction to life in times gone by. It would be faster, greener, and certainly more pleasant to walk the mine route yourself than ride the diesel car, but the tour guide, who spoke some English, did offer some interesting history to the area.

This diesel-powered cart has been in Taiwan for 85 years, and (being made in Tokyo) it's still going strong. 150NT for a ride seems quite a bargain given what the miners had to endure.

The Ruisan Mine Business Affairs Office houses a few interesting old photos and mining relics, including an automatic electrical shut-off switch (equivalent to a modern-day fuse or circuit-breaker) when it detected explosive gases in the mines. Entrance is free.

Gas detector / circuit breaker from Houtong Mine.

Bicycle Rental
Bicycle rental starts from NT100 per hour.

Houtong Jinja (Japanese Shrine)
Torii (shrine gate) to the former Houtong Jinja (shrine)

I'm no fan of Shintoism (or Japanese Buddhism either for that matter) but I've always found Shinto shrines to be exceptionally serene and peaceful, for reasons I can't explain. Unfortunately the former Houtong Jinja (shrine) was abandoned (and probably looted) after the Japanese left, so virtually nothing remains of the actual shrine, however the two torii (gates) are still standing, one stone and one (rotting) wood. I recommend walking the short but pleasant path across the coal transportation path from the train station, passed the Ruisan Mine, up steps just to the left of the building (looking at it), and then following the path to the torii (above), then through the former temple site and then down the "hundred steps", which have been used for many purposes (including access to mines and the shrine) over the last century, and rebuilt several times. From there it's a short walk back to the centre of the Visitor's Centre.

I recommend the Siaocukeng Ancient Footpath Trail to or from Jiufen, but alternatively Houtong is one train stop from Riufeng, which is less than an hour from Taipei. It's probably safer to buy a ticket to Riufang, but if you want to use your Easycard any northbound train except trains bound for Keelung or the Taroko Express should stop in Riufang. Riufang is also the closest train stop for Jiufen and Jinguashi.

See Also

Siaocukeng Ancient Footpath Trail

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