Some wise man on Quora was recently inspired to ask the question: what are the most surreal places you can visit without leaving this planet’s orbit?
The answers are magnificently mindblowing. I urge you to check out the original thread. In the meantime, you can take a look at a few handpicked answers below from Asia, Africa and Europe.
The Red Seabeach, located in the Dawa County of Panjin, China, gets its brilliant red color from the Sueda species of grass. This grass is a light red during its early stages of growth, turning a brighter shade of red as it matures.
Add to that the Dawa County’s location in the middle of one of the biggest marshes in the world, and you get these breathtaking scenes:
The Danxia landform is a series of landscapes found in Southwest China that are characterized by sweeping hills with a red tint The Danxia landform in Zhangye, however, is the most famous, mostly because it looks like something a landscape artist painted in a state of whimsy. This landform, which is more than 80 million years old, is characterized by a red bed of earth with multiple colored striations running across it.
Yup, more China.
In the Luoping valley of China, the main cash crop is Canola, which is used to make the wonderfully healthy canola oil. The Canola plant, when fully grown, blooms a bright yellow flower that covers the valley like a thick, absurdly colorful blanket. Throw in the naturally occurring mountains and hills of the valley as a backdrop and you have one of the most surreal places in the world.
The valley has now become a major tourist draw. It’s a pretty popular photography destination among newly wedded Chinese couples as well.
The Jiuzhaigou Valley natural reserve and national park is located at the edge of the Tibetan plateau. Thanks to its location, it boasts a number of waterfalls and vast forests fringed with the snowcapped peaks of he Min mountains beyond. In autumn, the leaves turn various hues of red, which, along with the waterfalls, gives the place its distinctive, surreal color.
Imagine that you are trekking through the Gobi desert, a vast expanse of sand all around you. You are thirsty, your face caked with sand, your fingers numb from the cold. You climb over the edge of a sand dune, expecting more of the same, disorienting desert landscape. Instead, what greets you is a small lake with an unmistakably crescent shape.
This is the Crescent lake, which, for centuries, has served as an important stopover point along the Silk Route. By itself, it is neither beautiful nor surreal. But place it within the context of the desert, and it is possibly one of the most surreal things on the planet, like a hallucination made real.
Right, so we’ve finally crossed over across China’s border to India, which, thanks to the Himalayas, has its own treasure trove of stunningly surreal places.
First among these is the Pangong Tso, a long, narrow lake located at an elevation of 4,250 in the heart of the Himalayas. Despite being saline, it freezes over completely in the winters. There is little flora or fauna this far up into the mountains, save a number of birds. The mountains around it are barren and you get dramatic views of the Himalayas beyond. The brilliant blue waters of the lake have served as a prominent backdrop in a number of Bollywood movies.
There’s nothing particularly surreal about Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar when viewed in isolation. Sure, the mountain is an imposing vertical monolith 6,638m high, and the lake has bright blue waters located at nearly 5000 meters above the sea level. But when you view them in context of their religious and spiritual importance, they suddenly become much more important, surreal, even.
Mount Kailash is traditionally considered the seat of Lord Shiva, one of the most prominent Gods in Hinduism. Lake Mansarovar, which lies just across the mountain, is traditionally thought to be the source of the four greatest rivers in the Indian subcontinent: Ganges, Brahmaputra, Karnali and Sutlej.
As such, both Kailash and Mansarovar have been one of the most important pilgrimage centers for both Hindus and Buddhists for thousands of years. This has given the place a decidedly religious aura; you can’t help but feel transported to a place of immense spiritual weight when you travel to the edge of the lake and gaze upon the mighty mountain beyond.
The lakes on top of Mount Kelimutu are, for the lack of a better word, plain weird. There are three lakes, all formed as a result of volcanic eruptions, and all three have different colors at different times of the year. The westernmost of the lakes, called the Lake of Old People, is typically blue. The other two, the Lake of Young Man and Maidens, and the Bewitched Lake, are typically green and red respectively.
Wait, hold on – a red lake?
