Once overlooked by travelers, the borough of Amsterdam Noord has developed into a thriving artistic community, a spot for dance and music festivals, and an escape from Amsterdam’s chaotic and touristy center.

The borough was once the industrial site of one of Europe’s largest shipyards. From 1922 until 1984 — when the Nederlandsche Dock Company went bankrupt — supertanker, cargo, and passenger ships were meticulously built and carefully launched into the IJ Lake to sail around the world. Now visitors can explore the repurposed buildings and forests for an eclectic Amsterdam experience many tourists haven’t yet seen.

Getting There

The borough is only a short free ferry away on the opposite side of the IJ Lake, directly behind Amsterdam Central Station. Five ferries, with three directly behind the station, transport commuters to different parts of the borough 24 hours a day. Trip times range from three to 15 minutes. As bikes are allowed on the ferry, rent one from one of three bike rentals near Central Station: Mac Bike, Star Bikes, and Amsterbike. Or, rent one once in Amsterdam Noord from Velox Classic Bikes, which is near the drop off port of the Buiksloterwegveer-bound ferry. By car, take the IJ tunnel to the east of the station to cross the lake.

Amsterdam canal at night

Eye Film Institute

Amsterdam Noord’s architecturally impressive Eye Film Institute, designed by the Viennese Delugan Meissl Associated Architects, is a short walk from the Buiksloterwegveer ferry stop. The Institute is a play on words, as “Eye” is also the pronunciation of the IJ Lake. The institute features an impressive archive of 37,000 films, 700,000 photographs, 60,000 posters, and 20,000 books. Part of the collection was previously housed in the now defunct Filmmuseum in Vondel Park until 2012, when the Eye opened. The Institute regularly screens Dutch and foreign films and holds exhibitions. Patrons may also enjoy a coffee or meal and the views of the IJ harbor at the institute’s restaurant. After exiting the Eye, stroll or bike through Oeverpark just outside the museum.

Noorderpark

A half hour walk from the Buiksloterwegveer ferry stop lies Noorderpark, a beautiful combination of two older parks (Flora and Volewijks parks) that were merged in 2014. It’s nearly the same size as Vondel Park (45 hectares or 111 acres) making it a good distance to cycle, walk, and picnic. Noorderpark is split by the lovely North Holland Canal.

Vliegen Forrest

Want to get closer to Mother Nature? Cycle east of Noorderpark where Leeuwarderweg merges into Meeuwenlann to reach W.H. Vliegenbos, a forest named after 20th century journalist and social democrat Willem H. Vliegen. Or take the Zamenhofstraat-bound ferry from Azartplein (Azart Plaza), on the peninsula housing Java and KNSM islands in the East Borough of Amsterdam. The forest is a 15 minute walk from the ferry and features a campsite spanning 25 hectares (61 acres), and it includes space for caravans, campervans, or tents, along with a hotel and cabins for rent.

Exploring Amsterdam Noord

Cultural Hubs

Looking for a post-industrial experience? Near the ferry resides the trendy yet laid back IJ Kantine (IJ Canteen) with reasonably priced soups and sandwiches and pristine views of the IJ Harbor. Like many of the buildings in the borough, the IJ Kantine’s building, previously called the Baanderij, has a rich shipbuilding history. It served as an office, assembly hall, and canteen when the wharf was in full swing. Now it’s a favorite for creatives to work and organize brainstorming sessions in the dining area or in one of two boardrooms available for rent. The kantine also holds exhibitions, live music and craft nights.

Just southeast lies Pllek, a self-described creative hangout, offering a multitude of activities from yoga to dancing to circus to sex classes. In Amsterdam, not many subjects are taboo. In the summer, an artificial beach provides a spot for dancing and sunbathing. The center also boasts organic and sustainable food with seasonal vegetables sourced locally whenever possible.

Where to Stay

The DoubleTree Hilton Hotel Amsterdam is near the NDSM ferry stop, making it a convenient and luxurious stay. For a more atypical experience, stay at the Amstel Botel, a floating hotel moored near the NDSM ferry. As Amsterdam Noord is easy to get to from Central Amsterdam, staying at the NH Amsterdam Barbizon Palace allows for quick access to Amsterdam Noord as well as the rest of the city. Amsterdam is a small city with a big-city feel, so make a day trip out of Amsterdam Noord or commute to the center. Either way, make sure to rent a bike for the most convenient and efficient experience.

