Friday, October 28, 2011

Some of the Spookier Places I'd Like to Visit

In light of the season, I was thinking about some of the more creepy places I would like to visit. Here's a list of 10 that I think few would find comforting in anyway.
Reaching up from Hell

Wat Rong Khun
Wat Rong Khun in Chang Rai, Thailand, is still under construction. A controversial modern temple, it is part traditional Buddhist temple, part white-frosted wedding cake, and part avant-garde art. Visitors must cross a bridge to the temple over a field of fangs and hundreds of pleading white arms and suffering faces of statues reaching up from hell. The temple is dominated by a stark whiteness but inside and throughout other areas of the temple compound, including the toilets, are highlighted with sparkling gold.

Chandelier in Sedlec Ossuary
In Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, the Sedlec monastery is home to a very old crypt. A popular burial site for centuries, residents were victims of plague outbreaks and Hussite Wars. In the 1870s a local woodcarver was hired to make creative use of the bones that had been piling up in the crypt. This was no minor task: the Sedlec Ossuary contains the remains of over 40,000 people, many of which were used to decorate the chapel. The effect is a macabre yet beautiful scene: elaborate light fixtures, arrays of bells, furnishings, splashy wall treatments and coats of arms are all recreated from skulls and bones of all sizes. Is that chandelier staring back at you?

Ryugyong Hotel
The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, has been under construction since 1987. The massive and still unfinished 105-story hotel looks like a luxury hotel designed for Mordor. Esquire described the hotel as "the worst building in the history of mankind. The epithet "Hotel of Doom" is quite fitting. Construction halted due to lack of funding, and the partially completed building stood windowless and looming ominously over the city for sixteen years before work resumed in 2008. The design was strikingly modern at the outset but time has not been kind, it now looks simultaneously menacing, dated, and unconscionably extravagant juxtaposed with the impoverished populace.

Dongyue Temple
Department of Implementing 15 kinds of Death
The Dongyue Temple is Beijing's most morbid shrine. The operating Taoist shrine of Dongyue Temple is an unsettling but fascinating place to visit. Stepping through the entrance you find yourself in Taoist Hades, where tormented spirits reflect on their wrongdoings. The 'Life and Death Department" is a spiritual place to ponder your eventual demise, the "Department for Wondering Ghosts" and the "Department for Implementing 15 kinds of Violent Death" have slightly less inviting names, while the ill might seek out the "Deep-Rooted Disease Department". Other halls are less morbid, but no less interesting. The best experience can be had during the Chinese New Year or Mid-Autumn Festival.
Department for Demons and Monsters

Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, MO
I cannot say how many times I've gone by the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis without taking the time to stop. It's reputed to be one of the USA's most haunted houses. St. Louis' Lemp Mansion has a long history of odd occurrences. Charles Lemp committed suicide in the house in 1949 and strange things have taken place at the house ever since. Door swing open spontaneously, glasses leave off table and break, and a tragically short-lived reality TV Show, are just a few examples. Today, the mansion operates as a restaurant and inn that capitalizes on the morbid fame through murder mystery dinner theatre, Halloween parties and weekly tours by a noted "paranormal investigator".

Scott Monument
The Scott Monument in Edinburgh, Scotland, is a spiky Gothic fantasy with more than a passing resemblance to a Thai temple. It's the monument to Sir Walter Scott and a fixture of the Edinburgh skyline. It stands only 61 meters high so the climb to the top doesn't sound too daunting until you find yourself wedged into the preposterously tiny spiral staircase. The final curve is so notoriously tight that squeezing yourself through the final doorway requires the flexibility of a spelunker. Edinburgh mystery writer Ian Rankin once set the scene of the crime at the top of the Scott Monument, with much of the story focusing on the physics of getting a stiff cadaver down the twisty staircase. Bill Bryson has described it as looking like a "gothic rocket ship".

Catacombe Dei Cappuccini
The Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo, Italy houses inhabitants all decked out in their Sunday best. Unfortunately, that Sunday was several hundred years ago, and the outfits have fared significantly better than the wearers. The mummified bodies of skeletons of some 8000 Palermitans from the 1600s through the 1800s are kept in the catacombs for all to see, some so well preserved that they look eerily lifelike. Men and women occupy separate corridors, and within the women's area there's a special virgin-only section. Spooky for adults, probably terrifying for the kiddies.

Chornobyl Reactor #4
Abandoned Ferris Wheel
Chornobyl Reactor #4 in the Ukraine is the famous site of the world's biggest nuclear disaster. The 30 KM-radius exclusion zone is has been mostly uninhabited since 1986. Still, limited tours have been available since 2002 for those curious enough to get a glimpse of the industrial ghost town but aren't put off by the ominous click of a Geiger counter. Factories, homes, schools, and a very creepy abandoned amusement park stand decaying and choked with weeds, but remain otherwise like they looked at the time of the disaster.

Ottawa Jail Hostel
The Ottawa Jail Hostel in Canada seems to be the basis for a horror movie. Where else can you spend the night in the slammer? And what better than a slammer that is haunted by the spirits of former inmates that was also deemed unsuitable for prisoners due to appalling conditions? Opened in 1862, the Carleton County Gaol was in operation for over a century, but it was hardly a hit with the prisoners who complained of cramped conditions and sanitation problems. It might not have been suitable for prisoners at the time, but if you're a traveller on a tight budget and don't mind that your room happens to be a prison cell and your bunkmate might be spectral, it's perfect. As a "prisoner" today, your punishment includes parking, wifi, and a games lounge.

White Alice
White Alice is located above Nome, Alaska, overlooking the town and the Bering Straits from the top of Anvil Mountain. A weird Cold War relic, from down in the town it looks like a bizarre space-aged Stonehenge. From a closer view, it could be a film set for a shoot of the Victorian-era War of the Worlds. The four strange corrugated-iron sound reflector structures were intended for listening to suspicious Soviet activity. A gold-rush town a century ago and the finishing line for the Iditarod dog-sled race today, Nome is the perfect example of a honky-tonk, almost-at-the-Arctic-Circle frontier town. For a real Alaskan experience visit White Alice during the Midnight sun.

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