8 Mind-Melting Real Places That Look Like Fantasy Worlds

When God created our planet, everything went well ... for the most part. The platypus could use some explaining, but all this oxygen was an excellent call. This whole planet thing? It's reasonably good work. B+. And yet some places on Earth seem like the result of a long night and a little too much stardust. But double-take as many times as you like, these places are real.

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8
Dallol Volcano In Ethiopia Looks Like A Melted Crayon Box

Ryan Menezes

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The Dallol volcanic crater may look like a level of Super Mario World, but its lovely hues are the result of mixing unlovely salt, acid, toxic vapors, and suppurating magma. Although the volcano last erupted nearly a century ago, hardly anyone knew it was there until recently. Unfortunately, that also means you'll probably never get to see it.

Ryan Menezes
Which is ironic, since it sort of stands out.

The first problem is getting there. Tourists have the option of renting a four-wheeler in the nearest town (a day's drive away), but otherwise you're going by camel. If you survive the ride, you can look forward to the hottest temperatures ever recorded in an inhabited area, boiling hot springs, and toxic fumes. There are bodies of water that serve as pressure valves for the toxic gases lurking below, fittingly called "poison water pools." It's not just a name. They will kill you. But they sure are pretty.

DavorLovincic/iStock
Yeah, that looks refreshing. Who wouldn't want a sip?

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Also, the area hasn't been so stable recently. A large part of why the site was so little-known is that prior to 2001, foreigners weren't even allowed in the vicinity. It may have been for our own good. Tourists risk going toe-to-toe with local outlaws, who have killed at least five of them and injured or kidnapped many others. On the plus side, the armed guards you'll have to hire look hilariously photoshopped on this terrain:

Michel Hanse/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Great camo, guys. It's like you're not even there.

7
An Alien Light Display In Northern Ontario

Timmy Joe/YouTube

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It may look like Goku is gathering energy from everybody on the planet in order to use the Genki Dama, but it's actually plain old light pillars. Oh, you don't have those where you live? They seem neither plain nor old? We'll break it down. Light pillars happen on particularly cold nights when ice crystals, which are usually hanging out way up in the atmosphere where they belong, forget their place and drop by to just hang. The light reflecting off nearby cars and other sources illuminates them, making the sky look like a Blade Runner background. This rare event occurred in early 2017 in northern Ontario, whose residents understandably flipped the fuck out.

Timmy Joe/YouTube
"Everybody run! Independence Day was right all along!"

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In Niagara Falls, where light pillars are somewhat more common, UFO reports skyrocket whenever the phenomenon occurs. It's hard to blame them; if we saw that shit, we'd be disappointed if we didn't get beamed up.

6
The Hang Son Doong Cave In Vietnam Makes The Mines Of Moria Look Tiny

Nguyen Tan Tin/flickr

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Only the locals knew about Hang Son Doong's existence up until 1991, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that it's the largest cave in the world, at 200 meters in its tallest chamber. This seems like a hard thing to miss:

Gregg Jaden/PetaPixel
Presumably he's standing in that spot until the dragon who undoubtedly lives there gets back.

Parts of the cave roof have collapsed, allowing sunshine to enter and vegetation to flourish, much like that pot of chili you left out and forgot about for two weeks. There's even a river running through the thing, creating many an internet-dweller's dream come true: an outside on the inside.

vinhdav/iStock
"Finally, a place that looks like a Skyrim map to ... er ... sit around and play Skyrim in."

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The cave was opened to the public in 2013, and between February and August, it hosts its own mini Burning Man. Only those months are open because rain floods the place for the rest of the year, water-blasting all the hippies away like a Texas fire department.

vinhdav/iStock
"Better bring tents. It's not like we'll be fucking indoors or anything."

5
The Underwater Waterfall In Mauritius Island Looks Like A Wound In The World

Google Earth

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"Underwater waterfall" sounds like an oxymoron, but as you can see, it's a real thing. The "waterfall" effect is created by sand runoffs and silt deposits highlighting the unique way the water flows around the enormous coral reef beneath the surface. Mauritius Island is already a paradise, what with its white sand beaches and tropical plantlife. When you factor in that crazy split in the world up there, it's almost not fair to the other tropical islands. Leave some tourism for the rest of us, you greedy bitch.