  This article was published on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 10th.

Amsterdam's Best Offbeat Activities

Published in Netherlands

Namhae Island is located in the very south of South Korea. It's the perfect break from the polluted hustle and neon bustle that most Korean cities tend to have. Best known for its golden beaches and glorious weather it's surprisingly also a place not too many people know anything about it.

Namhae Bridge in South Korea is a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge

Namhae Island is strangely connected to the mainland of Korea by a Golden Gate Bridge imitation, constructed in 1973. From Seoul it takes about 6 hours, by car. The island itself is home to some of the most stunning scenery in Korea. The jagged cliffs cut and wind in unison with the highway and you will find it hard not to be impressed by the contrasting landscape and beaches beneath them.

The island has been left mainly untouched and employment on the island is primarily a result of its large agricultural and fishing community. During the wet seasons it is common to see rice paddies carving into the cliff side with cows plowing fields in favour of machinery. The dry season sees the rice replaced by garlic, with the majority of garlic in Korea coming from right here.

Transportation There & Back

Car Rental   The cheapest rental companies are located closest to the airports. For almost four days rental expect to pay $180-250 depending on how well you research. Use a few price comparison search engines as there are certainly deals to be had.

  Make sure you ask for an English GPS well in advance. Google Maps navigation doesn’t work well in Korea. The Korean map applications are also infuriatingly incompetent. If you can't read or type in Hangeul (the Korean alphabet) you will need a sat nav system. Without a GPS it can be expected that you’ll miss turn offs and probably find yourself stuck on incorrect, never-ending, toll roads for long periods of time. Some signs are in English but directions are not particularly accurate. However, it is do-able -- if you are up for a challenge.

Bus + Car Rental   Alternatively you could hop on a bus from Seoul to Namhae Island and rent a car by the Namhae bus terminal once you arrive. This would prove to be much cheaper in terms of gas/petrol and probably less hassle. The price of car rental is still going to be the same when you arrive.

Bus + Taxi   You cannot rely on public bus services on Namhae Island so should have a plan for either private car hire or taxi. A ride right across Namhae Island (300km) in a taxi would cost about $90, but you probably won't be going that far.

Here is the bus timetable courtesy of the Seoul Tourism Board.

Seoul ←→ Namhae Express Bus Schedule

Departure

Arrival

Departure Time

Ride

Fare

Seoul

Namhae

08:30, 09:50, 11:30, 13:30, 15:10, 16:40, 18:00, 19:00

4.5 hrs

22,200 won

Namhae

Seoul

07:30, 08:30, 10:00, 11:30, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00, 18:30

4.5 hrs

22,200 won

  Seoul Nambu Bus Terminal: Subway Line 3, Nambu Bus Terminal, Exit 5 / +82-2-521-8550 (Korean)
Namhae Bus Terminal: +82-055-864-7101 (Korean)

Where To Camp On Namhae Island

There are numerous unpopulated beaches that are all equipped with camping facilities. Get there early to claim a spot. If you don’t fancy camping then don’t worry as motels are plentiful, just stay on the main roads until you see one. Expect to pay $40 a night. Camping is free.

Sangju Beach   (상주은모래비치)

Sangju Beach on Namhae Island, South Korea

This is the main beach on Namhae Island. Expect clean facilities, plenty of restaurants, karaoke rooms, fireworks, large families and overcrowding. Don’t expect camping courtesy or etiquette. If you have a spot with a good view it’s only a matter of time before someone squeezes into it, to pitch a monster of a tent. A lot of drunken Korean fathers stumble about the tents with flashlights on their heads. Think 28 days later with head-torches when it's dark.

Songjeong Solbaram Beach   (송정 솔바람해변)

Songjeong Solbaram Beach in Namhae Island, South Korea

This is the sister beach to Sangju. Fewer people flock here but camping is still busy with many late comers opting to camp in a run down orchard/car-park near the back. Expect another nice golden beach that boasts less people than Sangju as well as a couple of supermart-style convenience stores. Don't expect much else. Head east on Highway 19 until you see signs for it.