Yes, thanks to the mineral composition of the Bewitched Lake, its color typically varies from light pink to red at different times of the year. Geologists believe this is caused by the volcanic activity of Mount Kelimutu causing chemical reactions within the water.
This results in a rather striking landscape – three lakes, all differently colored, sitting atop an active volcano nestled in the thick Indonesian jungles!
The Raja Ampat Islands is an archipelago of 1500 small islands located at Indonesia’s eastern coast. Legend has it that a woman once found seven eggs. The seven eggs soon hatched with four of the hatchlings becoming kings that occupied four of the largest islands in the archipelago, Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waigeo. The rest of the three eggs turned into a stone, a ghost and a woman, respectively.
The islands are naturally stunning, like little blobs of land floating on a surreally stunning azure sea. The islands are also among the finest diving destinations in the world with exceptionally high underwater biodiversity. Little reason why it counts among the most popular tourist spots in Indonesia.
The Badab-e Surt is a geological formation created by the natural outflow from a mineral spring for hundreds of thousands of years. This has created a broad stepped terrace formation that varies in color from orange to red to yellow. This results in a landscape that looks like something you’d find on Venus, not planet Earth.
Unlike most entries on this list, the Hitachi Seaside Park isn’t a natural landscape formation. Instead, it is a park created explicitly for the purpose of attracting tourists – not that it takes anything away from the park’s surreal beauty.
The Hitachi park is spread over 190 hectares, much of which is covered in rolling grasslands and tulip fields of various, vibrant hues. The flowers are in bloom all around the year, so you are guaranteed a visually spectacular time no matter when you visit.
It is nearly impossible to walk through the wisteria flower tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji garden in Ashikaga city without imaging that you are living in a fairy-tale world. The thick bushels of wisteria flowers blanket the tunnel, blocking out all light and making you believe that you are walking through a world of fantasy. I can’t imagine a better place for flower lovers than this.
Enough talk; let the pictures do the place justice.
The Maldives are utterly gorgeous by themselves, but when you throw in surreal blue waves striking the white sands of the Vaadhoo Island beach, you get something as close to a surreal experience without the aid of…ahem…psychological additives. The waves striking the beach are colored a brilliant blue, thanks to a phenomenon called bioluminescence. Phytoplankton present in the water produce a natural glow, which, when wading upon the shore, assumes an eerie blue phosphorescence.
The Cappadocia region in Antolia, Turkey, looks like something out of a whimsical piece of art or indie video game, especially with the hundreds of balloons threading their way through the sky. The landscape consists of jutting peaks with edges smoothed by thousands of years of erosion.
Hot-air ballooning is the most popular way to see the region and you’ll be hard pressed to find an image of the Cappadocia without a few dozen balloons floating idly in the background!
So picture this: you’re walking through a vast desert where nothing save scrub and scattered grass grows, when, suddenly, you cross a dune and come across the rusted remains of hundreds of ships.
This is the surreal sight that greets you in Mo’ynoq, a city in western Uzbekistan that was once a thriving port. However, as the Aral Sea receded, the residents soon left, leaving their ships behind.
Now the Aral sea is a few miles away and the former sea bed nothing but desert. The ships still remain, a surreal sight in the middle of a desert.
The Son Doong Cave system in eastern Vietnam is the largest cave system in the world. Despite its sheer size, it wasn’t discovered until 1991 when a local man named Ho-Khanh found it during a trek. The whistling sound of an underground river, however, kept the locals away and it wasn’t until 2009 that the existence of the caves became public knowledge.
Walking through the caves isn’t unlike walking through another, primitive world untouched by man. To give you an idea of the sheer size of the caves, consider that the largest chamber found yet (the cave hasn’t been fully charted) is 5 kilometers long and 200m high (roughly half the size of the Empire State Building)!
You know the pyramids, the temples and the sphinxes, but an equally popular Egyptian tourist attraction you may not know about is the White Desert near the town of Farafra in Egypt.
This desert gets its white color from abundant chalk rock deposits, most of which have been weathered and sculpted by heavy winds and sandstorms, giving the landscape an alien planet-like quality.
