Lifestyle

10 Places You Have to See Before You Die

We all know the kind of scenery that awaits us after we die: endless lava fields cracked by active flows and sulphurous geysers, with the occasional whip-wielding cacodemon mixed in. So it’s a good idea to stock up on earthly memories of places beautiful and delightful before our date with eternal torment. Here are some fantastic places that really make the damned wail and gnash their teeth when they appear on “Wish You Were Here!” postcards.

#1. Petra

Petra is sheer awesome because it is, not to mince words, a no-bullshit, honest-to-God dwarf fortress. Discovered by a Swiss-man in 1812 (only after much Indiana Jones-style swinging across spike-pits, we like to imagine), Petra looms like a big, looming stone thing from within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Judging by its location on the slopes of Mount Hor, Petra is a place after our own stony hearts.

The entire city was hewn from red rock, and stood for centuries as a Helm’s Deep-style impregnable fortress / trading-point between Gaza, Damascus and various other Middle Eastern points. Petra today is a world heritage site, popular tourist destination and frequent movie backdrop. Be sure to ask your tour guide about the best place to chisel your hilarious “Kilroy was here” logo. He’ll surely find that just hysterical.

#2. Machu Picchu

Yes, it sounds like a Pokémon character, but Machu Picchu is an ancient Incan ruin, the Lost City of the Incas. Why should you care? Well, because it’s the ultimate Scooby Doo haunted location – a mysterious, inaccessible ruin perched so high in the mountains that it seems to float amid the clouds. An eerie eyrie if you will.

Located about 50 miles northwest of Cuzco, Peru, the site roosts in the Andes like a skeletal buzzard. At about 7,710 feet above sea-level, it was designed to remain hidden – and indeed its lofty remoteness prevented its discovery by the Spanish conquerors. Around that time (the 1400’s) it was abandoned by the Incan Empire, and only rediscovered in 1911. Now it’s a grand old tourist trap, where enticing trinkets await the bold adventurer all along one helluva (extremely rewarding) hike.

#3. The Pyramids and Sphinx

Ah yes, the great triangular (well, pyramidal) mysteries of Egypt. The Great Pyramid of Khufu is the only one surviving of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and pretty much the biggest tombstone you’re ever likely to see. The Sphinx is equally well-known and deserving of a pilgrimage, being the original and best Catwoman.

The Giza Plateau is not just worthwhile for its endlessly fascinating exploration of one of history’s most intriguing cultures. It’s the inspiring thought that you too could build a massive monument to your own glory, if only you could harness thousands of slaves and work them to death. There’s no reason why your hometown shouldn’t feature a cliff-face or towering edifice carved in your likeness, it’s just a matter of will.

#4. The Taj Mahal

The Taj is a very romantic, sacred place. We’re speaking here of the ancient mausoleum built by an emperor as a tribute to his deceased love, not the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower which recently played host to murderous Muslim terrorists. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal_Palace_%26_Tower#2008_terrorist_attack

It was constructed by Shah Jahan to commemorate his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. This being in the days before credit cards and shopping malls, a man with more than one wife could afford to construct a giant marble palace in the middle of nowhere.

#5. Stonehenge

This circle of standing stones has puzzled people for thousands of years (at least 2000 according to archaeologists). The megalithic monument consists of 150 giant boulders arranged in a circle, with some balanced atop the others. It’s found in Southern England, upon the Salisbury Plain. The best time of year to visit it is the summer equinox, when the sun rises with grandeur over stones set with astounding mathematical and astronomical precision. And when a motley crew of hippies, ravers, vegans and other drug addled loonies http://www.new-age.co.uk/stonehenge-solstice-pics-2006.htm descend on the henge to get stoned. And celebrate the alignment of the sun with the stone arches, apparently.

#6 The Catacombs of Paris

The Paris Catacombs are easily the most underappreciated attractions in a city renowned for millions of yearly tourists. Everyone else runs up the giant metal phallus Eiffel Tower, or spends time in the Louvre only to realize just how dinky and unimpressive the Mona Lisa actually is, but believe us when we say the Catacombs are far and away the most awesome thing you will ever see in Paris — or anywhere else, for that matter.

This vast network of tunnels under the city is filled – seriously, filled, as in floor to ceiling – with bones and skulls. The walls are literally lined with an unimaginable amount of dead people’s osseous remains in what would be the perfect setting for a horror movie. If you’ve ever played Diablo II http://www.blizzard.com/us/diablo2/ and wondered where they got the idea to build all the walls of skulls and bones, here is your answer.

Do not fail to see the Catacombs if you are in Paris. The sheer magnitude of death around you will be awe-inspiring.

#7 Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Otherwise known as Paro Taktsang, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (so named because according to legend a holy man flew there on the back of a tiger) is one of the most holy sites in Bhutan. Unfortunately, this means that if you not Bhutanese and not a Buddhist, your chances of being granted entry are pretty slim. Work on that.

You can still appreciate it quite well from across the valley. Which is good, because if you try to climb the path to the grounds you will be stopped by guards. Unless you are a Buddhist on a pilgrimage with special permission, in which case get on up. Built in 1692, the temple hangs on a cliff 10,000 feet high, over 2,000 feet above the bottom of the valley. Don’t look down, meditate.

#8 Kakadu National Park

From its 10,000 species of insects to nearly 300 species of birds, the Kakadu National Park in Australia pretty much has everything. Whatever, you say. There are plenty of nation parks with birds and bugs. And though the 1600 plant species of Kakadu dwarf most other national parks, it still doesn’t impress you. So why, you ask, must you see Kakadu http://www.environment.gov.au/parks/kakadu/?

Countless aboriginal cave paintings. The aboriginal people of Australia lived on the land for thousands of years, leaving behind various remnants of their culture including bizarre cave paintings that are definitely a must-see. And if you want something more modern and futuristic, you can always visit the uranium mines.

That’s right, uranium mines. Right in the middle of a national park. Yeah, we thought so.

#9 Maeklong Market

You can uncover tons of great finds in the open markets of Greece, or haggle and barter until your jaw falls off at the markets in Jerusalem, but the most audaciously located market is definitely the Maeklong Market in Thailand. When it comes to marketing, they have a one-track mind. A train track – one that runs right through the middle of the market.

A picture just doesn’t do it justice. You get a better idea from video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxeu0dzNUiY) or seeing it from the train (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ShmXmvNKWk&feature=related). Why would these people set up shop right on the tracks? Well, they just don’t know how to conduct themselves. Get it? Sorry.

Anyway, if you get bored of the market on the train tracks, the Ampawa Floating Market on boats isn’t far away. It’s no small wonder why the chain stores can’t get a foothold there.

#10 Victoria Falls

If you want to visit everywhere from A to Z, here’s your Z spot: The Zambezi river, between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Victoria Falls stretch across the entire Zambezi River, a full mile wide, and drop 400 feet to create the greatest waterfall on earth. You can’t miss it – especially since the mists of the waterfall are visible from nearly 40 miles away.

Also known as “the Smoke that Thunders”, due to the tremendous noise created from the cascading water, Victoria Falls was originally discovered by Dr. David Livingstone (I presume) who named them after the queen. The falls are a lot prettier than the queen, though, often presenting a luminous rainbow during the day and occasionally a lunar rainbow at night. The best time to visit the falls (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g293761-Victoria_Falls-Vacations.html) is between March and May, when the falls are at their highest flow rate.

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