Sachon Beach   (사촌해수육장)

Sachon Beach in Namhae Island, South Korea

This is not visited by many people. Head west on Highway 19 and follow signs towards the Hilton Hotel until the road 1024 forks. Pay close attention to the signs as it is very easy to miss. It's a couple of coves below the Hilton and is towards the South West of Namhae. Expect peace and tranquility but limited facilities and only a couple of snack shops. Excellent for private camping. Don’t expect people or any places to eat.

Other Beaches   Take a look on a map and explore. There are plenty of little coves and beaches all over Namhae Island that many people miss. Just be a bit adventurous. And make sure to assess how far the tide comes in before pitching your tent ;)

Activities On Namhae Island

Sea Kayaking

Kayaking the sea caves around Dumo, Namhae Island, South Korea

Sea kayaking around the sea caves in Namhae Island is an excellent way to spend the day. Fish can be seen darting about below the kayak and sea insects are plentiful. It is extremely tranquil. Gliding along the calm ocean allows you to really take in the beauty of the area.

  Kayaking for 3 hours will cost about $25. Paddle boarding is also available. If you get there after 1pm expect large tour groups and lengthy booking waits so get there early.

Kayaking the sea caves around Dumo, Namhae Island, South Korea
Jessica and myself sea kayaking

Sangju Beach   (FREE)

Sangju Beach on Namhae Island, South Korea

Even if you're not camping here, you can enjoy Sangju beach for the day. The end of the beach has some relatively powerless quad bike rentals so is partitioned off most of the time.

Where To Eat On Namhae Island

Around Sangju you can find only a handful of affordable restaurants. There are a few fresh clam and sashimi restaurants if you are feeling flush. Prices are heavily inflated due to tourism, but wandering the busy side streets you can find some decent grub, although you may have to wait a while.

  One benefit of having a car and not being in a tour group is the freedom you gain. So head towards Namhae town and find some shops, restaurants and convenience stores. Everything here is much more affordable and much less crowded.

Sachon Beach (FREE)

Sunset at Sachon Beach in Namhae Island, South Korea

Aim to wind down here and watch the remnants of the day disappear along with the sunset. Driving down towards the beach you pass through a few rice paddies, which, if holding water will reflect the beach and its surroundings superbly. The road is extremely thin and windy, so be extra careful not to destroy the serenity of the area by plowing your compact Hyundai straight into a field of rice. There are a couple of convenience stores here that stock very little other than snacks and beer. But what else do you need?

Geumsan Boriam Temple (FREE)

Decorations at Boriam Temple in Namhae Island, South Korea

Located near the summit of Geumsan Mat Buntain sits Boriam Temple. Watching the sunrise from here is relatively popular among the local hikers. Wake up early enough and leave enough time to drive here. Some tour buses also offer the chance to visit. There are a several trails which lead to the temple and can take a number of hours to hike. Alternatively, you can drive your car and park 900m from the temple, walking the rest in 10 minutes. The choice is yours.

Listening to the monotonous chanting of the monks whilst watching the sunrise is both hypnotic and calming. The only sound aside from the chanting is the occasional shutter sound from a nearby DSLR camera that is capturing the moment.

Sunrise at Boriam Temple in Namhae Island, South Korea

Stroll back down and share a smile with the disappointed folk who have all missed the sunrise as they race past desperately trying to witness something they’ve clearly missed.

Driving Around Namhae Island

Driving around the cliffs on Namhae Island you can see the glistening waters of the sea contrasting with the golden beaches and it makes for a truly remarkable drive. Oversized coaches do tend to block the roads in the afternoons so expect some traffic. If you get good weather then driving around the island might actually be your favourite part of the trip.

The German Village

The super-touristy German Village of Namhae Island, South Korea. Avoid.

During the 1960’s 10,000 Korean nurses headed to Germany to seek work in exchange for cheap credit with the government. The German Village is for those who returned. All the materials that went into building the houses came from Germany and over the past 10 years the area has become a settlement/hamlet for 35 families, 90% of which are Korean-German.

Unfortunately, in exchange for the family loyalty, the village has been turned into a tourist hot spot whereby tens of thousands of people flock here, creating congestion that goes on for miles. The tourists disrespectfully take photographs posing next to the residents homes, trample through their gardens and even wander into their living rooms. Engelfried (82) is a German local and told a newspaper that “It’s treated like a museum village.” It is promoted by Seoul Tourism board and they have placed a huge car park only a short walk from the village. Avoid.