The Namib Desert is among the largest in the world, stretching along the western coast of Namibia for over 2,000 kilometers. It is also among the most sparsely populated regions in the world with almost no permanent human population.
While the utter desolation and high sand dunes of the desert are impressive enough, what makes the Namib desert a must-see is the edge of the desert where the sand dunes meet the sea. There are almost no similar coastal deserts like this in the world, and the point where desert and sea combine is breathtakingly beautiful.
No, this isn’t a lake filled with Pepto-Bismol; it’s actually a lake with naturally occurring pink waters in Senegal. The lake gets its unique pink waters from the presence of the Dunaliella salina algae which produces a red pigment.
Oh, and since the lake has very salt content, you can float on it without drowning, just like in the Dead Sea!
Since we already have a pink lake, it’s only appropriate that we have a red lake as well.
Lake Natron along the Tanzania-Kenya border gets its unique red color from the presence of cyanobacteria. This bacteria is capable of producing its own food via photosynthesis, just as plants do. But instead of the green chlorophyll pigment of plants, this cyanobacteria uses a red pigment which gives the lake its color.
And no, contrary to popular belief, the lake does not turn animals that touch it to stone.
The stone forest of Madagascar is a limestone formation that looks literally like a forest. But that doesn’t mean you should go wandering through it by yourself – the edges of the limestone rocks are razor sharp and can easily cause serious injuries, if not death.
The isolation of Madagascar and the relative difficulty of accessing the stone forest has turned the region into a haven for a number of unique species, from mammals like the lemurs pictured above to a variety of insects. It’s a strange, weird place everyone should visit at least once.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is the largest national park in Croatia and among the first natural sites to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park is famous for its 16 lakes arranged in cascades. The lakes vary in color; some are grey, some blue and some green, making for a viscerally surreal landscape.
For a country a third the size of Texas and a population barely larger than St. Louis, Iceland sure has a lot of ‘surreal’ landscapes. From the Moon-like surface to the mineral springs and lagoons, the country is breathtaking – and I use that word without irony or affectation.
The Crystal Caves in the Skatftafeli (good luck pronouncing that) National Park are just another Icelandish land feature that will take your breath away. The caves are covered with ice and thanks to the way the sunlight penetrates through the caves, all the walls have a blue, crystal like glow.
Take a look:
You probably knew this would be an entry on this list. You can’t talk about Iceland without at least one mention of the Blue Lagoon – the famed geothermal spa that counts among the most visited places in the world. The striking blue waters of the lagoon are heated by a natural hot water spring which, if locals are to be believe, also holds medicinal properties. While that may be up for debate, what you can’t question is the sheer striking beauty of the place.
700 meters above the Ringedalsvatnet lake in Norway is a piece of rock jutting out above the fjord. This rock – called Trolltunga or “Troll’s Tongue” – is among the popular trekking spots in Norway, and for good reason – the place offers stunning, panoramic views of the mountains and the lake below. It also offers opportunities for some incredible photos – just take a look:
There are three things Netherlands is famous for: Amsterdam, windmills, and tulip fields. For reasons unknown to anyone, the Dutch have always been a little obsessed with tulips (history buffs may recall the Tulip Mania of 1637). Not that I’m complaining, especially if it results in landscapes like these:
Right at the eastern edge of Russia is a hot water stream flowing through a glacier hundreds of thousands of years old. This has led to the creation of a tunnel/cave almost a kilometer long with walls and roof so thin that the sunlight penetrates through, bathing the tunnel in myriad colors. The beauty of the tunnel is only amplified by the sparseness of the surroundings;the Kamchatka peninsula is among the least populated areas in the world with volcanoes, rivers, forests and dense snow but few human beings.
On the western edge of Scotland lies a tiny, uninhabited island called Staffa that houses one of the most incredible geological wonders in the world: Fingal’s Cave. The cave, named after a poem by Scottish poet James Macpherson is unique because of its perfectly hexagonal basalt columns and the naturally arched roof which produces an eerie, cathedral like sound.
Two words: Aurora Borealis.
That’s it for part I. In part II, we’ll head over to the Americas, Australia and hop over to Antarctica for a couple of more amazing places. Check this space for more!
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