Dream Trips 2004

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you choose? We've figured out the smartest, cheapest ways to experience seven of the world's wonders. It's time to stop dreaming and start exploring.

WHO KNEW? Just coming to pay your respects? Skip the mansion tour and spend some time at the graves; that's free from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in winter). Area hotels are booked solid during the week leading up to the August 16 anniversary of Presley's (alleged) death. In any event, you can save by staying in the huge $30 rooms at the new casinos of Tunica, Miss., an easy 30 miles south on U.S. 61. --RB

Angkor Wat Siem Reap, Cambodia

A thousand years ago, this metropolis of tumbledown temples was the seat of Southeast Asia's mighty Khmer culture. This sprawling collection of palaces, causeways, and monasteries (the most famous of which is the corncob-spired namesake, Angkor Wat) was overgrown by the jungle in the 1400s, and not until the mid-1800s was this mysterious Lost City seen by Europeans. French anthropologists reassembled much of the ruins, but Cambodia's apocalyptic civil war in the '70s once again made it a no-man's-land. Today, peaceful and cleared of mines, its crenellated towers and murky kapok-tree-clogged moats inspire national pride in Cambodians-and Indiana Jones delusions in Westerners.

GETTING THERE: First fly to Bangkok, which costs $600 from the West Coast on a good day in late spring; last May, Gate 1 Travel (800/682-3333, gate1travel.com) charged $639 for flights plus five nights' hotel. There, cruise the cheap travel agents of Khao San Road and buy a ticket for the 50-minute flight (typically $150 each way) to Siem Reap, the modernized tourist town servicing Angkor Wat. Upon arrival, you'll pay $20 cash (bring greenbacks) for a tourist visa.

YOU MADE IT: Although the place sounds inaccessible beyond imagination, it's as easy to see as any other world-class tourist site. Three-day entry passes to Angkor Wat cost $40; weeklong ones, $60. Then slip on your boots and hire your own guide at local rates. Just $20 a day gets you an accredited English-speaking guide who'll escort you around the 300-square-kilometer park on a moped. At night (and in the afternoon, when the heat gets ugly), crash at Bakong Guest House (1 Sivatha St., 011-855/63-380-126), which does free airport runs and charges $15 for a single and $20 for a double for air-conditioned rooms (a must). Two sites you shouldn't miss are Bayon, the temple studded with spooky staring faces like some sort of living chessboard, and Ta Prohm, where you can clamber through caved-in galleries and root-chewed breezeways. There's food and drink for sale at kiosks throughout the park, and vendors hawk vibrant local fabrics for a few bucks each-bring them home as presents and lie about what you spent.

WHO KNEW? If you can, time your visit for the week of April 13, the Khmer New Year, when rural Cambodians (many of whom have never seen Westerners like you before) throng this national treasure for picnics, festivities, and raucous fights with talcum powder and Super Soakers. --JC


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