Sitting alongside Silom Road right in the heart of Bangkok lies the Bangkok Seashell Museum. Always a fan of unique and offbeat museums, I decided to stop on in the other day with a friend who was visiting town.

The small but modern Bangkok Seashell Museum is three stories and is packed full of thousands and thousands of seashells from hundreds of different species all painstakingly arranged by size and color into elaborate displays. Most have information on where/when they were found. Was quite surprised to see that the shells here come from countries around the world, not just Thailand and other Southeat Asian nations.

Signs in Thai and English scattered on the walls of each floor provided detailed information on the types of species we were looking at and where these specimen were found. The museum is definitely interesting, even if you do not know the slightest thing about seashells except that they tend to be found on beaches more than mountains. Tend to.

Entrance was 150 baht per person (around $4 USD) and despite being three stories, you only need 30-45 minutes to thoroughly examine and chat about everything. If nothing else, it is a great way to escape that horrendous Bangkok heat for a bit.

Colorful seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Colorful shells...

Big seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
...big shells...

Small seashells at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
...small shells. There's a shell for every shape and size at Bangkok Seashell Museum

Giant clam at the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Tridacna gigas, otherwise known as the aptly named Giant Clam, live in offshore reefs 2-20 metres deep (6-65 feet) and can weigh up to 300kg. This giant clam only weighs 150kg (330lbs), despite one side of its shell being more than a metre across. (That's almost four feet. No one is stealing it anytime soon.)

Yes, the Bangkok Seashell Museum is pretty damn cool.

So cool it even won an award for being a "very good" recreational activity. That's certainly no "outstanding" and not quite an "honorable mention" but hey at least you're getting closer. Keep up the good work.

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

  Pin much? Here ya go!  

Photo journey and travel guide for the Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand
Throughout the museum there are giant signs on the walls in both Thai and English further explaining about the seashells on display, the differences between species, even when and where they were found.

2nd Floor

2nd floor of the Bangkok Seashell Museum

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

3rd Floor

3rd floor of the Bangkok Seashell Museum

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Bangkok Seashell Museum in Thailand

Want more unique museums?

Now Museum, Now You Don't: Strange American Museums

Published in Thailand

"During summer when it's 24 hours of daylight, we drink to celebrate that. When it's winter and only a few hours of daylight, we drink just to get through it." Welcome to Iceland, a country with a complex and interesting relationship love of alcohol -- including several unique types of alcohol that are available nowhere else in the world. As such, no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting a few cities and regions that are famous for their local brews.

  Much like the United States, Iceland has a complex past with prohibition -- one that started earlier and lasted many, many decades longer. Enacted in 1915, the ban on alcohol was eventually loosened over the years on certain spirits, but unfortunately beer over 2.25% remained illegal until March 1st, 1989.

In order to have the most authentic Icelandic experience available, be sure to make a few new local friends over the following drinks:

Brennivín

Brennivín is unquestionably the national drink of Iceland. It is a purely Icelandic creation using potato mash and herbs native to this Nordic island nation to create an unsweetened schnapps. Sometimes called "Black Death" in reference to the original bottles, which featured a white skull on a black label, Brennivín is primarily served chilled in shot form. It is often accompanied with Icelandic hákarl (fermented shark), the national dish of Iceland. Although I am an adventurous eater, I much prefer my Brennivín sans-shark. Why? Well, as Anthony Bourdain so eloquently said, Hákarl is "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" that he has ever eaten anywhere in the world.

Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín? Yes please!
Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín?

Because Brennivín is unsweetened, outside of Iceland it is sometimes referred to as an "akvavit" instead of a schnapps. Regardless, it is surprisingly smooth, hits hard, and has no shortage of foreign fans despite the fact that Brennivín has never been exported internationally. At least not until 2014 when Egill Skallagrímsson, the countriest premiere Brennivín brand and also an award-winning beer brewery, began exporting Brennivín to the United States -- but no where else. Yet.

  While Brennivín can be found throughout the country, never is it in more abundance than during Þorrablót, the Icelandic mid-winter festival every January.

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps

There is an old saying that the worse something tastes, the better it is for you. That would appear to be a big selling point behind Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, which yes, is made with real Icelandic moss. There is even a tuft of the famous lichen lovingly included in each bottle produced. Icelandic moss is so important that it is protected by law and has been used medicinally for centuries to treat things such as cough, sore throat and upset stomach. (Of course if you drink too much Fjallagrasa, you are liable to end up with one of these afflictions, rather than curing it.)

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, one of the unique types of alcohol only found in Iceland

The moss is hand-picked in the mountains of Iceland, ground up and mixed with a "specially prepared alcohol blend" which remains a trade secret of IceHerbs, the company that produces Fjallagrasa. It is then soaked for an extended period of time, allowing all of the biologically active components of the moss to dissolve. No other artificial colors or flavors are added.

Just like with Brennivín, as there is no sugar in Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, it is technically not a schnapps by international definition. Regardless, it is still consumed around the country for both healthly and recreational purposes.

Iceland has many unique types of alcohol not found anywhere else in the world

Reyka Vodka

Vodka may not be an Nordic creation (we owe Poland for that one) however Icelanders may have perfected it. Reyka Vodka is often referred to as the best vodka in the world by vodka connesiours. Using pure arctic water naturally filtered through a 4,000 year old lava field and then distilled in a top-of-the-line Carter-Head still -- one of only six that exist in the entire world, and the only one that is being used for vodka -- the result is so pure and delicious it goes down like water.

