The Breathtaking Flower Hill of Hokkaido

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Home to nearly one million pink shibazakura flowers, spread over an area of 100,000 square meters, on a hillside overlooking the picturesqe town of Takinoue, the Higashimokoto Flower Park is a must-see attraction for flower lovers.

There are lost of impressive tourist destinations on Japan’s Hokkaido island, but the hillside flower park overlooking the town of Takinoue stands out as the most colorful. Every year, from early May to mid June, the hill is covered with a pink carpet of Moss Phlox flowers, commonly known as shibazakura. Winding paths lead visitors from the base of the hill to the very top where they are treated to a magnificent view of the surrounding sea of flowers. Higashimokoto Park was founded in 1956, with only a box full of shibazakura seeds, but a growing number of plants have been planted every year since, and today the pink flowers cover an area of over 100,000 square meters. During the month-long blooming season, the bright pink flowers fill the air with a sweet scent that complements the amazing view. At the height of the moss phlox season, locals hold an annual festival dedicated to the flowers, featuring all kinds of themed events, and stalls selling snacks and souvenirs.

Takinoue-Flower-Park

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Live Like a Genuine Convict at Latvia’s Prison Hotel

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Latvia’s Karosta Prison was used as a Nazi and Soviet military prison for most of the 20th century. Hundreds of prisoners are said to have died here, many of them shot in the head. Nowadays the nightmarish facility has been transformed in a prison-themed hotel where guests can sign an agreement to be treated like actual inmates.

Located in the city of Liepaja, Karosta Prison is one of Latvia’s most unique tourist attractions. Visitors can take tours of the old prison facility and learn the gruesome history of this place, visit the prison museum and even book a stay in one of the old cells. Karosta is certainly not the only prison converted to a hotel in the world, but it sets itself apart by allowing visitors to experience authentic prison life in Communist Era conditions. It might sound like a gimmick to attract tourists, but a stay at Karosta Prison is actually no walk in the park. To make sure there are no complaints, the hotel requires guests to sign an agreement acknowledging they are to be treated like prisoners by the trained staff. That includes sleeping in a cell on an old mattress laid over wooden boards, eating prison food served through the barred doors, getting verbally abused by the guards and following orders to the letter. Failure to comply to the strict code of conduct is punished through physical exercise and cleaning work around the prison.

Karosta-Prison-Hotel

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Houtong Cat Village – How a Few Purring Felines Saved a Dying Community

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This is the story of how a few dozen cats managed to save an entire community just by purring and looking pretty. Houtong was just another dilapidated mining town in the mountains of eastern New Taipei City, but everything changed when the felines came and livened up the place.

Houtong used to be one of Taiwan’s most important coal extraction sites, up until the 1970s. Then, oil and electricity took the place of coal, and the town suffered a steady decline. At one point it was reduced to a train stop along the Yilan line, one that most travelers ignored, and that forced many of its younger residents search for better opportunities elsewhere. The population of this defunct mining town dwindled from around six thousand inhabitants to a couple  of hundred, who struggled to survive. But their fortunes changed in 2008, when a cat lover who goes by the name “Palin88” organized a series of cat photography events in the mountain town. He and his friends posted the photos online, and got an overwhelming response from fellow feline enthusiasts. As they shared the photos on forums and social media sites, Houtong welcomed more and more tourists eager to photograph the cats themselves, or simply watch them roaming through the town. Nowadays, Houtong is known as the Cat Village, or Taiwan’s Cat Mecca.

Houtong-Cat-Village

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Experience Space Travel in the Back of a Japanese Bus

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Long bus tours can be pretty boring, but Japan’s Star Fighter buses are so incredibly cool they just don’t give you a chance to get bored. If you think they look impressive on the outside, wait until you see what’s in store for passengers inside.

