Ready for a little summer wanderlust?
How about a trip that involves only small towns across the globe? We mean everything from wooden towns to mountain towns. America has the tiny towns of Monowi and PhinDeli Town Buford while Spain has the Setenil de las Bodegas, all quirky in their own way.
For a taste of totally different, visit the sprawling expanse that is Garbage City in Manshiyat Naser, Egypt. Garbage City is home to Egypt’s largest informal rubbish picker settlement. The residents here, known as the Zabbaleen, make a living by collecting, sorting and recycling most of Cairo’s garbage.
With no running water, garbage in the streets and poor infrastructure, there are still almost 50,000 residents that call those “mean” streets home.
The Earth is packed with these type of small towns and communities, each with their own quirks. Dust off that passport, it’s time to hop on a plane…
10. Thames Town, China – “Europe In China”
In 2001, the Chinese government had a novel idea to help with housing for the increasing population. Through the “One City, Nine Towns” project, several European-style communities were constructed. Taking design inspiration from six countries, they sought to create low-cost apartments in the suburbs of Shanghai.
With names like Holland Town, Thames Town and Spanish Town, they hoped to bring a slice of Europe to China. The developments painstakingly copied details from the towns they mimicked.
With architecture copied from buildings in England, Thames Town included a church, pubs, red telephone booths, a chippie and even cobbled streets. The city center of nearby Nederland is crowned by massive windmills and mini canals. Paris Town even has its own mini Eiffel Tower.
9. Kodinhi, India – “Twin Town”
Cândido Godói, Igbo-Ora , Kodinhi; what do these three villages in South America, Africa and Asia have in common? They boast some of the highest number of twin births anywhere in the world.
While scientists still can’t explain why some regions have a high occurrence of twin births, there might be one answer in Cândido Godói. Historians claim the twinning rate there is a result of passive experiments conducted by the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele. Fleeing from the war, he settled here in the early 1960s, serving as the vet and local doctor for many years. Villagers recall he always drew blood and gave them tablets and potions.
India has one of the lowest twinning rates in the world, which makes the occurrence of twins in Kodinhi stand out. With 220 sets of twins born to 2,000 families, the reasons are still not known. A study in 2009 found that the number of twins is still increasing with each passing year.
8. Slab City, California – “The Last Free Place In America”
Deep in the California desert is the remains of an old military barracks which has developed into a kind of RV camp. Abandoned by the state, Slab City has no running water, no plumbing and is surrounded by the concrete slabs remaining from the barracks. Yet there are over 100 folks living here all year round.
In winter, the numbers swell up to almost 3,000 as elderly campers arrive in their RVs and park for a few months at a time. Residents have different reasons for settling out here; some blame the cost of living in towns while other just want the solitude of an off-grid lifestyle.
With no laws in place, the community is governed by mutual respect and residents are proud to call Slab City “The Last Free Place in America”.
7. Huaxi, China – “The Richest Village In China”
Standing at 328 m tall, the Zengdi Kongzhong New Village Building is the 59th tallest building in the world. But if you went looking around Shanghai for it, you wouldn’t find it. This mammoth structure is built in a field in the village of Huaxi, east of Jiangyin.
What’s the 26th tallest building in China doing in a village? Huaxi, also known as “the richest village in China”, was founded in 1961 as a farming community. Under the guidance of Wu Renbao, it quickly developed into a manufacturing epicenter for steel and textiles. With more companies establishing factories there, the village income grew rapidly, with up to $1.56 billion in 2003. All citizens are well taken care of with free health-care, a free (brand new) car for all adults, luxurious houses and company stock.
Some say the tower is a “typically Chinese” way of showing off new money. The village claims the tower is an investment; a section of it has been converted to the 2,000 room Longxi International Hotel.
Oh, and the 60th floor of the tower boasts a unique bust: a solid gold ox.
6. Drvengrad, Bosnia – “The Movie Village Set”
Avid movie fans are quick to spot iconic movie props; they even go out of their way to visit film sets. You’ll probably never see the inside of Skywalker Ranch, but if you happen to visit Brooklyn, stop by the Greenpoint area. This is where the makers of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire constructed a 300 foot boardwalk for the show, and it’s still there.