The American Village

The American Village of Namhae Island, South Korea

The most recently constructed but not so popular cousin of the abov. The placard reads “designed to be the last settling place for Korean-Americans who have dreamt of returning to and retiring in their homeland.” Walking up and down is relatively surreal with cheesy western inanimate objects glued to the walls, such as, surfboards and American driving plates.

  Heading back towards your city whether it’s Seoul, Busan or elsewhere, you can expect heavy traffic when approaching if it’s a holiday weekend. Add at least an extra hour to your return journey.

Published in South Korea

Iceland is a country like no other. Rich history. Intriguing culture. And just far enough removed from its neighbors to make others curious about this island nation.

Regular readers of The HoliDaze already know that taking a road trip around Iceland is high up on my travel bucket list. And while I still haven't had the time to do that yet, I have already been researching where to visit. Plus since this site focuses heavily on offbeat and quirky things to do around the world, it seems like a fitting time to share with you all the off the beaten path sights and activities I've found in Iceland.

Attend The Icelandic Elf School

  Reykjavik
It's no secret that many Icelanders believe in elves and hidden people -- people who look just like us but are invisible to most "normal" people. In fact stories abound about elf "consultants" being hired for construction projects or to help with the planning of bridges and highways. And while the numbers vary depending upon which survey you trust, it's safe to say that between 1/4 and 1/2 of the population believe in these fascinating creatures.

Watch out for in Iceland -- and learn all about them at the Icelandic Elf School in Reykjavik

Since opening in 1991, the Icelandic Elf School has been the go-to source for all things historic and educational about elves (apparently there are 13 different types), as well as hidden people. Their weekly classes are held every Friday and are attended by both locals and foreigners alike -- although the founder, Magnús Skarphéðinsson, admits that the majority of his students over the last two and a half decades have been foreigners interested in learning more about Iceland's culture.

Scuba Dive In The Arctic Circle

  Þingvellir National Park
When people think of Iceland, their pristine glaciers and legendary hot springs are what always come to mind first. But have you ever thought about scuba diving in the Arctic Circle? Diving here is like nowhere else on earth! Why? Because of the Silfra Rift!

A rift is where two or more tectonic plates meet. Most often this occur underwater and a few are located on land, however the Silfra Rift is the only rift in the world located inside of a lake -- the Þingvallavatn Lake.

The Silfra Rift in Þingvellir Lake, part of the Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

Each year these plates drift another two centimeters apart, which results in an earthquake roughly once a decade. However scuba diving in Þingvellir Lake to witness the geologic beauty of planet Earth is safe and a once-in-a-lifetime experience unlike any other. Oh and did I mention that the glacier water here is so clear that underwater visibility is some of the best in the world -- often 250 feet or more!

Get Your Museum On

  Scattered around the country
I've long been a fan of strange, quirky and unique museums around the world and Iceland is home to several of these. Of course all their museums dedicated to sorcery, sea monsters, fish and water seem perfectly normal when compared to the Icelandic Phallological Museum -- otherwise known as the penis museum, for those of you who have forgotten the medical term for the male reproductive organ.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a pant-swelling collection of nearly 300 mammal penises and penile parts from around 100 different species. In addition to the (educationally) stimulating exhibits, the museum also strives to shine a light on how this particular organ has influenced the history of human art and literature. Oh...and there may or may not be a couple examples of the Homo Sapien penis on display -- but you'll just have to visit for yourself to find out.

Skrímslasetrið, otherwise known as the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum in Iceland

Don't tire yourself out too much at the Phallological Museum, though. Skrímslasetrið, otherwise known as the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum, covers the entire history of Arctic sea monsters and sightings. They have even begun to classify these monsters as one of four basic types based on their characteristics. For all the curious souls out there, they are: "the fjörulalli (Shore Laddie), the hafmaður (Sea Man), the skeljaskrímsli (Shell Monster) and the faxaskrímsli (Combined Monster/Sea Horse).

Other notable museums include Randulf's Sea House in Eskifjorður (dedicated to fishing and fisherman, this museum is also part time capsule and part restaurant), Vatnasafn (the Museum of Water) and of course the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft, which should be fairly self-explanitory.

This is far from all the offbeat, obscure, strange and unique things to do in Iceland. Want more? Check out all the Unique Types of Alcohol Only Found In Iceland. And remember to keep traveling off the beaten path!