GoodOlga/iStock
Could you stop looking like a heavenly paradise for two seconds, please? Some of us are stuck in Jersey.

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4
Lake Baikal In Siberia Is A Magical Ice Palace

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Baikal is the biggest and deepest lake in the world. It contains 20 percent of all fresh water on the planet. That's crazy enough, but the water is also perfectly transparent and freezes unevenly, creating the most bizarre patterns you'll see outside of a first-year art school show.

Streluk/iStock
The bubbles are methane gas, meaning Baikal Lake even farts majestically.

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If the water starts to freeze during early winter, pressure draws strange lines on the ice, giving the impression of a giant spider web. It's apparently not dangerous, but you wouldn't catch us out there gambling against the Frozen Spider Pope.

NickolayV/iStock
Sure, those lines may not be giant webs, but if there is a web, there's no way you're seeing it.

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Lake Baikal is one of the oldest lakes known, having been around for about 25 million years, and scientists tend to get excited about that sort of thing. There's a super telescope built beneath it, dedicated to the study of neutrinos. That's right, we're learning about space by looking underwater. Because science likes fucking with you.

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3
The Yuanyang Rice Terraces In China Look Like Stained Glass

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Quick quiz: Is that a stained glass window or a sunset viewed through severely broken eyeballs?

BIHAIBO/iStock
"Broken eyeballs" being the polite way of saying "A big sack of hallucinogenic drugs."

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The answer, of course, is neither. Because much like Science, we too enjoy fucking with you. That's a picture of the Yuanyang mountain rice terraces, and unbelievably not a painting of the Yuanyang mountain rice terraces. They were carved out hundreds of years ago by the Hani people for agricultural purposes, and have been messing with people's sense of perspective ever since.

Jialiang Gao/Peace-on-earth.org
And suddenly we're disappointed with any agriculture which can't pass for a Magic Eye poster.

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2
Two Worlds Colliding In Geneva

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Good job, everyone. We did it. We broke the world.

This kind of thing is what happens when two rivers of different speeds and/or consistencies meet. This particular confluence is found in Geneva, Switzerland, and it's one of the most distinguishable, looking for all the world like two rivers that simply cannot get along.

benkrut/iStock
And apparently settled on the "line down the center of the room" sitcom solution.

The river on the left is the Rhone, coming from Lehman Lake. The river on the right is the Arve, which receives the water from the glaciers of the Chamonix valley (mostly the Mer de Glace). They flow from the north, meet one another, and engage in an epic aquatic battle mostly imperceptible to us mere mortals. In the end, they mix with each other, as the Rhone ends up winning the struggle.

Google Earth
Psh. It's always the pretty one.

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1
The Real Tunnel Of Love In Ukraine

Alex_Ishchenko/iStock

Although it's definitely also an entryway to one of Miss Peregrine's time loops, the Tunnel of Love is the most romantic place on Earth, and we owe it all to lazy landscaping. It looks like that because it is continuously shaped by a train that runs through it several times a day.

Ake13bk/iStock
So maybe a series of violent train collisions isn't the perfect allegory for romance.

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Originally, that leafy cover served a purpose: It hid trains running to a secret military base during the Cold War. As covert ops gave way to lumber transport, nobody bothered to do away with the natural camouflage, which eventually crept into the tracks. The only thing keeping the path open at all is the train running through it so regularly, penetrating that tight foliage like ... ohhhhh we get the "tunnel of love" thing now.

ivan_m/iStock
"You know, sometimes the train enters the tunnel from the other direction."

It's a popular spot for wedding photos, and superstition holds that if a couple crosses the tunnel while holding hands and makes a wish, it'll come true. Or they'll get hit by a train. That's honestly a good metaphor for love.

What's really important about seeing fantastical sights is bragging about them later. Print out your photos with this and shove them in everyone's faces.

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