You Can Visit This Abandoned, Ivy-Covered Town in China for Just 50 Cents

Johannes Eisele, AFP/Getty Images
Johannes Eisele, AFP/Getty Images

Houtouwan, a once-thriving Chinese fishing village located about 40 miles southeast of Shanghai, is now empty and eerily overgrown with ivy. Well, not entirely empty—the abandoned town has become a popular tourist destination since it was "rediscovered" by travelers in 2015, as Travel+Leisure reports.

Located on Shengshan, one of 394 islands that make up the Shengsi archipelago, the town was home to 2000 people in the '90s. However, when villagers could no longer compete with commercial fishing operations in Shanghai, they picked up and moved to the mainland in search of better opportunities. Some left all of their furniture and belongings behind, which can still be seen if you peer inside some of the abandoned homes.

Only a few people still live in the village, including tour guides ready to cater to curious tourists who find themselves captivated by the half-ruined buildings blanketed in plants and vines. "It feels like this place belonged to nature from the very beginning, and the old invaders finally left, and nature finally made it back," Huang Dan, a recent visitor to the town, told the Associated Press.

Houtouwan village
Johannes Eisele, AFP/Getty Images

Last year, a tourist entry fee of 50 yen (about 50 cents) was enacted in the town. The destination is popular among hikers and has a dirt path that winds through the village and up the hill. (Emphasis on "uphill": It's a two-hour hike, so be sure to bring good walking shoes.)

According to National Geographic, the journey from mainland China to the town of Houtouwan takes about five hours by bus and ferry, and it's easy to get lost. (A videographer and photographer spent 36 hours trying to get there because they couldn't find the right ferries or connections.) Per the magazine's directions:

From Shanghai, you can go to the Nanpu Bridge Bus Station and take a bus and ferry ride to Shengshan Island or to Gouqi Island, which is connected to Shengshan via bridge. That commute alone takes about four hours. From there, you can take a taxi to Houtouwan and hike through the village and the surrounding area. When you see a big temple, you're getting close.

As for whether any ghosts inhabit this ghost town, there isn't much to fear. One longtime resident told the AP, "I've lived in this world for such a long time, and have never met one."

[h/t Travel+Leisure]

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

The Massive Elvis Festival That Rocks One Tiny Australian Town Every January

Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

For one weekend each the year, Elvis Presley is alive and well in Parkes, Australia. The tiny town hosts the Parkes Elvis Festival during the second weekend of every January to mark the music legend's birthday on January 8. In 2019, the event attracted a record 27,000 guests to the showground—more than twice Parkes's usual population of 11,400, Smithsonian reports.

Elvis fans Bob and Anne Steel held the first-ever festival in 1993 at their restaurant, Gracelands. On top of being an excuse to throw a birthday party for their favorite celebrity, they set up the festival to draw tourists to Parkes during the region's brutally hot off-season. (During a record heat wave in January 2017, Parkes experienced a high temperature of 114.6°F.)

While the first festival lasted one night and had an attendance of just a few hundred people, it has since grown into a five-day affair with an international reputation. Visitors come from around the world to celebrate the music, fashion, and dance moves of The King. It's a large enough event that festival-goers have the option to travel to Parkes from Sydney via special trains dubbed the Blue Suede Express and the Elvis Express. On board, they're treated to the company of Elvis impersonators and performances by Elvis tribute artists for the six-hour journey.

Guests who made it to this year's Elvis Festival from January 9 to 13 took part in ukulele lessons, Elvis-themed bingo, "Elvis the Pelvis" dance sessions, and a Q&A with Elvis impersonators. This year's Northparkes Mines Street Parade, one of the festival's main events, included more than 180 floats, vintage vehicles, bands, and walking processions paying homage to the icon.

Competitions are usually a big part of the festival, with both Elvis Presley and Miss Priscilla look-alikes facing off on stage. This year, the "Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist' crown went to 22-year-old Brody Finlay, the youngest winner in the event's history.

Each year, the Elvis Presley festival returns to Parkes with a new theme, giving Elvis fans an incentive to keep coming back. This year, the theme "All Shook Up" celebrated the 1950s era. In 2020, festival organizers are preparing to celebrate the 1966 Elvis comedy Frankie and Johnny.

Can't make it to Australia? Grab a bite of Elvis at one of these American eateries inspired by The King.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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