  Which of these crazy sites do you most want to visit?

  flickr   //   mellydoll   diego_delso   backwards_dog

Published in Iceland

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

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

Now this is truly a unique sight like no other! Everyone has seen algae, that icky often green stuff that grows in water all over the world — but have you ever seen rainbow-colored algae? That is what happens for a brief period every year at a remote river in Colombia, South America.

The Caño Cristales River located high in the Serrania de la Macarena Mountains is one that most travelers have never even heard of. It’s location is so remote that the river does not even have any fish and you can only get there after a long trek via foot or donkey! But that is not all, it gets trickier...

This multicolored algae occurs only during the brief period in between the wet and dry seasons, usually in September or October. At that time, for only a week or two at the absolute tops, all the algae on the rocks of the rivers turns a rainbow of colors — and thanks to the clear river water visitors can get a perfect view!

Rainbow colored algae at Caño Cristales River in a remote part of the Colombian mountains
Show up at the wrong time though and all you see is boring old green...

I tentatively plan on joining friends in Peru in September, but I told him I would only come visit him on one condition: if we can travel to neighboring Colombia and spend a few days camping and relaxing at the Caño Cristales River. This is something I absolutely have to see with my own eyes, even if it means staying up in the mountains for two or three weeks, and that is why Caño Cristales River is #40 on the HoliDaze Ultimate Travel Blogger's Bucket List (TBBL for short).

  What do you think, pretty wild huh? Would you trek up the mountain to check it out? Let's hear your comments!

Published in Colombia

Kumbhalgarh Fort, also known as the Great Wall of India, is a new up-and-coming off the beaten path destination in Rajasthan that is starting to become more well known. However the leap in the numbers of visitors over recent years definitely makes it a worthy destination to visit when in Rajasthan for those who like getting off the tourist trail.

Located near Udaipur, this wonderful fort has a glimpse of history, war and tales of patriotism. If you love to hear history and visualize the fell then this is the must visit for you. The broad and wide walls depict the era of war and conquer, fights and patriotism, and tell the story of how strong the Sisodia dynasty were to safeguard their people.

Kumbhalgarh Fort, one of the historic destinations of royal Rajasthan

How To Get To Kumbhalgarh Fort

Khumbhalgarh can be approached via Udaipur through Dabog airport / Udaipur Junction. But to reach you have to take the road Journey via Nathdwara. It is approximately 90km from Udaipur. The road though is not very good but is a state highway and the government is trying to upgrade so as to increase the travel volume of the state. The road journey is also pleasing as you pass by the country side of the Udaipur district. With it you will get a glimse of true rural India and many beautiful lakes and villages around them. Its good to see the nature and humans mingling with each other.

Kumbhalgarh Great Wall in India, second only to the Great Wall of China, as seen from inside the fort
Kumbhalgarh Great Wall, second only to the Great Wall of China, as seen from inside the fort

The fort of Kumbhalgarh is built on a hilltop and the walls of the fort has a peripheral of 36kms. It is the second largest wall in Asia after the famous Great Wall of China. The fort is said to be the most difficult to be won and had lost only once when the combined forces of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar and the Sultan of Gujarat breached the wall due to a shortage of drinking water. The walls as said early are huge and unbreachable and this can be gauged by the their overwhelming thickness -- 15 feet!

Badal Mahal, the palace inside Kumbhalgarh Fort in India
Badal Mahal, the palace inside Kumbhalgarh Fort

The road to Badal Mahal, the palace inside Kumbhalgarh Fort
The road to Badal Mahal

View from Badal Mahal, the palace inside Kumbhalgarh Fort
View from Badal Mahal

Ongoing restoration work at Badal Mahal, the palace inside Kumbhalgarh Fort, India
The road to Badal Mahal

Badal Mahal at Kumbhalgarh Fort, India

Kumbhalgarh has become a favourite destination among many travelers, both domestic and international. Plenty of resorts down the hill from 5-star luxury to budget resorts, even camping sites. We stayed in Club Mahindra Resort and really enjoyed the hospitality of the group. NOT TO MISS the light and sound show organised in the fort which narrates you the entire history of the place from its built to its conquer.

