The Dancing Inmates of the Philippines

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The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, in the Philippines, has become internationally famous for using choreographed dancing to rehabilitate dangerous inmates. Videos of their dance routines have registered tens of millions of views on sites like YouTube, and the prison itself is now a tourist attraction of sorts.

Prison life is tough everywhere – well, maybe except Norway – and the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center is no exception. Inmates sleep on hard pallets, share their cells with around a dozen other roommates and have a very strict schedule of work. But at least they get to dance. The truth is they don’t have a choice, because apart from the elderly and the sick, every one of the almost 2,000 prisoners is required to take part in the jail’s now-famous dance routines. Most of them enjoy doing it, because it takes their minds off their problems, keeps them away from drugs and violence, and teaches them discipline. In fact, two former inmates went on to become professional dancers when they got out. Introducing dancing as a rehabilitation technique was the idea of security consultant Byron Garcia. He was brought in to Cebu Prison in 2004, to deal with the constant riots. He moved the prisoners from an ancient stockade to a larger, more modern facility, fired dozens of corrupt guards, broke up gangs, banned the use of cash and introduced dancing. That last measure made the biggest difference. Violence subsided and the inmates health and behavior improved dramatically. Yet no one took notice…

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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On the Wings of a Prayer – India’s Unique Airplane Temple Fuels Devotees’ Traveling Dreams

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It’s not unusual at Indian temples for devotees to make huge offerings of money and food, in exchange for their prayers to answered. But the case of this particular Sikh temple in Punjab is quite strange, even for Indian standards. The narrow, dusty alleyway leading up to the Sant Baba Nihal Singh Gurudwara in Punjab’s Doaba region, near the city of Jalandhar, is lined with a host of shops selling toy aircrafts of various sizes and colors. Although they sell like hot cakes, they are not meant to be travel souvenirs, but offerings to the temple. At the Sant Baba Nihal Singh Gurudwara, devotees make toy plane offerings in the hopes that their dreams of traveling abroad and starting a new life will come true.

It’s hard to say how the trend started. But the offering of the toy plane is quite befitting, since the thing most people pray for at this temple is to settle down in another country. According to one local shopkeeper, “Surely it must have been someone’s wish to go abroad coming true that must have started it all. It’s now become a tradition. For us it’s business.” So the sight of scores of devotees flocking at the century-old gurudwara gates, holding colorful toy planes might be a strange one to you but quite normal to the locals. They line up patiently, waiting for their turn to access the inner sanctum on the first floor, where several decorative model planes are placed in neat rows. The devotees place their rainbow-colored offerings in the demarcated enclosure, paying their obeisance to the Gurus of the Sikh tradition and to Baba Nihal Singh, a simple farmer of the nearby Doaba region after whom the gurudwara was named. After the offering is made, they then proceed to ask for their wish to be granted – to be sent abroad as soon as possible.

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The Mysterious Shell Grotto of Kent

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The Shell Grotto is a unique 70-foot underground winding passageway in Margate, Kent, painstakingly decorated with around 4,6 million seashells. This English tourist attraction is as beautiful as it is mysterious, as no one seems to know who created it and why.

The story goes that the Shell Grotto was discovered in 1835, when local James Newlove lowered his son Joshua into a hole in the ground that appeared while they were digging a duck pond. When the boy came back out, he told his father about this wondrous underground tunnel covered entirely in seashell mosaics. As soon as he laid eyes on the accidental discovery, Newlove immediately saw its commercial potential. He installed gas lamps to illuminate the ornate passageway and three years later he opened the grotto to the public. The opening came as a big surprise to the inhabitants of Margate, as the place had never bee marked on any maps, and nobody knew about its existence. As soon as the first paying visitors walked into the shell–covered underground tunnel, the debate regarding its origins began. For every person who believed it was an ancient temple, there seemed to be another one convinced it was actually the secret meeting place of a secret sect. Everyone saw something different in the mosaic patterns, from altars to gods and goddesses or trees of life. But despite the multiple theories going around, no one has been able to solve the mystery of the Shell Grotto.

Margate-Shell-Grotto

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India’s Dangerous Human-Powered Ferris Wheels

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How do you keep the fun going at fairs in a country affected by frequent power cuts and blackouts? Simple, just hire a bunch of workers to dangle from the bars of manual ferris wheels to keep it in motion.

India’s human-powered ferris wheels recently made headlines in Western media after a video of one such contraption at a fun fair in New Delhi went viral on YouTube and various news sharing sites, but the truth is the phenomenon is very common in Asian countries where electricity is unreliable. Some fairs use generators or even car batteries to power ferris wheels, but the simplest and most cost-effective way to keep people entertained is to hire a couple of daredevils to climb a manual ferris wheel and dangle from its metal bars to keep it spinning. The simple installations are made up of a simple metal frame and a few open-air cages, and without a power source they look like non-functional decorations when not in use. But as soon as people climb in the cages and the fearless wallahs start working their magic, you get pretty much the same feeling as you would from a modern ferris wheel.

human-powered-ferris-wheel

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Sliding Rock – Nature’s Waterslide

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Sliding Rock is a slide-like waterfall near Brevard, in North Carolina that has long been used as a natural waterslide by adventurous tourists looking for a fun way to cool off during the hot summer months.

The 60-foot-long gentle slide of Looking Glass Creek ends with a large 6-7-foot-deep pool of cold water. There are 2 observation platforms for those who prefer to watch others have all the fun, and lifeguards on duty at all times during the season to make sure no harm comes to visitors. There is a $2 entrance fee to access the recreation area, but judging by the photos and videos posted online, it’s a small price to pay for a great deal of fun. The season starts from Memorial Week and lasts through Labor Day, and according to reports this place can get pretty crowded so tourists are advised to come early if they don’t want to wait in a long queue before getting themselves wet. Sliding Rock is also accessible during the off season, but although waiting lines are much shorter, daredevils have to slide down the smooth rock slide at their own risk. The water is also considerably colder, but that doesn’t seem to bother those looking for a cool way to enjoy themselves. Sliding down is required in a sitting position only, and children have to of a certain size to slide alone, otherwise they have to sit on the lap of an adult.

Sliding-Rock

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Ultimate Privacy – The House Built in the Middle of a River

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Have you ever dreamed of having a home in the middle of nowhere to escape to every now and then? I have. And this house built straight in the middle of the Drina River in Serbia fits the bill perfectly.

Standing on an exposed rock bang in the center of the river, near the town of Bajina Basta, this tiny house has been getting a lot of attention on the internet ever since it was captured on camera last year by Hungarian photographer Irene Becker. Her photo was published by National Geographic as one of the best ‘Photos of the Day’ in August 2012, and ever since then the mysterious and tranquil abode of Drina River has captured the imagination of millions. “I’m so glad that my picture makes this tiny house known to more and more people,” Becker said about her work. But in Serbia, the precariously placed house has been a popular tourist destination for decades, and a symbol of the picturesque Basta region. It was even nominated as one of the Seven Wonders of Serbia.

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