But how about spending the night on an actual movie set? For the 2004 film, Life Is a Miracle, director Emir Kusturica built a traditional village set. Instead of demolishing it at the end of the shoot, he moved in and opened the doors to other creative types.
This all-timber “artist commune” has a library, an artist gallery, a cinema, sports hall, a church, and many other unique structures. The village also hosts the annual Küstendorf Film and Music Festival. Kusturica liked the idea so much that he has built another town, Andricgrad, a few miles away.
5. Malana, India – “The Mountain Village”
In the mountains of Himachal Pradesh lies the village of Malana which had been pretty isolated for centuries. But with no law books, constitution or policemen, the 1,500 villagers live in mutual harmony. Malana is considered to be one of the world’s oldest successful democracies.
Allowing visitors in for the first time in 2009, the Malani have a strict set of rules. To avoid angering their village God Jamlu, visitors to the village can’t touch the walls of the houses, any of the people or their food, and many more.
Surrounded by an eco-system rich in bio-diversity, the Malani survive by herding sheep and goats. These days, they have become known for growing some of the highest quality hashish, Malana Cream, in India.
4. Miracle Village, Florida – “Sex Offender Village”
Have you ever seen a village with no kids around? Well, you just found one.
All the inhabitants of this small town outside Pahokee, have one thing in common: they’re all registered sex offenders. Under Florida law, sex offenders cannot be within 1, 000 feet of a minor or places where children congregate. This includes schools, parks, even a bus stop; needless to say, this makes finding a home difficult.
This led to the establishment of the town in 2009 by a Christian ministry to help offenders find a place to live. Also known as the City of Refuge, the village used to be a barracks for workers on the U.S. Sugar Company in the 1960s. The commune has strict rules and keeps out anyone with a history of violence, drug use and pedophilia.
3. Center for Innovation Testing and Evaluation (CITE), New Mexico – “The Test-Subject Ghost Town”
Unlike China’s Thames Town, CITE was never meant to be inhabited. So why did a firm spend over a billion dollars to build a typical urban metropolis? CITE is basically a huge LEGO set, built to test new sustainable infrastructure technologies. With all the trappings of a modern city – i.e. built to code, with schools, homes, roads – the only thing missing is actual residents.
Covering a 20 mile area in the New Mexico desert, it will solely be used as an urban planning tool to test innovations in energy and transportation systems.
2. The Villages, Florida – “Disney World For Retirees”
This gated retirement village in Florida is home to the largest community of retired folk: over 100, 000 in the world. With rules like nobody under 19 is allowed to live there permanently and children spending only 30 days a year, one would feel the residents are a pretty laid back bunch.
However, residents at the self-styled “Friendliest Place of Earth” end up in the news for not-so-laid-back reasons. Everything from drunk driving in golf carts, sex in public, illegal drug use and bar fights. With all this going on, it’s no wonder some have nicknamed it “Disney World for Retirees.”
In 2014, 68-year old resident Peggy Klemm was arrested after allegedly having sex with her 49-year-old lover, David Bobilya, in a public square! The local bar promptly created a drink named after her. You can get the “Sex on the Square” cocktail for only $3.75!
1. Coober Pedy, Australia
Ever thought about visiting an invisible town?
Established in 1915, Coober Pedy is the largest opal mining site in the world and a major supplier of gem-quality opal. But if you visit the town, 846 km north of Adelaide, you may initially consider yourself lost. That’s because you won’t see any houses; you’d be forgiven for thinking the miners are trucked in every day.
But they’re not.
The entire town of Coober Pedy is right there, under your feet. Homes, bars, churches, stores, even an art gallery are all underground. The Australian outback is one of the most inhospitable regions of the world, with surface temperatures rising up to 50oC during the day.
To work in these conditions, the 3,000 miners came up with an ingenious plan. They carved out their homes and businesses into the clay hills and ground. Called dugouts, their homes don’t lack any modern comfort; they’ve got it all including kitchens, closets and televisions.
What are you waiting for? Like we said, the Earth is full of little towns with personality, these are only a tiny selection. These small towns won’t remain small or retain their quirkiness forever. C’mon, it’s time to do some travelling…