View of Kumbhalgarh state

  Kumbhalgarh is a destination less travelled but if you have time while visiting Rajasthan it is highly recommended that you swing by and experience Kumbhalgarh Fort and the majesty of the Great Wall of India with your own eyes.

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Published in India

(Originally posted on the Girls Trek Too blog, Thursday, April 22, 2010)

March 28, 2008
Overseas Chinese Hotel
Bok Sa Town, Toishan County, Guangdong Province, China

In the town of Bok Sa, I'm not merely one of the few foreigners: I'm the only non-Chinese foreigner. As such, I've become an instant celebrity. Last night, our plump, smiling, short-haired, crooked-toothed waitress explained that many Overseas Chinese come here from America, but they all speak Chinese and they all look Chinese. That's why the people in this town keep staring at me, not quite as often as people stared the last time I came to China, but just as boldly and just as unsmilingly. I keep trying the advice I saw in a blog post; another traveler in China said a big smile would draw one in return. So, instead of looking away, or staring back with the same stony eyes, I smile. Nothing. They just keep staring.

Many Overseas Chinese come from America to stay at the Overseas Chinese Hotel, but they all speak Chinese and they all look Chinese.

On the other hand, when I arrived, the proprietors of the Overseas Chinese Hotel, Mr. Wong and Mrs. Ma, smiled and chattered, forward and friendly, as they tried to figure out how I might find the family of my great-grandfather, Ma Bing Sum. I tried to explain that I didn't expect to find his relatives, that I merely hoped to find his village, Gong Hao. Fiona translated their reply, "They are only used to people who come here to find their family." In my case, this seems impossible.

My great-grandfather once cried in front of his daughter Leila, when he read a newspaper from Toishan County and saw an obituary for his last surviving relative. He told her that's when he knew: there wasn't a soul left in China who knew him or was related to him. His only remaining ties to this planet are American. But I couldn't dissuade the relentlessly helpful Mr. Wong and Mrs. Ma, who continued staring at my old photo of Ma Bing Sum, as they talked about the many Ma people of Gong Hao. Ma is the primary family name in this area, although there are also plenty of Wongs and Liangs.

As we walked upstairs, a middle-aged Chinese man on the stairway overheard me speaking English, turned, and widened his eyes at my un-Chinese face. He remarked with surprise on my visiting this remote place.

"I'm here to find my family," he said.

"Me, too!" I said, pressing a hand to my chest.

"This is my first time ever coming back here," he said.

"Me, too!" I said again.

"My family name is Ma," he said.

I practically squealed, "Me, too!"

Two of his male relatives joined us on the landing, and we all began puzzling over the name Ma Bing Sum, a.k.a. Ben Mar. A tall, stoop-shouldered, balding man of 50 or so said that his grandfather was born in 1882. My great-grandfather was born in 1887. "Maybe they knew each other," I said, grinning. But the coincidences ended there.

The first man had just arrived the day before, but he was already leaving. "This is a very backwards town," he said. His tone and tipped brows told me to heed this warning and get out as soon as I failed to find whatever I was looking for. I felt a sinking in the pit of my stomach that hasn't left since.

The sight of our dismal rooms didn't make me feel much better. The stiff twin beds had mattresses so thin that I would feel every spring etching circular patterns into my back throughout the night. Mrs. Ma put on the pathetic bedding while we watched: a white hanky of a sheet and a flat little pillow. Not trusting the cleanliness or history of the sheets, I would sleep in my sleeping bag.

The stiff twin beds had mattresses so thin that I would feel every spring etching circular patterns into my back throughout the night.

Looking out my window at the impoverished streets of town, with the warning of the American Mr. Ma fresh in my ear, I conferred with Fiona about our planned six-night stay. We decided to pay for three nights, and decide later whether to stay or move on to Guangzhou. Still, I'm resigned to linger as long as I'm discovering anything new or interesting - if only about myself.

We went down to the dining room for lunch. The large room was hazy from the cigarettes of three men sitting at one table. Four women played mahjong at another. We sat near a window, as far as possible from the smoking men. The gold tablecloth was soiled, wrinkled, and riddled with holes. We waved away flies.

Our waitress brought tea, washing the cups at the table: rinsing them with the weak, pale, hot tea, before pouring some of the watery mixture into the cups for us to drink. Then she brought plates and chopstickes in a large metal bowl full of steaming water. She used tongs to turn the dishes in the water, and then set them on the table. Both washing procedures sloshed huge quantities of water onto the tablecloth.

