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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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.

Airplane-temple

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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.

house-on-Drina-River

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The Great Stalacpipe Organ Plays Real Rock Music

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The Great Stalacpipe Organ is a unique musical instrument that produces tones of symphonic quality by tapping stalactites in Virginia’s Luray Caverns with electronically-operated rubber mallets.

Recognized as the world’s largest musical instrument, the Great Stalacpipe Organ was created by Leland W. Sprinkle, a mathematician and electronics scientist at the Pentagon. After visiting Luray Caverns with his son and experiencing the organ like sounds of ancient stalactites being tapped, Sprinkle felt inspired to build a one-of-a-kind contraption that could turn these natural tones into playable music. After doing extensive research, he came up with a complex plan for a stalactite tapping instrument, and spent three years just examining each of the caverns’s thousands of hanging limestone columns, looking for the ones that produced specific notes. Only two stalactites were found to be in tune naturally, so he needed to carefully shave thirty-five others to precisely match the musical scale. He then wired a rubber-tipped mallet to each of the selected stalactites and linked them to a four-keyboard console built by the Klann Organ Supply Company of Waynesboro, Virginia, to meet the peculiar needs of this subterranean installation. The music-playing stalactites are spread over 3.5 acres (14,000 m2) of the caverns, so Sprinkle used over five miles of wiring to connect them to the organ console.

Great-Stalacpipe-Organ

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Bathing in Pepto-Bismol – Australia’s Pink Lake

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Would you believe it if someone told you Pepto Bismal isn’t manufactured from chemicals, but sourced from the water of a natural lake? It isn’t true, but you certainly might you certainly might be tempted to believe it after seeing pictures of the Lake Hillier, a bright, bubble gum pink body of water located on the edge of Recherche Archipelago’s largest island, in Australia. The salt water lake is so striking that airplane passengers passing over Middle Island often get out of their seats just to get a glimpse of it.

The earliest records mentioning the existence of Lake Hillier are the journals of Matthew Flinders, a British navigator and hydrographer. In 1802, Flinders had to climb Middle Island’s highest peak to survey the surrounding waters and came across the remarkable pink lake. Hillier has been pretty much untouched by human hand for a long time, except for a few years when a salt extraction operation was set up in the area. The pink lake isn’t just stunningly beautiful, but a also a natural mystery scientists have been unable to unravel. So far, no explanation has ever been found for its unique hue. Some theories state that the color could result from a dye created by the organisms living in the lake – Dunaliella salina and Halobacteria. Another speculation is that the pink color might be  attributed to the presence of red halophilic bacteria in the salt crusts. No one knows for sure, but that bright pink definitely is definitely no illusion. When the water is collected in a container, it retains its pinkish tinge. Although the waters are shallow and have been deemed safe to swim in, most tourists are reluctant to go in for a dip in what looks like a delicious strawberry milk shake.

 

pink-lake

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The Peabody Hotel’s Celebrity Ducks and Their World Famous March

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The Peabody Hotel in Memphis is famous not just just for its exemplary service, but also for a truly unique attraction – the March of the Peabody Ducks, which involves a performing troupe of, you guessed it, ducks. The whimsical experience is enjoyed by guests both young and old alike, every day of the year.

The daily routine of the Peabody Ducks goes something like this – each morning, at exactly 11 a.m., five North American mallard ducks, four hens and one drake, come down from their $100,000 penthouse in the hotel in their very own private elevator. As the doors open, the ducks take their positions on a plush red carpet in front of their Duckmaster. Then they begin to march to a rousing rendition of John Philip Souza’s King Cotton March. When they reach the orchid-tipped marble fountain in the Grand Lobby, the birds ascend four red-carpeted steps and splash around in the fountain’s water. They stay there until 5 p.m., when the procession is reversed and they march back to their elevator, returning to the Royal Duck palace for a quiet evening.

Peabody-Duck-March

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Fangweng – China’s Cliff-Hanging Restaurant

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Trekking in the mountains generally means having to survive on packaged food; but not if you’re in China. There’s a particular mountain in the Hubei Province, 12 km north of the city of Yichang, where you can actually experience fine-dining on the side of a cliff. Located in the Happy Valley of Xiling Gorge, the Fangweng hanging restaurant offers a breathtaking view of its natural surroundings to adventurers brave enough to set foot in it.

The dull brick building that acts as an entrance to the Fangweng Restaurant simply doesn’t do the place justice, and it’s only after you pass through it that you can give yourself a pat on the back for discovering such a unique venue to experience Chinese cuisine while admiring the natural beauty of Xiling Gorge. Unless you’re afraid of heights, in which case the 30-meter-long narrow concrete bridge hanging on the side of a vertical cliff overlooking the Yangtze River might just be your worse nightmare. Luckily, there’s a metal railing you can grab on to while you crawl your way to the actual restaurant. The bridge leads to a dining hall carved into the cliff-side, where most of the tables are set. Warmly lit by traditional lamps hanging from the ceiling and decorated with Chinese furnishings, the cave itself is a sight to behold, but the main attractions of Fangwen are the two concrete platforms extending away from the cliff, from where diners can see all the wonders of Happy Valley or watch bungee jumpers as they leap off a nearby bridge.

Fangweng-restaurant6

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Tokyo’s Monk-Run Bar Mixes Cocktails with Buddhism

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Who says booze and religion don’t mix? That’s certainly not the case at Vowz, a unique Tokyo bar run by two Buddhist monks who serve customers delicious cocktails, religious chants and sermons.

