Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Travel + Leisure

GET UPDATES FROM Travel + Leisure
 

The Strangest Towns On Earth (PHOTOS)

Posted: 02/07/2013 7:00 am

Deep in the California desert exists a strange, lawless town, where folks live without running water, yet create outdoor art installations and host concerts.

Slab City, CA, is unafraid to embrace its quirks, and it's one of a rare breed of towns that draw travelers for their novelty factor at a time when the world feels increasingly homogeneous, teeming with high-rises and chain stores. After all, we're not talking about just an offbeat tourist attraction; these places take strange to a whole new level.

Consider Thames Town: the Chinese knack for knockoffs has spawned this full-on replica of an English town in a suburb of Shanghai, complete with cobblestoned streets and red phone booths. Have a pint at the pub, post the photo to Facebook, and your friends will be none the wiser.

While every town has a story, these strange spots have the best punch lines.

--Alison Lowenstein

More from Travel + Leisure:
Vote in Travel + Leisure's 2013 World's Best Awards Survey
America's Prettiest Winter Towns
World's Strangest Bridges
World's Strangest Statues

Loading Slideshow...
  • Longyearbyen, Norway

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-strangest-towns/9" title="World's Strangest Towns" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Strangest Towns</a><br><br> There is no dying allowed in this remote Arctic town—well, you can die, but you can’t be buried here. You heard that right: no body has been buried in the local cemetery in almost a hundred years. Why? The perpetually frigid temperatures prohibit corpses from properly decomposing. Following the influenza epidemic of 1917, Longyearbyen banned burials in the town’s graveyard. The local polar bear population rivals the human one, and it’s not abnormal for the townspeople to shoot a bear in self-defense (hunting is illegal). Even after a polar bear takes its last breath in this mining town, it must also be sent away for its final resting spot.<br><br> <em>Photo © Marina Gotovchits</em><br>

  • Monowi, NE

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-strangest-towns/9" title="World's Strangest Towns" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Strangest Towns</a><br><br> Everyone in town knows the name Elsie Eiler, and it’s not just because she’s the mayor—she’s the sole resident. The population had been diminishing since the 1930s, when this northern Nebraskan town had 150 residents, and by 2000, it was down to one couple: Elsie and her husband, Rudy, who has since passed away. Now in her mid-70s, Eiler serves beer at the Monowi Tavern (with an official liquor license) and turned her late husband’s collection of 5,000 books into a one-room public library.<br><br> <em>Photo &copy; Tom McLaughlin</em><br>

  • Elista, Russia

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-strangest-towns/9" title="World's Strangest Towns" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Strangest Towns</a><br><br> The king is threatened daily in this Russian town because here, it’s all about chess. Play a game on the enormous chessboard painted on the ground in the Town Square or head to Chess City, a domed complex that hosted the 1998 Chess Olympiad. Indeed, some of the world’s finest chess players have paid a visit to Elista, which is the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia. Its other strange claim to fame is being the only Buddhist region in Europe; Elista’s chess complex includes a museum of Buddhist art.<br><br> <em>Photo &copy; Ray Nayler</em><br>

  • Gibsonton, FL

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-strangest-towns/9" title="World's Strangest Towns" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Strangest Towns</a><br><br> For decades Gibsonton (a.k.a. Showtown) was the spot where carnival and circus folks spent the winter and where many chose to retire. The statue of a giant boot pays tribute to a past resident, Al Tomaini, a circus giant with size 27 shoes. For stories of more colorful local characters, stop by Showtown Bar and Grill. Still catering to the circus community, the town allows folks to leave circus trailers and elephants on the lawn. Just a short drive from Tampa, Gibsonton is also home to the International Independent Showmen’s Association, which runs the Museum of the American Carnival.<br><br> <em>Photo &copy; Bob Snead</em><br>

  • Thames Town, China

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-strangest-towns/9" title="World's Strangest Towns" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Strangest Towns</a><br><br> The Chinese reputation for knockoffs and enthusiasm for European products has spawned this full-on replica of an English town in a suburb of Shanghai, complete with cobblestoned streets and red phone booths. You can have a pint at the pub and a snack at the local chip shop and—rather less authentically—pose by statues of James Bond and Harry Potter. The faux-English backdrop is popular with couples taking wedding photos. <br><br> <em>Photo &copy; Marc van der Chijs</em><br>

  • Lily Dale, NY

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-strangest-towns/9" title="World's Strangest Towns" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Strangest Towns</a><br><br> If watching <em>Long Island Medium</em> is your guilty pleasure, you must visit Lily Dale, a town of noted psychics in upstate New York. The town hosts lectures and was also the focus of a HBO documentary. Make an appointment with one of the many mediums in the town or attend a service at the Healing Temple. Either way, you will find yourself connecting with spiritual forces in this unique village of enlightened folks. Many find themselves drawn to meditate at the town’s Forest Temple. (Note that Lily Dale is a gated community; registered medium services are available year round, but most events are held exclusively in summer, when there is a gate fee of $5­–10 per person; <a href="http://lilydaleassembly.com" target="_hplink">lilydaleassembly.com</a>.)<br><br> <em>Photo &copy; Frank Kasperek</em><br>

  • Slab City, CA

    <a href="http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/worlds-strangest-towns/9" title="World's Strangest Towns" target="_hplink">See More of the World's Strangest Towns</a><br><br> There are no laws in this California town on the site of an old World War II Marine barracks in the desert near the Salton Sea. You know you’ve arrived when you see Salvation Mountain, a large installation by artist Leonard Knight. While there’s no running water, the town does have an open-air nightclub called the Range, run by a resident and with performances by local musicians on Saturday nights. The town attracts a mixed crowd of snowbird RV owners and folks really trying to live off the grid.<br><br> <em>Photo &copy;<a href="http://www.mediajewell.com/" target="_hplink"> Jessica Jewell</a></em><br>

 

Follow Travel + Leisure on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TravlandLeisure

FOLLOW CANADA