Reyka Vodka, arguably the best vodka in the world

With only one still Reyka is brewed in small batches of only 1,700 litres each, ensuring optimal quality every time. As an added bonus, the entire Reyka distillery is powered by volcanic geo-thermal energy, meaning that the world's best vodka is also the greenest. Everyone wins.

  Although this is Iceland's first distillery, public tours are unfortunately not available. But you can take a digital tour to see exclusive photos and learn more about the process that makes Reyka vodka so special here.

Opal

Opal is a popular licorice candy in Iceland and also the name of an equally popular vodka that also tastes like licorice. As my local buddy put it, "Once you outgrow the candy you switch to the drink." At 27% ABV Opal is not the strongest, but if you are a fan of Jägermeister straight then you will probably enjoy an Opal shot or three.

Opal is a unique type of vodka only found in Iceland

Bjórlíki

Up until 1989, the only type of beer that was legal in Iceland was the weak "near-beer" consisting of only 1-2% alcohol content. However because 40% ABV spirits such as Brennivin and vodka were legal, people would add them to their beer. Known as Bjórlíki, you will never find this for sale in any store or bar. However if you venture off the beaten path and explore the Icelandic countryside, you can taste this beauty for yourself.

Bjorliki, a weak Pilsner spiked with vodka, is a unique type of alcohol only found in Iceland

Björk & Birkir

Made from the sap of birch trees, Björk and Birkir are two relatively new Icelandic creations. Sure they might not have the history or significance of other drinks such as Brennivín and Bjórlíki, but c'mon now where else in the world can find liquor made from birch trees? Yeah, that's what I thought.

As the story goes, the two brothers behind Foss distillery traveled around Iceland sampling all the native flora until they decided that birch was the most delicious. So they planted what will one day become a sustainable birch forest and now gently "borrow" a little sap from the growing trees to make their spirits. Oh and in case you were wondering, the 27.5% ABV Björk is not named after the singer but rather the Icelandic word for "birch". It has an earthy, woody taste with a slightly sweeter finish than the 36% ABV Birkir, but both are intriguing. Either one would make a unique souvenir to take home the next time you travel Iceland.

  BONUS

Celebrate Bjórdagur, Iceland's "Beer Day"

  After nearly 75 years of prohibition, it's time to celebrate. Every March 1st is Iceland's "Beer Day" and it is best celebrated in the capital city of Reykjavik by doing a Rúntur -- the Icelandic word for "pub crawl".

During this time of year the sunset is after midnight and sunrise just before 3am, but because of the lingering glow that exists even after sunset, it never truly gets dark. As such, the "night" is perfect for bar-hopping and celebrating the holiday with some new Icelandic friends. Did I meantion that bars are open until 4am?

Want more unique things to do in Iceland?

The ultimate Iceland off the beaten path travel guide

  flickr // chrisgold considerable_vomit mmepassepartout borkazoid vannortwick

Published in Iceland

The very mention of Monaco evokes images of glamorous ladies in evening wear escorted by dashing gentlemen to the tables at one of the many casinos in this small country. Monaco is also known for its Formula One Grand Prix, besides being a popular tax haven for the rich and famous, as well as the rich and not so famous. Glitz, glamour, and the spectacular landscape are all reasons to add the country to your itinerary planner. Here are some not-to-be-missed destinations in this tiny nation that is part of the French Riviera.

Roll the Dice at Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House

Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House
Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco by Paul Wilkinson

A venue for special gala dinners, the Casino and Opera House also houses a marble paved atrium. What catches the eye, though, are the magnificent onyx columns that surround the atrium. With a 130-year-old history under its belt, this building was also the venue of two royal gala dinners. The casino is unique given its stained glass windows, allegorical paintings, bronze lamps, and spectacular decorations. The Casino has also been featured in quite a few notable Hollywood movies including the James Bond series and Ocean's Twelve.

Swim With the Fish at the Oceanographic Museum


Oceanographic Museum, Monaco by wami82

Perched on the Rock of Monaco, this museum of marine sciences is a stunning example of Baroque Revival architecture which by itself is sufficient to ensure it a place on your Monaco travel planner. The museum which towers over the cliff face makes for a picturesque setting. It took 11 years to construct this building which is now home to various several thousand sea creatures including sharks and turtles. The Oceanographic Institute devoted to the study of oceans and their inhabitants are also housed here.

Get a Taste of the Royal Life at Palais du Prince

Palais du Prince, Monaco
Palais du Prince, Monaco by healinglight

The building of the Palace dates back to the 13th century and has its origins as a fortress, but has since been turned into a luxurious palace. There is a gallery with 15th-century frescoes that will leave you awe-struck. The gilded décor of the ‘Blue Room’, the 17th century Palatine Chapel, and the Main Courtyard with its spectacular Carrara marble double staircase make it a ‘must-see’ addition to your Monaco trip planner. Don’t forget to check out the Changing of the Guards ceremony that takes place at about noon each day.

Commune with Nature at the Jardin Exotique de Monaco

Jardin exotique de Monaco
Jardin exotique de Monaco by Sylvain Leprovost

Situated on a steep cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Ocean, this garden is home to varied species of plants from Africa, Arabia, and Latin America. There are at least 7,000 types of succulents which thrive in the great climate the region enjoys. Stalagmites and stalactites are found in the Observatory cave situated on the premises. You can further enrich your knowledge of the pre-historic era and early civilisation with a visit to the Anthropology Museum situated within the property.