There are over 10,000 bars in Tokyo, but none like the Vowz, in the city’s Yotsuya neighborhood. Opened by Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshinobu Fujioka, this offbeat watering hole has been bringing members of his congregation together for 13 years. ”They become totally different believers here, the distance between them and myself diminishing,”the shaved-head bartender says. “They are more connected with each other.” In the old days, people would go to Buddhist temples to socialize and have a drink, but times have changed, and Fujioka decided to adapt in order to remain close to the people. So he opened the Vowz Bar, a place where people could come in and listen to Buddhist sermons and homilies without feeling constrained in any way. ”At the temple, folks are always well-behaved and attentive, no matter how long or boring the sermon is,” head monk Gugan Taguchi says. “Here at the bar, they don’t like my sermons — they walk out.” But thanks to the friendly atmosphere and the tasty cocktails prepared by the monks themselves, that hardly ever happens.

Tokyo-Buddhist-bar

 

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Spin Your Room Around at Holland’s Unique Crane Hotel

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If you’ve ever wondered what it must be like to spend the night in an industrial dockside crane, there’s a unique hotel in Harlingen, the Netherlands, that you absolutely have to visit. The 0ne -room Crane Hotel may not be very spacious, but it allows tourists to operate the giant crane and spin 360 degrees for incredible views of their surroundings.

Located in the seaside town of Harlingen, just an hour’s drive from Amsterdam, the Crane Hotel offers a luxurious getaway for two. The genuine dockside crane used to move containers around during the 1960s was converted into a unique hotel between 2001 and 2003. Although it retains its industrial look on the outside, the interior has been radically altered to provide the same degree of comfort that other high-class hotels do. They’ve added tasteful decorations, the latest audio-video technology, a comfy double bed, and a twin person shower cabin, but also kept some of the elements that make this place so unique, like the observation deck and original windows. Perched about 17 feet above Harlingen’s peer, the Crane hotel is no longer accessed via its old steel ladder, but by a modern internal lift. And as if just spending the night in a real dockside crane wasn’t cool enough, you can also satisfy the kid in you by playing actually driving the industrial equipment. The crane is still functional, and you can rotate it 360 degrees to catch some amazing views of the old Dutch fishing town.

Crane-Hotel-Harlingen

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The Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay, in the Bahamas

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Not everyone agrees with me, but I’ve always thought pigs were adorable creatures. Sure, they aren’t exactly the cleanest, but they’re very cute especially when they’re young. So when I heard about this tiny island that a bunch of pigs had all to themselves, I just had to find out more! Turns out this pig island is located in the Bahamas, where the creatures were first discovered in 2009 by photographer Eric Cheng and captain Jim Abernathy.

The island’s official name is Big Major Cay, but most people know it as Pig Island. The region is blessed with a natural water spring and sheltered by a string of neighboring islands that protect it from tropical storms. It’s the perfect environment for the pigs to laze around all day like little beach bums. They frolic in the water, swimming along-side each other and showing off their paddling skills to visitors. It’s interesting how the pigs appeared on this island in the first place. Rumor has it that a few sailors passing by the island a few years ago thought to leave a few pigs behind and turn the place into a reliable and secret source of food. Lucky for the pigs however, the sailors never returned. The creatures have never had to worry about their own food, thanks to the passing yachts that regularly dump excess food into the sea. It seems the pigs are able to tell when their next ‘shipment’ is arriving, so they eagerly plunge into the waves when they spot a yacht. They sweem a few feet up to the vessel, in the hope of getting the best catch.

Big-Major-Cay-pigs

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Popeye’s Village in Real Life

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Tucked away in the small European country of Malta is a place you’d probably never expect to find in the real world– Popeye’s Village. Also known as Sweethaven Village, it is an ideal family-vacation spot and one of Malta’s major tourist attractions. The fun park is modeled on the theme of the favorite children’s cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor Man. Interestingly, this village was the actual set used by Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions to shoot the 1980 film Popeye, based on the comic strips by E. C. Segar.

At Sweethaven, you can expect to see models of all the main characters of the popular children’s cartoon – Popeye the Sailor, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Swee’Pea and Wimpy. You can also go on joy rides and visit play houses, puppet shows, museums, and cinema sessions featuring the film Popeye and the construction of the set. You can even star in your own film, record it and take it home. But that’s not all, there are a host of other things to see and experience, like face painting, balloon modelling, storytelling, open-air barbeques, crafts and Wii games. There’s also a mini golf course and a free wine tasting for adults. The season-specific activities are a huge hit as well, these include water trampolines, play pools and boat rides during the summer, and a Christmas Parade along with Santa’s toy town in December.

Popeye-Village-Malta

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La Balade Des Gnomes – Belgium’s Fairytale Hotel

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If you’re looking to take a break from your everyday life and retreat in a fairytale world, there’s probably no better place than La Balade des Gnomes, near the picturesque town of Dubuy, Belgium. Featuring ten amazingly-decorated bedrooms and a special suite designed as a Trojan cow, this place is certainly unique.

Formerly an ordinary Belgian farmhouse, La Balade des Gnomes was transformed into a magical tourist resort by architect owner Dominic Noel. Inspired by fantasy settings, ancient Greek history, science fiction and medieval castles, the resourceful Mr. Noel managed to create his incredible hotel exclusively out of natural materials like wood, stone and cob (mud mixed with lime and straw). “The hotel was created by people who have a strong interest in nature,” the owner says, but anyone with a rich imagination would certainly appreciate the unworldly design and decorations of this place. The names of the rooms do a good job of describing what you can expect to see when you walk through the door: The Legend of Trolls seems taken straight out of the Lord of the Rings, In a Moon Neighborhood takes you to a distant future where humans can spend their vacation in a hotel on the Moon, while Macquarie Island boasts a marine decor complete with a boat-shaped bed.

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