Going on a Tokyo bus tour usually gives tourists a chance to catch a glimpse of Japan’s fascinating metropolis, but that’s not what the Star Fighter Tour operated by Willer Travel is about. In fact, their futuristic-looking buses don’t even have windows. So if it’s sightseeing you want, look elsewhere, but if you fancy an interactive space adventure right here on Earth, this is one Tokyo attraction you don’t want to miss. As you can see in the photo below, Star Fighter buses don’t look like ordinary tour buses. Their shiny silver paint job  is somewhat reminiscent of Star Trek, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg, because the real exciting stuff is on the inside. As you step aboard, the space shuttle-themed decor makes it hard to tell if you’re on a bus or a ship ready for take-off. There are hatches on the floor and air locks on the walls, and the normal windows have been replaced with “Hyper Windows”, which are really LED screens that show the infinite space outside, as soon as the tour starts.

Space-Fighter-tour

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Idol Rock – Nature’s Balancing Act

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The 50-acre expanse of Brimham Moor in North Yorkshire, England is home to a number of curious rock formations shaped by tens of thousands of years of erosion, but the most impressive of all is Idol Rock, a 200-ton monolith balancing on a tiny pyramidal base.

The 15-foot high Idol Rock looks like it’s about to crumble, but it never does. Weighing an estimated 200 tons, the giant rock formation has been performing its amazing balancing act for as long as anyone can remember, defying the laws of physics and leaving the visitors of Brimham Moor scratching their heads in awe. Also known as The Druids Idol or The Druid’s Writing Desk, this unique attraction sits on a tiny lump of rock only one foot in circumference. Photos of it have been circulating on the internet for years, with many claiming it is just the result of Photoshop manipulation, but the Idol of Brimham is very real, an example of Mother Nature’s artistic talent.

Idol-Rock

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Svolværgeita: Jumping the Goat’s Horns in Norway

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Up until a century ago, the Svolværgeita or Goat’s Horns rock tower had never been conquered, but these days not only has it become one of the most popular climbing pinnacles in Norway, but thrill-seeking mountaineers defy death by jumping between its granite horns.

Goat’s Horns peak was first climbed in 1910 by Carl Rubenson, Alf B. Bryn, and Ferdinand Schjelderup, a fantastic trio who managed to conquer two other virgin summits (Trakta and Stetind) on the very same trip. Climbers can go up Svolværgeita on the original route of its first climbers, just to see how good these three pioneers were in their time. There are several routes up the Goat’s Horns, but once at the top, many members of the mountaineering community follow the decades-old traditions of jumping from Storhorn (big horn) to the Lillehorn (little horn), over a 1.5 meter gap. It’s considered the perfect mountain climbing stunt, because it’s possible to pull off, but hard enough to get your heart pumping. Jumping 1.5 meters across may not seem like a very difficult task, but one wrong move and you’ll have to rely on the safety harnesses to save you from a 150-meter fall to the foot of Goat’s Horns pillar.

Svolværgeita-jump

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Every Minute Counts at Germany’s Slow Time Cafe

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Slow Time, a newly opened cafe in Wiesbaden, Germany, is charging clients on how much time they spend there, rather than on what they order. Coffee and biscuit snacks are free, and customers can even bring their own food, but on departure, they have to pay for every minute spent inside.

The “time cafe” concept comes from Moscow, where it has proven a big hit. Locals and tourists there find refuge from the hectic city streets inside one of these peaceful cafes without worrying about high drink prices. The amount of time they spend inside is the only thing that counts on the bill. 24-year-old Daria Volkova, who immigrated from Russia in 2008, recently opened the first time cafe in Germany, called Slow Time. Customers are charged €2 ($2.50) on arrival, which covers the first 30 minutes, after which they have to pay €0.05 per minute, or €3 per hour. The coffee, which is supposed to be delicious, tea and water are offered free of charge, and there are also free biscuits to snack on, but clients are invited to bring their own food and drinks if they want, or maybe have a pizza delivered there. What’s important is the time, although the owners says the several clocks purposely showing different times are meant to make people forget about time and focus on relaxation and the people around them. To pass the time, visitors can use the free Wi-Fi connection to browse on the internet, play social games like Carcassone, Scrabble or Activity with friends, or enjoy a good book from the cafe’s selection.

Slow-Time-cafe

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The Chillout Ice Cafe Is Literally a Very Cool Place to Hang Out

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In the desert city of Dubai, summer temperatures average at about 40 degrees Celsius, so the last thing you’d expect to be able to do in this place is chill out in a sub-zero climate. But this is the UAE, where almost everything is possible, if you have the money. Welcome to the Chillout Ice Cafe!