Hop on a Catamaran for a Spin around Monaco Harbour

Monaco Harbor
Catamaran rides, Monaco by Dennis Jarvis

The harbour at this princely state is always filled with moored luxury yachts from across the world. It is a great place for a stroll and you can find plenty of places to grab a bite to eat as you watch the spectacular yachts pull out or weigh anchor. Catamaran rides are available for a closer look at the coastline. If you are lucky you might be able to catch a glimpse of the rich and famous arriving to attend one of the many galas or races that take place in Monaco Harbour.

The small size of the country makes it easy to get around and see it all without having to travel too much. Don’t forget to take a close look at the narrow city streets where Formula One drivers race down in May each year!

Published in Monaco

India has always offered a wealth of treasures to its visitors. The stunning Mughal architecture, incomparable natural beauty, and exceptional food have drawn travelers for centuries. India’s recent emergence as a technological and economic world power provides new and compelling reasons for travel as well. Keep reading to find out why India is the hottest destination in the world.

Technological Boom

The Indian technology and services industry is on track reach $225 billion in revenue by 2020, and it will change the economic face of the country. India has quickly emerged as the second largest mobile phone market in the world, and there’s still plenty of room for growth: Almost 20% of the population (800 million people) still lack internet access.

India technological boom

Facebook’s Internet.org recently started offering free mobile internet service to many in India who would not otherwise be able to afford it. Both startups and tech giants are increasingly interested in India as a new market base, and many are using it as a testing ground for new software and features.

Mark Zuckerberg himself is also invested in India’s technological growth and deepening the connection between India and Silicon Valley. When Facebook was floundering in its early stages, Zuckerberg took the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs and visited a temple in India. The trip inspired him to double down in his efforts, much as Jobs’ seven month Indian excursion inspired him to launch Apple in 1976.

Would-be tech entrepreneurs looking to recreate the success of Facebook and Apple will be drawn to India, and it’s never been easier for them to make the trip. India’s strong and lasting connection with Silicon Valley will be cemented with a recently announced direct flight from San Francisco to New Delhi. Operated by Cathay Pacific, the flight will run three times a week, and in the words of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, it will unite “two great cultural and economic centers of the world.”

Travel Boom

The new flight is part of a general increase in Indian travel: India welcomed 7.68 million visitors in 2014 and expects more this year. Indians themselves are also traveling more frequently. In 2014, 9.6 million Indians traveled internationally, up from 3.5 million only a decade ago. Part of the growth is due to the rise of travel agencies designed exclusively for women. Groups like Women on Wanderlust organize women-only groups that travel within India and internationally, providing a safe and supportive community of female travelers.

Women dressed in traditional Indian clothing

India is also experiencing a huge expansion in air travel that will making getting around the country vastly easier for both residents and visitors. Over 20 airlines are currently operating in India, six of which have started flying in the last year alone. The proliferation of options has led to lower fares, making it very cost-effective to travel around India by plane. Domestic air travel is up 19% from last year, giving India has the highest growth in domestic air travel in the world.

It’s also easier to get a visa to India as of this August. Over 100 new countries, including the United States, are now eligible for e-Visas to enter India. Rather than waiting in long lines to apply in person, visas are now accessible online. Processing time has been reduced from two weeks to four days, and the fee has been reduced to $60. The new visa system is part of an initiative by Prime Minister Narenda Modi to incorporate more technology into government and education.

Wellness Boom

In 1968, The Beatles made a pilgrimage to an ashram in Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation. Their trip helped to introduce Eastern spirituality to the West and opened up the idea of India as a destination for enlightenment and spirituality. Since then, travelers seeking a holistic mind/body experience have come to India to practice yoga, pray at temples, and embrace meditation and mindfulness.

Yoga at the temples of Rishikesh, India

The explosion of yoga’s popularity has also helped to fuel travel in recent years. Yoga originated over 5,000 years ago as an eight-fold path to spiritual enlightenment, and asana, the series of postures that make up its physical branch, is now a $27 billion industry in the United States with more than 20 million practitioners.

To capitalize on the demand, many ashrams are offering packages for yogis to experience their discipline in its homeland. Sivananda Yoga Vedanta, for example, has put together a Yoga Vacation that involves two weeks of silent meditation, lectures, and yoga classes with vegetarian meals provided.

Now there’s no excuse not to book a trip to India. Flights are cheap, visas are easy, and there’s never been more to see and do in this fantastically beautiful country. Get a visa, book a flight, and prepare to experience travel nirvana.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 16th.

Published in India

Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is a superb piece of architecture. This city was built in perfect Nine Squares and wide roads were designed to intersect each segment. The segments were also linked internally by small roads. The city is a perfect example of how well the architectural concept was developed at that time. The old city, which is sometimes refered to as the Walled City, is uniformly painted in pink color and thus earned its nickname.

Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace of Jaipur, India
Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace

The city attracts a lots of tourists as it has many historic monuments that have architectural value, such as Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Matar, City Palace, the Water Palace, and many more.

Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace of Jaipur, India
Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace

The Amber Fort in Jaipur, India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Amber Fort from a distance

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

Jaipur: The Pink City of India

The Water Palace in Jaipur, India
The Water Palace

Jaipur is also famous for its arts and crafts, specially the blue pottery, Bandhej work, and Sanganeri print linen. All in all Jaipur is a must see place.   October to March is the best suitable time for visiting this lovely city.

Published in India

Ever thought of traveling off the beaten path and glimpsing a side of India that few tourists see? From pristine beaches to quirky villages, hidden architectural marvels and more, there is no shortage of such unseen places in India. These pristine surroundings are waiting to be discovered. Check out these 24 offbeat destinations that are just begging for you to visit them!

1.   Anthargange: Land of Caves

Approximately 70 km from Bangalore, this unique hillside is heaven for cave explorers. It is scattered with a plethora of caves formed from small volcanic rocks. The caves are both welcoming and intimidating at the same time.

What adds to its charm? There’s a spring that emerges from a small crevice in the rock, a mysterious source. Local people believe the water of the stream to be very holy.

2.   Umri: The World’s Twin Capital

The small town of Umri in Allahabad, believed to be 250 years old, has perplexed researchers all over the world. Out of every 1,000 children born here, 45 are twins. In the last 80 years, the village has had 108 twins, which is amazingy. The reason for this remains unknown. But the villagers believe it to be god’s miracle.

Hemis monastery during their famous and colorful festival, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
madpai

3.   Hemis, Kashmir

Located about 45 km southeast of Leh is the beautiful town of Hemis. The town is popular for its Hemis monastery and a colorful festival that it celebrates every year.

4.   Bhangarh Fort: So Haunted its Illegal!

Like with other haunted places, Bhangarh has no shortage of myths and ghost stories. But unlike other places this one is so haunted the government of India has made it illegal to enter the grounds. Apparently anyone who has been out past sunrise in the ruined town of Bhangarh, also known as Bhangarh Fort, has never returned alive.

Read More   The Haunted Bhangarh Fort

5.   Ethipothala Falls: A Sight to Behold

About 11 km from Nagarjuna Sagar Dam in Andhra Pradesh lies Ethipothala, which is home to the spellbinding Ethipothala Waterfall. The falls are a union of three streams and are quite a sight to behold.

Bekal Fort, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
vaibhav

6.   Bekal Fort: The Giant Key-Hole Shaped Fort

Sprawling over forty acres, the 300-year-old Bekal Fort is shaped like a giant key hole. It is one of the best preserved forts in Kerala. The observation tower in the fort offers a fascinating view of the Arabian Sea and all the major places in the vicinity.

7.   Bada Imambra: Gravity Defying Palace

This architectural marvel was built in the 18th century in Lucknow. It is a fantastic mix of European and Arabic architecture. The most astonishing aspect is the central arched hall, a whopping 50 meters long and about three stories high, hanging without the support of any pillars or beams!

8.   Idukki: Land of Red Rain

Well known for its spice plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, hill stations and the gigantic Idukki arch dam, this district in Kerala truly is the epitome of natural beauty.

What makes this place really quirky? Idukki is known for the most unusual phenomenon called Red Rain. The colored rain of Kerala started falling in 2001. Since then it has become one of the most discussed anomalies of recent years.

Loktak Lake, also known as the floating lake, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
ch_15march

9.   Loktak Lake: The Floating Paradise

This is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India and its banks are home to the world’s only floating National Park. The Loktak Lake in Manipur is also called the floating lake because of the floating masses of vegetation on its surface.

10.   Khajjiar: India’s Mini Switzerland

About 24 km from Dalhousie, this small picturesque saucer-shaped plateau is a wonderful destination. For a peaceful sojourn in the lap of the Himalayas, this is the ideal place for relaxation.

11.   Kolkkumalai: The World’s Highest Tea Plantation

For all the tea lovers reading this, this is one place you would crave to visit. At 7,900 ft above sea level the hills of Kolkkumalai in Tamil Nadu produce tea which has a special flavor and freshness.

Malana, deep in the heart of India's cannabis country and home of the pontent hash known as Malana Cream, is one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
mo_cosmo

12.   Malana: Little Greece of India, Popular for Its Cannabis Cream

In the northeast of the Kullu Valley lies the solitary village of Malana. The village is considered to be one of the first democracies in the world. It is also home to the notorious Malana cream, arguably the finest quality hash ever produced.

13.   Mawlynnog: Asia’s Cleanest Village, The Magical Paradise

Do you cringe at the sight of litter on streets in India? Well then you will be surprised to know about this village. Located about 100 km from Shillong is Mawlynnog, a small village in the East Khasi Hills. In 2003 it won the award of being the cleanest village -- not just in India but in all of Asia.

14.   Nohkalikai Falls: The Waterfall with a Tragic Tale

One of the five tallest waterfalls in the country, Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunji is named after the horrific tale of a woman named Ka Likai. The legend behind this gorgeous fall makes it all the more intriguing and beautiful.

Orchha dates back to 1501 and is full of palaces and shrines. This combined with a lack of tourists makes it one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
azwegers

15.   Orchha: A City Frozen in Time

Full of palaces and shrines still retaining their original grandeur, the city of Orchha dates back to 1501 and is a must for all history / culture / architecture buffs. It is located near the banks of Betwa River in Madhya Pradesh.

