Welcome to Taiwan's cat village

(CNN) — From the moment you arrive at Houtong Village in northern Taiwan, you'll have no trouble knowing who the real stars are.

There's a cat-shaped bridge, pet food bowls on the side of the walkways, street signs with cat motifs, cat-themed cafes and, of course, furry feline friends roaming freely everywhere.

The fall and rise of Houtong
Stray cats have helped revive Houtong, a sleepy former mining village.

Stray cats have helped revive Houtong, a sleepy former mining village.

SAM YEH/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

As most young residents moved away for better opportunities, Houtong became a sleepy village with about 100 residents.

But in 2010, Houtong's fame surged after a cat lover and photographer started blogging about the village's growing stray cat population. Houtong was transformed into a cat-lover mecca while also providing a source of income for local villagers.

Many of the stray cats, now given affectionate nicknames, are taken care of by local villagers as well as a troop of volunteers.

In addition to the village's many cute kitty-themed shops and cafes, the local government has also seized the opportunity to revamp Houtong and highlight its long history.

Cat-viewing maps help visitors plan feline-packed walking routes.

Cat-viewing maps help visitors plan feline-packed walking routes.

SAM YEH/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

An award-winning pedestrian cat bridge was built. Metal plates featuring tiny paw designs were embedded into streets. A cat information and education center opened in 2014, featuring elevated cat walkways on the façade of the building.
A museum park dedicated to the town's former mining life opened in 2010, later hosting a cat lantern festival in 2012.

Controversies
The stray cats, taken care of by locals and volunteers, have been given affectionate nicknames. This is Xiaohua (or Little Flower).

The stray cats, taken care of by locals and volunteers, have been given affectionate nicknames. This is Xiaohua (or Little Flower).

SAM YEH/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

But Houtong, now under the spotlight, isn't completely purrfect.

According to local reports, the town has become a magnet for those looking for a place to abandon their unwanted pets.

During the most recent survey, the New Taipei City Government Animal Protection and Health Inspection Office estimated that the village is now home to about 286 cats -- 50 heads more than two years ago.

With the constant patting and feeding from visitors, some also flagged concerns about the health of the furry residents. The department works with local residents and volunteers to vaccinate the cats and provide regular medical treatment.

Signs have been erected around town advising visitors how to behave while also pleading pet owners to be responsible.

For a quick peek inside Houtong, check out the above video by Black Buddha.

Getting there

Houtong is about an hour's train ride from Taipei Station. To reach Houtong Station,

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