Travel News

World’s Wackiest Theme Parks

Reversible Destiny LoftsIf you’re looking for the offbeat in your travels, we’ve got it here.

These six totally unique theme parks are located all around the world, from Texas to Lithuania to Japan, but they share one important thing in common: each and every one is, in its own way, deeply, deeply strange.

Haw Par Villa – Singapore

Haw Par EntranceHaw Par Villa, located in Singapore, was constructed in 1937 by the Aw family, inventors of the world-famous Tiger Balm heat rub. The villa has more than 1,000 statues and dioramas which depict scenes from Chinese mythology and history and promote Eastern philosophies such as Daoism and Buddhism.

This in itself makes the park a unique destination, but here’s what makes it, at least from the Western perspective, a tad bit weird: the incredibly graphic depictions of Buddhist hell. These harrowing scenes illustrate the gruesome punishments that result from such crimes as “disrespect to elders” and “disobedience to one’s siblings.”

Don’t miss the “Filthy Blood Pond,” where sinners wallow helplessly in a maelstrom of red swill. Admission is free.

Grutas Park – Druskininkai, Lithuania
Lenin in Grutas ParkWhen the Soviet Union fell, so did the many outsized statues of megalomaniacal Soviet leaders which had been erected throughout the USSR.

The big question: where did all those statues go? The answer: Grutas Park.

Run by eccentric mushroom-canning mogul and former heavyweight wrestling champion of Lithuania, Viliumas Malinauskas, the park was designated by Lithuania’s Ministry of Culture as the recipient of the Soviet monuments which were toppled when the country became independent.

Local residents have taken to calling the attraction “Stalin World” in dubious tribute to America’s “Disney World,” but this theme park bears little resemblance to Florida’s mecca of childlike wonder. This consciously ironic, oddball attraction aims to expose the evils of the “Soviet ideology which suppressed and hurt the spirit of our nation for many decades.”

Within the boundaries of Grutas Park—which, by the way, are marked off with barbed wire and guard towers, just like a Soviet prison camp—you’ll find 86 different monuments devoted to such Soviet leaders as Stalin and Lenin. While you’re there, check out the “mini-zoo,” and don’t forget to take the kids to the onsite playground.

Site of Reversible Destiny – Gifu, Japan

Reversible Destiny ParkAccording to its creators, the Site of Reversible Destiny is an “’experience park’ conceived on the theme of encountering the unexpected,” and the word “offbeat” really doesn’t begin to describe it. The park is the work of New York-based artist-filmmaker-architect-poet – philosophers Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, who have exhibited work on both sides of the Pacific and have jointly authored such books as “Making Dying Illegal.”

The park’s 13 attractions defy description. Take the “Critical Resemblance House,” which is touted to be a “convention-breaking structure offering visitors a wide range of intriguing perceptual and cognitive experiences.” The roof of the structure is shaped like Japan’s Gifu prefecture. The interior is mazelike, with a number of entrances and exits. Furniture, faucets and beds are everywhere: on the floor, on the ceiling, under the floor. Sound confusing?

Thankfully, the “Critical Resemblance House” comes with its own set of instructions, all of which are as direct and unequivocal as the following example: “Strive to find a marked resemblance between yourself and the house. If by chance you fail to do so, proceed even so as though the house were your identical twin.” Well, that certainly clears things up! The park has 12 other befuddling structures/attractions/things to enter/explore/encounter/puzzle over. Have fun!

Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure – Fair Oaks, Indiana

Fair Oaks DairyFair Oaks Dairy Adventure lies smack in the middle of that endless expense of Indiana farm country where the terrain is unrelentingly flat and corn and soybean fields stretch as far as the eye can see.

You may have assumed there was no reason to exit the I-65 freeway until you reached Chicago, but be honest – didn’t you always want to learn how to attach a milking machine to a cow’s udder? You’ll get a hands-on lesson (with a life-size inanimate cow) at the onsite museum’s interactive exhibit, and you can time yourself to see how you compare with the pros.

Didn’t you always want to have a peek inside a real birthing barn? Wait outside for the green light, which means a baby calf is about to be born.

Didn’t you always want to see an honest-to-goodness 4D movie about how a cow’s multiple stomachs convert grass into cow patties? Then enter the “Dairy Adventure Theater 4D” and watch the facility’s campy and oddly entertaining film, which explains the bovine digestive system in graphic detail.

You’ll find out what “4D” means when the cow, er, lightens its load. The cynical may accuse this place of being a glorified PR vehicle for the enormous industrialized dairy operation that maintains it, and perhaps that’s the case, but Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure is nevertheless a unique, entertaining and thoroughly offbeat attraction.

Forbidden Gardens – Katy, Texas

Forbidden Gardens Katy TexasKaty, Texas is about as far from China as you can get, but that didn’t stop entrepreneur Ira P. H. Poon from constructing a vast, painstakingly constructed monument to the country’s monuments in this small town near Houston.

Check out the one-third scale model terracotta warriors, all 6000 of them carefully reproduced from the originals in Xi’an. Wander through a Forbidden City that’s one-fortieth the size of the Beijing original but, at 40,000 square feet, is still pretty darn big (a sheet-metal pavilion has been constructed around the City to prevent it from decaying in the heat and humidity of its non-native Texas).

Calm your heart in the Calming of the Heart Lodge, a.k.a. the Summer Palace, a reproduction of the imperial gardens in Beijing. Who ever thought of rebuilding China in south Texas? Mr. Poon did, and his replicas are one-of-a-kind.

Suoi Tien Theme Park – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Suoi Tien theme parkThe concept of the religious theme park is nothing new. There are several Christian theme parks throughout the world, and there are even a few that promote Eastern religions and philosophies (such as the Haw Par Villa mentioned above).

Nonetheless, it seems probable that Suoi Tien is the only theme park in the world based on Chinese/Southeast Asian animism. Instead of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy, Suoi Tien boasts the dragon, the unicorn, the tortoise, and the phoenix, the four animals which people of ancient times believed were sacred.

The park’s biggest draw seems to be Tien Dong beach, an unusual “lazy river” sort of attraction where gigantic carved faces, apparently representing some aspect of Eastern mythology, watch over beachgoers.

Suoi Tien also has a rollercoaster, a Ferris wheel, and pretty much everything else you would expect a full-scale amusement park to have, all of it infused with a uniquely Eastern flavor. Unfortunately, the only one of the sacred animals which exists in live form at the park is the tortoise, but the others are most certainly there in spirit.

By Mike Day for

If you like this article, don’t miss Signs in China: A Guide to Understanding Common “Engrish” Expressions.

And if you’re into the offbeat, check out the World’s 10 Most Unusual Hotels.

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