16.   Roopkund Lake: The Mysterious Skeleton Lake

Situated at an altitude of 5,029 metres in the Himalayas, this lake is popularly known as Skeleton Lake. Skeletons of about 200 people belonging to the 9th century were discovered here. It was later found that a hailstorm had killed the people. To this day, visitors can still see those skeletons.

17.   Shetpal: The Village of Snakes

A village at about 200 km from Pune follows a frightful custom. Each house in this village has a resting place for cobras in the rafters of their ceilings. No cases of snake bites have been reported in this village despite snakes moving about freely in every household.

Spiti Valley, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
njyo

18.   Spiti Valley: The Hidden World

Tucked away in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, the Spiti Valley is a relatively unknown world! With Tibet in the east and Ladakh in the north, this region is scattered with tiny villages and monasteries rich in traditional culture.

19.   Tharon Cave: Archaeological Wonder

Located 27 km from the district of Tamenglong in Manipur, the Tharon Cave is of great archaeological and historical importance. A visit to this cave is reportedly the experience of a lifetime.

20.   Chilkur Balaji: The Visa Granting Balaji Temple

Is the USA your land of dreams? If yes, then you simply cannot miss visiting the Chilkur Balaji Temple, which is about 20 kms from Hyderabad. People believe the 21st century god of this temple has the power to grant you a US visa.

Yes, you read that right. Every week around 75,000 to 100,000 devotees visit this temple!

Dhanushkodi, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
ryanready

21.   Dhanushkodi: Ghost Town with Mythological Importance

About 620 km from Bangalore is the ghost town of Dhanushkodi. Not only is it famously known for its mythological importance, but also for the cyclone that hit the town in 1964, which ravaged the entire region.

22.   Vihigaon Falls: The Picturesque Falls

Located in the Thane district of Maharashtra, Vihigaons Falls is a monsoon fed waterfall. It is the perfect place for rappelling and canoeing.

23.   Wilson Hills: Hill Station with a Spectacular Sea View

About 870 meters above the sea level, this hill station is located in the State of Gujarat. The most amazing aspect about it is the rare and beautiful sea view that guests get to see.

Yumthang, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
amitra

24.   Yumthang Valley: The Valley of Flowers

Located at about 148 km from Gangtok, the Yumthang valley with its scenic beauty is truly a paradise for nature lovers.

Most likely you won't have the time or money to visit all of these destinations. However make sure to squeeze at least a couple of them into your India trip -- it will be that much more special and memorable of an experience!

  Over the next six months I will be exploring as many of these locations as possible. 1 down, 23 to go! Follow along at blog.theHoliDaze.com

Like what you just read?     More Offbeat Travel Guides

Published in India

Just as Shakespeare has confounded high school students for generations, it seems the playwright has been doing the same to historians for even longer. This week, new research found that as well as hoarding grain during food shortages, the Bard was also threatened with jail for tax evasion.

Hard to believe, but 400 years on Shakespeare still manages to keep a fair few secrets up his sleeve. This became apparent to my friend and I when we visited Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon in England.

William Shakespeare

As you can imagine, the town has well and truly contracted "Shakespeare Fever" and attracts bus loads of cashed-up, Bard-loving tourists. After all, this is the town where Shakespeare was born, grew up, lived some of his adult life, and was buried.

But what surprised us most was how little is actually known about Shakespeare... and how there continues to be doubt about whether he actually wrote all of his plays or not. Granted he did live several hundred years ago, but given his prominent role in English literature we had assumed every facet of his life had already been discovered and documented.

Boats in the River Avon in Stratford-Upon-Avon named after female characters in William Shakespeare's plays
Boats in the River Avon named after female characters in Shakespeare's plays

We visited one of the town's main "pilgrim" sites called Shakespeare's Birthplace - a 16th century half-timbered house on Henley Street which is now a museum. This is believed to have been the Shakespeare family home where William was born, grew up and spent the first five years with his wife Anne Hathaway.

Reading the museum's information boards, we noticed the liberal use of the following types of phrases: "he almost certainly would have...", "it's believed he...", "like others at the time he may have...", "he quite possibly would have..." and so on.

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
"Believed to be" Shakespeare's birthplace

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Did Shakespeare once walk through this door? "Quite possibly."

The vagueness is justified.

For a man who seemingly couldn't put his pen down, doubters note that this not a single piece of evidence Shakespeare actually wrote anything. There are no manuscripts, letters or other documents in his own hand. Even the spelling of Shakespeare's name is up for debate as the only surviving examples of his handwriting are six scrawled signatures where his surname is spelt several ways.

The birthplace of William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
The house where Shakespeare "almost certainly" grew up

We had the distinct impression that we thought we knew more about the man before we had actually walked into the museum. However, thanks to the local Holy Trinity Church, there is more concrete evidence about Shakespeare's life.

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
Holy Trinity Church: Shakespeare was baptised and buried here

Here they have written records about his baptism on 26 April 1564 ("possibly" in the damaged medieval font on display) and burial on 25 April 1616. Interestingly it does not have any account of his wedding to Anne Hathaway; other churches claim they were the venue.

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
The church's damaged medieval font in which Shakespeare was"likely" to have been baptised in

The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was baptised and buried
Holy Trinity Church which Shakespeare "may have" visited regularly while growing up

Frustratingly, even the grave indicated as being William Shakespeare's doesn't actually bear his name (the graves either side of his belong to wife Anne and daughter Susanna). Instead it has the following inscription (which he "possibly" wrote himself) warning anyone against moving his bones.