Tourism is a huge part of Dubai’s economy, as it supports the entire emirate’s retail and hospitality industries, so in order to keep people coming to this desert paradise, local entrepreneurs have invested heavily in all kinds of unique attractions, from the stunning Burj Al Arab hotel to a palm-shaped artificial archipelago, and even an ice cafe where visitors can hang out at -6 degrees Celsius, surrounded by nothing but ice. Located in the Times Square shopping mall, right next to the famous Dubai Ski Dome, where people can actually ski down artificial snow slopes, the Chillout Cafe is made entirely of carved ice, including ice curtains, frosty tables and seats covered with fur, ice chandeliers, as well as beautiful sculptures highlighted by fluorescent lights. The cutlery, plates and glasses are also made of ice. Talk about a cool place to hide away from the scorching sun.

Chillout-Cafe-Dubai

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The Huli Warriors of Papua New Guinea and Their Elaborate Wigs

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The Huli Wigmen are a tribe that inhabit several villages in Papua New Guinea. They are known both as some of the most fierce warriors in the region and as masterful “hairstylists”who craft flamboyant wigs out of their own hair.

Not much is known about the origins of the Huli men’s tradition of crafting wigs from their own hair. When researchers discovered the tribe, they were already practicing the custom, and since they are believed to have lived in the area for at least 1,000 years, the tradition must have been developed sometime during this period. Males in their late teenage years and early 20′s leave their community behind and go to Bachelor school, where older man teach them all about manhood, including how to make beautiful wigs from their own hair. They are sequestered in the jungle for at least 18 months, after which they can return to their villages or stay a while longer to acquire more knowledge and improve their skills. The wig-making process starts with the trainees growing out their hair. When it’s big enough, the shaping of the wigs begins while the hair is still attached to their heads. Most of the shapes are saucer-like, so the men have to sleep with bricks and other objects under their heads to keep their heads off the ground and prevent the hair from getting flattened.

Huli-wigmen

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Jembatan Akar – Indonesia’s Amazing Tree Root Bridge

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For the last hundred years, the residents of two tiny Indonesian villages in West Sumatra have used a 30-meter-long bridge formed from the interconnected roots of two trees located on each side of a fast-flowing river, to reach each other and trade supplies. Today, the natural wonder known as “Jembatan Akar” has become a popular tourist attraction.

According to locals the amazing tree root bridge was built in 1890, by Pakih Sohan, a Muslim teacher from Lubuak Glare, disappointed by the fact that students from Pulut-pulut couldn’t attend his classes on Islam and Quran recitations due to the Batang Bayang river that separated the two settlements. He planted two small Jawi-jawi – a type of  broad-leaf banyan tree – and started stringing their roots around a stem bridge made of bamboo. In just a few years time the two trees reached each other over the river, but the bridge wouldn’t be able to support the passing villagers’ weight for another two decades. It took approximately 26 years for Jembatan Akar to become the sturdy bridge it is today, and with each passing year, it becomes even stronger, as the banyan tree roots continue to grow.

root-bridge-Indonesia4

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The Iconic Floating Forest of Sydney

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There are a lot of shipwrecks in Sydney’s Homebush Bay, near the Olympic village, but none quite like the SS Ayrfield, also known as “The Floating Forest” for the lush mangrove vegetation that now covers its rusty hull.

The SS Ayrfield (originally launched as SS Corrimal), was a collier ship built in England in 1911 and used by the Commonwealth Government during World War II to transport supplies to American troops in the Pacific. It was sold in 1950 and operated as a collier on the sixty-miler run between Newcastle and Sydney, until 1972 when the ship’s registration was canceled and it was sent to its final resting place, Homebush Bay. Before the 2000 Olympic Games, this place was a ship breaking zone, and the dozens of shipwrecks that still remain here are a constant reminder of its history. Some say there’s a certain creepiness about the Homebush Bay ship graveyard, but that is lessened by the unique look of the SS Ayrfield, which locals often refer to as the Floating Forest. A bunch of full-grown mangrove trees now call this rusty partly-submerged piece of metal home, creating a new and unique attraction that draws in photographers from all over the world.

floating-forest

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All Aboard the Controversy Inn’s Tram Apartments

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Viewed as one of the most unusual hotels in the world, the Controversy Inn gives the term “room and board” a whole new meaning by repurposing old tramcars  as luxurious accommodations for guests.