When she brought our chicken, I was slightly taken aback by the decapitated, shriveled, boiled head, laid proudly at the proper end of the other body parts - announcing the freshness of our food. I tried to cover the head with parsley when Fiona wasn't looking, but she ate the parsley. There were little more than scrawny hints of meat clinging to mostly bone and skin, but the taste was fair. We also ate a delicious soup made with yellow flowers, though I politely avoided the chicken feet paddling around the bowl.

Bok Sa is the very definition of a backwater town.

After our meal, we wandered around town for an hour. Bok Sa is the very definition of a backwater town: with a barely-moving river, and small canals brackish, dead-looking, and scattered with garbage. I was charmed, though, by the incongruous sight of many buildings which, as Fiona put it, "are not Chinese." Not quite, anyway.

I was charmed by the incongruous sight of many buildings which, as Fiona put it, "are not Chinese."

Many of the buildings have elements of European architecture: Victorian shells atop piedmonts, Grecian columns, stained-glass windows, curling cornices. The Western styles were likely borrowed from America, who had borrowed them from Europe. These homes were built by Overseas Chinese to show off their wealth some 60 to 100 years ago. Today, they're broken, cracked, blackened, crumbled, and neglected.

These homes were built by Overseas Chinese to show off their wealth some 60 to 100 years ago.

Many of the broken-down showplaces now serve as shells for family shops, where poor merchants sell dusty goods of doubtful use. A few video arcades amuse young boys. Some places sell fruit: apples, grapes, oranges, mangoes, and tiny sweet bananas.

Some places sell fruit: apples, grapes, oranges, mangoes, and tiny sweet bananas.

On a dusty road next to the river, three vendors hovered over steaming cook-pots. Fiona asked what they were selling. The answer: "Dog stew." Fiona wasn't any keener on the idea than I. We saw many stray dogs sleeping or wandering the streets, and she speculated that maybe their brothers or sisters were now someone's dinner.

 About the willow leaves, she said, "This is so their ancestors know the way to come home."

As we passed one home, a woman placed a sprig of willow into a tiny sconce next to her doorway. Fiona explained that this is a time of year known as Qing Ming, when people pay respect to their ancestors. About the willow leaves, she said, "This is so their ancestors know the way to come home."

I couldn't help but wonder if a ghost had beckoned me here.

Published in China

Translated as "Drunkards Alley" or "Alley Of The Drunkards," Nonbei Yokocho is two parallel alleys in Tokyo that contain a grand total of somewhere around 50 miniature bars, although sometimes it is mistakenly cited as having 200-250. However I certainly did not count anywhere near that many.

What do I mean by mini bar? Well, each one measures at most ten feet by ten feet, hardly enough room for more than a small bar with bartender and 4 or 5 barstools. Many actually feature a narrow staircase and an upstairs as well, which will hold a couple tiny tables to fit a few additional (skinny) people.

The best bar in Nonbei Yokocho, Tokyo!

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Located just north of the bustling Shibuya station and lined against the eastern side of the train tracks to Harajuku, this neighborhood was built over 50 years ago but quickly became a prostitution hotspot. Businessmen would take the edge off with a drink or two in the lower level before making their way upstairs to the "tatami room," where their lady of the night was waiting. Nowadays the area has long since done away with the working girls but the bars not only remain, they have even developed their own one-of-a-kind charm and an almost cult-like following.

  Despite the proximity to the rest of the action in Shibuya, this area has been overlooked by many a Tokyo resident. Interestingly enough, it is fairly common for a visiting foreigner to be the one taking their Japanese friends to Nonbei Yokocho for the first time, rather than vice versa. How come? Because legend of this unique and hallowed nighttime location has permeated the world wide web. Any traveler who does even cursory research on Shibuya will undoubtedly stumble across the Alley Of The Drunkards. After all, this is the type of place which you never stop telling others about once you've experienced it for yourself.