"Good friend fur Jesus sake forebeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones"

William Shakespeare's grave inside the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Shakespeare's grave inside the church

And it seems he was already developing a following not long after his death with a funerary monument built into the church wall.

William Shakespeare's funerary monument at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Shakespeare's funerary monument on the church's wall

The church also has a glass case with a first edition of the King James Bible from 1611, just before Shakespeare's death. Apparently it is usually open at Psalm 46; 46 also being Shakespeare's age in 1611.

King James Bible inside the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
King James Bible inside the church

At the end of the day, perhaps it doesn't really matter that we don't know a great deal about Shakespeare himself. "His" plays have already shaped English literature and how he will be remembered.

What is known is that generations of school children, and others, will continue to struggle finding great detail when they are next forced to write an assignment on William Shakespeare.

Published in England

At first glance, Hong Kong might appear to be just another sprawling modern metropolis that revolves almost entirely around technology, corporate business, and the global financial market. Little do first-time visitors realise that there is plenty more below the surface. For those eager to get off the beaten path and explore the hidden side of Hong Kong, these are some of the most fun and intriguing sights and activities in this modern city-state.

Wander the walled villages

The city's sleek, iconic skyscrapers reveal little about Hong Kong's rich history and culture. For that, visitors need to visit one of the city's walled villages. Shui Tau Tsuen may require a bit of work to get to but a trip out here is well worth it. Nineteenth-century buildings with ornate architecture and decorations provide a glimpse into the past that visitors will not soon forget, including traditional temples and a remarkably well-preserved study hall.

View Hong Kong in a different light

Hong Kong skyline at night
via Phil Wiffen

It's impossible not to notice the abundance of lights, sounds and smells that pervade every corner of downtown Hong Kong. However, you can never really fully appreciate them until removing one of your senses and letting the other four work overtime. That is the concept behind Dialogue in the Dark. Visually impaired guides lead guests along a 75-minute journey that is unlike anything they have ever experienced. "See" the ferries, wet markets, traffic intersections and more in a whole new light. If nothing else, this excursion will give you an insight into life as a blind person, and a new level of respect for the extra sensory experiences that they encounter on a daily basis.

Dialogue in the Dark also offers other darkened experiences, from dining to birthday parties.

Escape the island

Peng Chau
via Marc van der Chijs

Most people eager to temporarily flee the fast-paced city life flock to Lamma Island, but there is a better place. Completely overlooked by both foreigners and locals alike, the small Peng Chau Island is a great way to slow things down. Relax at the waterfront, watching the boats, or visit a couple of the island's temples. Just don't forget to take a stroll down the Peng Yu Path, a hiking trail immersed in nature with picturesque views of the ocean. The best part? Peng Chau Island is only a thirty-minute ferry ride away!

Another option is the town of Sai Kung, located in the New Territories, and home to the best beaches in all of Hong Kong! Sample the local seafood, go cliff-jumping at Sheung Luk Streams, soak up some sun on the beach, and be sure not to miss the floating seafood market. You can find out more, and get directions to each of these individual attractions.

Of course Hong Kong has plenty more to offer visitors, especially when it comes to food and entertainment. Still not sure it's the destination for you? Here are four more amazing reasons to visit Hong Kong now.

Want more offbeat things to do?     More Offbeat Travel Guides

Published in Hong Kong

Colorado is one of the best states in the USA to visit. Not only is it beautiful and historic, but it is also full of some of the nicest people in America. Although I still call Asia home, If I ever move back to America it would be somewhere in Colorado. Never been? Colorado is amazing, you have to visit! Here are seven unique and offbeat travel destinations to help get your Colorado vacation started:

  Check out the entire Offbeat Travel Guide collection!

Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour

   Silverton
  $10-20/person depending kid/senior/adult
  Official Web Site

With history dating back to the 1870s, the Old Hundred Gold Mine hit pay dirt just after the turn of the century when they began supplying gold bars to the Denver Mint for use in coining. However the ever-increasing yields from the mine were the begin of the end and before long it was officially "mined out".

Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour
via wwworks

All-in-all the tour lasts almost an hour. After getting loaded up (and bundled up, it is a little chilly underground) you board the railcars and proceed underground. There we explored a couple of the original veins with a guide who gave us a firsthand history lesson of both the mine and mining processes. But the scenery does not stop there; even outside of the mine shafts the backdrop of the local mountains is breathtaking. One neat part of the tour includes a view of the original miners' cabin, which if I remember correctly dates back to 1904. The thing is perched way up on the mountain and just barely is hanging on. As a matter-of-fact, when they first built the cabin they had to secure it to the nearby rock face with metal cables to prevent it from falling down the mountain. Wild!

Gold panning at the Old Hundred Mine in Silverton, one of the top offbeat things to do in Colorado
via wwworks

And of course no tour of a gold mine would be complete without a stop at a real-life sluice box where you can take your turn at panning for gold, silver, and other semi-precious stones just like the gold-panners of the past did. And, yes, no worries: you get to keep whatever you.

Due to the local weather this tour only operates during the warm season, from May to October. And, as with any decent tour, there is also a gift shop selling all sorts of related souvenirs and trinkets as well as snacks and drinks. Check the official web site for more information on directions, rates, and operating hours.