Located in Holland’s Hoogwoud village, the Controversy Inn is run by two kooky Prince fans and offers visitors the unique opportunity of sleeping in fully reconditioned tramcars that used to run in Germany and Amsterdam years ago. It might not sound like the most comfortable stay, but the owners of this wacky establishment have gone out of their way to make the trams as cozy as possible. All the “rooms” feature double beds, showers and toilet facilities, a well-supplied kitchenette, and lovely decorations made from old-traffic lights, discarded furniture, car parts and other recycled objects. The three tramcars and the full-sized railway car have all been themed around different cultures around the world – America, Italy, France and Mexico – and come with their own matching type of breakfast. Frank and Irma Appel, the two motoring enthusiasts behind the Controversy Inn, sleep in an English-style Double-Decker bus they’ve somehow managed to insert right in the living-room of their picturesque farmhouse. How crazy is that?

Controversy-Inn

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Hooker’s Lips – The World’s Most Kissable Plant

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Here’s a dumb question: if (the young) Mick Jagger was a plant, what would he be? Probably Psychotria Elata, commonly known as Hooker Lips or the Hot Lips Plant for the shape of its bright red bracts that resemble two luscious lips.

This weird plant might look like the work of a photo editing software, but I can assure you those kissable lips are all natural. Found in the tropical rain forests of Central and South American countries like Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador, the Psychotria Elatra plant has apparently evolved into its current shape to attract pollinators including hummingbirds and butterflies. Affectionately known as Hooker’s Lips, this extraordinary flower has unfortunately become endangered due to uncontrolled deforestation in the above-mentioned countries. So if you’ve ever wanted to plant a kiss on Mother Nature, find yourself a Hot Lips plant and do it while you still can. The bracts are only kissable for a short while, before they spread open to reveal the plant’s flowers.

Psychotria-elata

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Playa del Amor – The Hidden Beach of Marieta Islands

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If it weren’t for the sound of the waves gently washing up on its fine sand beach, people would probably walk right past Playa del Amor without even knowing it was there. Located several meters inland on one of the Marieta Islands, the Hidden Beach is one of those unique natural wonders you definitely don’t want to miss.

The Marieta Islands archipelago, located off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico are believed to have formed centuries ago due to volcanic activity in the area. During the early 1900s, the Mexican Government took advantage of the fact they were completely uninhabited and used the islands to conduct military tests. After years of research and efforts to legally protect the archipelago, scientists led by the famous Jacques Cousteau managed to convince Mexican authorities to declare the Marietas a national park protected against fishing, hunting and any other harmful human activities. To this day, the islands remain uninhabited and only authorized boat service providers can take tourists to see their natural wonders up-close. Although the large explosions and bombings carried out for decades have greatly damaged the flora and fauna of this tropical paradise, some say they’re also responsible for the creation of one of its most amazing attractions – Playa del Amor, also known as the Hidden Beach of Mexico.

Hidden-Beach

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The Unkai Terrace of Tomamu – A Magical Place Above the Clouds

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Located in Japan’s Tomamu Resort,  on the island of Hokkaido, the Unkai Terrace is a unique scenic spot perched high atop a mountain peak that is often above the clouds, offering tourists breathtaking views of the white, fluffy sea beneath them.

The “unkai” (sea of clouds) phenomenon has been attracting tourists to the resort town on Tomamu for years. The natural hot springs in the area and the differences in temperature during the few hours when night turns into day determine the formation of an immaculate white blanket of clouds over the mountainous region, but only a few people had the chance to see the unique effect from above, until a gondola system was put in place. It takes early-bird tourists up the mountain to the Unkai Terrace, right above the sea of clouds, where they can watch the sunrise, take photos of the Hidaka and Tokachi mountain peaks as they pierce the fluffy fog and enjoy a refreshing cup of coffee or a bowl of soup. Although the gondola fare is pretty expensive (around $20), the view from Unkai Terrace is definitely worth every yen.

Unkai-Terrace

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