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

After trying a couple dozen of the bars, a few charging "seat fees" and others decided anti-gaijin, my unquestionable favorite in all of Nonbeiyokocho was the aptly named Non. Without a doubt this cozy little establishment takes the gold medal all around, not just for atmosphere but also because we consistently met the absolute best people here. And trust me, we did a lot of exploring and experimenting with every new place we saw. That is one of the best things about this city: there is just so much of everything, you can constantly keeping trying new bars and clubs and restaurants and never have to repeat anything. It's simultaneously both fantastic and even a little overwhelming for some. Only the places which truly impressed would be deemed worthy of repeat visits, such as Club Atom and ShibuyaNUTS. Yes, this little bar indeed earned a large place in my heart. We would stop by usually three to four times a week, believe it or not. Most often our visit would only last an hour or two tops before moving on, but a few nights were spent entirely up and down Drunkards Alley. It was the best starter spot, without a doubt. Ridiculously close to my flat too ;)

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

It was not that this one bar was fancier or offered anything that its' neighbors did not -- I mean just look at the photos below...it is so small! Much of the conversation actually happens in the alley itself and not the bar. However the one thing that this particular bar was never in short supply of was the hands-down best patrons. All of the interesting people we met and became friends with were initially introduced there. Everyone. There was Austin, the 20-year-old half-Japanese half-French local we became good friends with; Suzuki, the guy who owned his own jewelry design business and shop (which he had recently expanded to Hong Kong and New York); Isao, a local actor; the two cougars that Jared and I hooked up with, Mayu and Yuka; the Swedish fashion designers; the Canadian video game creators; several local businessmen and Yakuza guys we partied with; the list goes on and on.

Non was an impressive and unmatched hot-bed of friendly, out-going, and fun-loving people.

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Even the bartender, Yoshi, was laid-back and unbelievably talkative. He made you feel appreciated and as such it was always very difficult to leave. That is probably a good part of the reason he always Tokyo friends, including the ones mentioned above, our first encounters with each all happened on different individual nights -- wild, huh? Amazing that such a little place could pack such a big punch.

The restrooms at Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Finally, no article on Nonbei Yokocho would be complete without discussing the restrooms. Due to the fact that the bars are so small they do not have any individual bathrooms, there simply is not any space. Instead both customer and yes bartender alike must exit the bar and head to the most northern part of Nonbei Yokocho, where the two main parallel alleys are connected by a small perpendicular sidestreet, similar to an upside-down U. It is on this narrow connecting street that you will find a male restroom, three side-by-side urinals behind a pair of swinging doors a la American-Western style, as well as two locking female restrooms, of which each bar has a copy of the keys to.

And yes, the bartender does abandon his post and leave the customers alone if he must use the restroom. However as Japanese society is very polite and honest I never once saw anyone abuse this momentary lapse of freedom.

  Oh and a heads-up note for the ladies: it is best to familiarize yourself with squat toilets before visiting Nonbei Yokocho, lest you have a drunken learning experience you won't soon forget ;)

  And if you really want to experience all that the Tokyo nightlife offers, the local clubs are spectacular!

  Have you been to Nonbei Yokocho before? Curious to visit it now? What are your thoughts?

Published in Japan

For those that have read this blog before you know that I am a big proponent of getting off the tourist path and doing some exploring wherever you happen to be. That happened recently while in Manila where I noticed a very large compound surrounded by a 8 foot tall solid metal fence painted bright green. The buildings inside where very ornate around the rooftops and appeared to be some type of Chinese Temple.

Tao temple in Manila

Never one to be to shy I knocked on the small gate and a gentleman working inside answered. I asked if this was a temple of some kind and he stated it was a Taoist Temple. Then I brazenly asked if I could come in and look around. He stepped outside onto the street and looked around and asked where I was from. After I told him he smiled and waved at me to hurry inside.

He seemed kind of nervous and I asked if he was sure I could come inside and look around. He stated I could look but to not take any pictures inside the main temple. The outside prayer areas were okay though.

I was inside the compound about 6 or 7 minutes when a vehicle pulled up to the compound and honked its horn to be let in. The vehicle pulled in and the driver looked at me, smiled and went to the parking area but that's when the worker got really nervous and said I should leave. I gathered it was one of the head guys and although he smiled wasn't too pleased the worker had allowed me in.

Tao temple in Manila

While I was there the worker and I took turns asking questions, me about the temple and he about where I was from and about me. It was interesting, beautiful and really cool.

That is why I love exploring places on my own. You never know what you might happen upon or who you might meet.

Next time your traveling do yourself a favor, get off the tourist path and explore a little. It can be very rewarding.

Published in Philippines
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