Royal Gorge Bridge & Park

   Canon City
  $19-25/person depending kid/senior/adult
  Official Web Site

Wow, where to start. Think amusement park combined with natural wonder and you might be headed in the right direction. Covering 360 acres and featuring nearly two dozen rides, shows, and attractions to keep you amused, it is hard to get in and out of this place in less than a couple hours -- but then again, why would you want to rush it.

The Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado

The prime attraction and namesake of this park is the Royal Gorge and its sky high suspension bridge, one of the highest in the world. It was built in 1929 for only $350,000 but the cost today would exceed $15,000,000. You can walk or drive across it but I definitely recommend walking, as that allows you to better enjoy the scenery as well as take some fantastic pictures using the 360° view. There is also an aerial tram that is apparently the world's longest single-span tram.

After enjoying the view from above, you can also admire it from below by riding down the 45° incline railway. Seeing it from this angle really puts it all in perspective; the towering bridge you just walked across is nothing more than a thing string stretching across the canyon like the tight-wire of a circus performer.

But the sights don't stop there! You can explore the gorgeous countryside by taking a mule rule ride through the pines and evergreens or strolling the Wapiti Western Wildlife Park. There is one of those free-fall skycoasters and a plaza theatre, a Mountain Man Trading Post (not sure what that is actually, I skipped it), and even a mountaintop lodge for those wanting to stay overnight.

The Royal Gorge Bridge & Park in Silverton, Colorado

The park is open year-round but some of the attractions may be seasonal or weather-permitting. I'm sure the official web site provide you with up to date information.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Keenesburg
$10/person, $5/kids ≤12 yrs
Official Web Site

Located just 30 miles northeast of Denver and covering a grand total of 720 acres and sheltering around 300 lions, tigers, leopards, mountain lions, bears, wolves, and other large carnivores, the Wild Animal Sanctuary of Colorado is the first sanctuary of its kind to create large acreage species-specific habitats for its rescued animals. Since 1980 the Wild Animal Sanctuary has responded to nearly 1,000 requests from private citizens and government agencies to rescue animals from across the United States and even in Mexico.

Keenseburg Wild Animal Sanctuary is one of the best offbeat things to do in Colorado
via Mark

After breaking free of the Welcome Center & Gift Shop, with a guide book in hand, you'll be set free to wander. They have huge closed-off habitats surrounding the main complex but by far the best thing is the observation ramps and decks that stretch over the animals in the center of the park. Walking up ramps and along observation decks suspending above the animals you can get a birds-eye view of some of nature's most impressive and majestic mammals.

Each of the main observation decks was thoughtfully designed with picnic tables and chairs, as does the small garden area at the foot of the main ramp. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch, or if all else fails the gift shop does also sell a few drinks and snacks.

This is a great family expedition, absolutely perfect for the kiddos.

Beer? I like beer.

Colorado Breweries

   Fort Collins, Longmont, Boulder, Golden, & others
  Varies; Mid-range
  Colorado Brewers Guild

Craft beer is something that every real man should appreciate. It is something to be proud of, unlike that mass-produced swill that relies on a multi-million dollar advertising compaign to get you to buy their crap. It is said that pairing beer and cheese is akin to holding hands, whereas wine and cheese is like arm wrestling. If you are drinking a good craft beer then that is so very true. And if you are like me you'll be happy to learn that Colorado has a lot of microbrews, good microbrews. Colorado is one of the best states for craft beer lovers. As a matter-of-fact they have more breweries per capita than any other state in the USA. And for those that like the [ugh] mass-market beer, you probably already know that Colorado is where Coors proudly calls home. They even offer tours. I didn't go on one. Nothing fany about mass production. Craft breweries however are always cool and quirky!

The Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in Colorado Springs always has fresh, homebrewed craft beer on tap

Almost all of the larger cities have breweries. If in doubt just inquire in a local bar. I even found a restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs that has a glass-encased brewery right in its main dining room. The food was good and the beer was better. If you are in the area, definitely look up Phantom Canyon Brewing Company.

The Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in Colorado Springs always has fresh, homebrewed craft beer on tap

  Have you been to any of the breweries in Colorado or tried any of the local beers? Share your thoughts and/or recommendations at the end of the article!

    Other notable breweries include:
  • New Belgium Brewing Company (Fort Collins)
  • Boulder Beer Company (Boulder)
  • Twisted Pine Brewing Company (Boulder)
  • Crabtree Brewing Company (Greeley)
  • Left Hand Brewing Company (Longmont)
  • Golden City Brewery (Golden)

Casa Bonita

   Denver
  Entrees @ $15 - $20
Official Web Site

Forever immortalized by an episode of South Park, Casa Bonita offers an eating experience unlike any other and I just had to check it out for myself. True to the episode, this restaurant actually features shoot-em up gunfights, cliff divers, strolling mariachis, puppet shows, magicians, games, prizes, and more.

Casa Bonita is the Colorado restaurant famous for it's elaborate jungle interior and one of the quirky things to do in Denver. And yes, it's the same place from South Park.
via Rob Lee

The restaurant is huge, covering over 50,000 sq ft and seating well over 1,000. Hell it has a 30-foot indoor waterfall. You pay for the show though with the cost of the food. Casa Bonita specializes in Mexican cuisine, but their menu is very limited and stereotypical. Everything except the kids meals is over-priced and none of what we ordered stood out or overly impressed us. But the sights, now that was a different story!

United States Mint in Denver, Colorado

Kids will never want to leave this place, but even for adults it is worth at least one visit. Just one though.

United States Mint

   Denver
  Free!
  Official Web Site

How can you beat free? You can't! So why not visit the Denver location of the US Mint and learn a little bit about the coin and currency we Americans use every single day.

Tours are fairly short, only about thirty minutes, but the the guides are very knowledgeable in all aspects of the Mint from the gold rush days up to its present day production of coins. There wasn't too much crazy stuff to see as far as the machinery that actually produces the coins, but there are some interesting displays and videos. And of course the mandatory gift shop.

Take a tour of the Denver Mint, one of the best free things to do in Colorado
via Ken Lund

However, there are a few warnings: first off, you must make a reservation online first or you will not be allowed entry. Additionally, don't plan on taking any pictures for obvious security reasons. And as security is just as tight as at the airport, don't bring with you what you do not need. Finally, there is no public parking. Not a big deal but noteworthy nonetheless.

Pike's Peak

   Manitou Springs
  $10/adult & $4/kid or $35/vehicle
  Pike's Peak Guide by Derek Freal

Colorado has 54 "Fourteeners," otherwise known as mountains with peaks over 14,000 feet above sea level. One of the most well-known however is Pike's Peak. With a 19-mile paved road that winds and stretches all the way up to its 14,110 foot summit, it is no wonder this is the most visited mountain in North America.

Pike's Peak in Colorado

Pike's Peak National Park is open year round, weather permitting. You can see it in the picture above (the red rocks in the picture are the Garden Of The Gods). Be warned, in addition to extreme winds, the temperatures at the 14,110 summit can easily be 40°F less than at the base, which is only at around 8,000 feet elevation. The road to the summit, although just recently fully paved (apparently the last stretch used to be gravel), still features on a couple guardrails, sheer drops, breathtaking views, and scenic view spots you can pull over to park and take pictures.

Pike's Peak in Colorado

  More Offbeat Travel Guides     More photos from Pike's Peak     More American destinations

  Know of any other sights that make Colorado unique? Share them!

Published in United States

There are as many reasons to see Ireland as there are people who travel to the Emerald Isle. History, geology, pub culture, folklore, and breathtaking views are all par for the course for travelers to the island.

If you have a few days to spare, you can soak up nearly all that Ireland has to offer while rolling through the southwestern half of the country. Here’s a road trip itinerary guaranteed to make you “ooh,” “ahh,” and promise to come back.

Day 1: Dublin to Kilkenny

After flying into Dublin and spending the night in Ireland’s capital city, prepare for a cross-country adventure full of historical sites and breathtaking views. Rent a car and set off on a short drive (approximately two hours) to the artsy town of Kilkenny.

Check in at the quaint Kilkenny House Hotel before heading to Kilkenny Castle, which was built in the 1100s. Then venture on to Dunmore Cave, which features some of the finest calcite formations in Ireland. Once you’ve had your fill of history and geology, return to Kilkenny to explore its many arts and crafts shops and downtown restaurants.

Day 2: Kilkenny to Killarney

Buckle up for a day of striking scenery. There are so many sights to choose from on this leg of the journey that you can’t go wrong. If you aren’t off-put by crowds, then don’t miss visiting the popular Blarney Castle or driving part of the gorgeous Ring of Kerry. For a (slightly) less traveled path, stop by King John’s Castle, the historic Swiss Cottage, or the Muckross Friary and traditional grounds.

Arrive in Killarney and check into the quirky and contemporary Ross Hotel. Since you’ll no doubt be tired from the long day’s drive, enjoy food and drink at the hotel’s restaurant before tumbling into bed.

Day 3: Killarney to Ennis

Explore Irish history on the way to the small town of Ennis by stopping by Bunratty Castle, the geologically marvelous Burren, and/or Craggaunowen – The Living Past, where you’ll learn how the Celts lived, farmed, and hunted in Ireland. Enjoy dinner in Ennis before retiring to the upscale Ashford Court Boutique Hotel.

Day 4: Ennis to Galway

Travel to the western edge of the country in order to take in one of the most gorgeous views around at the stunning and popular Cliffs of Moher (Fun fact: These are the so-called “Cliffs of Insanity” from the film The Princess Bride). If you’re still in an adventurous spirit after visiting the cliffs, head to Aillwee Cave, which was formed by glacial melt waters and is situated close to Galway.

Finish the drive to Galway and check in at the luxurious Jury’s Inn, located near the historic Spanish Arch, the Galway City Museum, and Eyre Square (If you’re feeling budget-conscious, consider staying in the friendly Galway City Guesthouse instead). After dumping your luggage, enjoy dinner and drinks at any of Galway’s many restaurants and pubs.

Day 5: Galway to Dublin

Spend the morning exploring the sites of Galway before hopping back in the car for the three-to-four-hour ride to Dublin. If you fancy some detours on the way back to the capital city, stop at medieval Athenry Castle, the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise, or Trim Castle, where Braveheart was filmed.

Upon returning to Dublin, settle in at the supremely well located Blooms Hotel before enjoying dinner and drinks out on the town. Whether you retire early or partake of the Temple Bar neighborhood’s pubs all night, be sure to contemplate what a wonderful trip it’s been.

  This article was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog on August 25th.

Published in Ireland
Page 1 of 5

Login to The HoliDaze to submit articles and comments or register your blog.