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Trip Coach: Dec. 20, 2005

December 20, 2005
George Hobica of airfarewatchdog.com answered your airfare questions

Smithtown, NY: We are looking to travel to Las vegas from the NYC area Oct 5-10th, 2006. What do you think the best time to lock in our airfare would be? Thanks for your time! Gigi

George Hobica: I think it's too early to book fares. But it's a very competitive route so you shouldn't have trouble finding $79 one way fares.

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Houston, TX: When and how is really the best way to secure the cheapest fares?

George Hobica: Airlines have secret sales all the time so I suggest checking routes every day. I like Travelocity's flexible date function the best since it looks for fares 330 days ahead vs. 30 days for Orbitz. Other sites have limited or no flexible date searches.

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Newark DE : Hello George,
Do you know which of the credit card air frequent flyer
miles rewards programs are the best, in terms of reward
level, ease of use (if thats possible) & redemption ?
I have an Amex Delta Skymiles, and I think they're
horrible. I built up over 66,000 miles and when I try to
call for a flight to Maui 6 months from now, they say there
are no flights available. I am really angry and Delta &
Amex right now.
I'm going to cancel that card soon. No wonder Delta's
bankrupt.

Thanks,
Mike

George Hobica: Hi.. you might look into Captial One's credit card programs. They claim to have no blackouts.

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Sarasota Fl: We travel 3 to 4 times a year and would like to know if there is a general travel insurance policy that will cover all of our travel with just one policy

George Hobica: There is no policy that covers everything; a lot of them have loopholes. Take a look at insuremytrip.com to compare the different vendors.

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cleveland oh: we are flying into prague on 7-6-06.we plan to stay 3 days and then travel to salzburg.
2 adults and 12 yr old...after2-3 days we will stop in villach.from there we would like to visit croatia before heading to italy. we depart from venice july 18.we love
your "little wonders"...any suggestions as to getting to zagreb and then where to go on
coast? should we train or boat to italy?
easiest/cheapest/fastest

George Hobica: I would take a look at the Route Maps page at www.airfarewatchdog.com to see what airlines fly where you want to go. There are lots of new European discount carriers. These days, flying is often cheaper than the train although personally I love train travel.

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Haleyville, Alabama: My sister, her husband, my wife and I will be traveling to Maui on April 17th for 9 nites. We are all in our 50's. We've already booked our condo accomodations.
We are now beginning our search for a good price for our airfare. We will be flying out of Huntsville, Alabama. Currently, the cost for flights seem pretty steep. Thus, our question is when, if at all, may the prices moderate some from where they are now? Please advise. Thanks!

George Hobica: THere could be a sale on Hawaii any minute or any day; it's a fairly competitive route. You might also look at leaving from Atlanta or Birmingham rather than Huntsville.. perhaps flying to LA or another city served by Aloha Airlines in the west, and then buying a separate ticket from there to Maui.

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Portland, Or: My husband and I have plane tickets to Savannah, Ga. for the 13th of January. We will be in Savannah for 3 days. Could you recommend a nice budget hotel? Also some resturants? Thank you. Ang

George Hobica: How about the Hampton Inn tel 912-231-9700. Good value and location.

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Tullahoma, TN: My son-in-law and daughter are going to China this March;Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bejing. What book would be most helpful for them on their first trip to these cities?

George Hobica: The biggest seller is the Lonely Planet Guide; but I like the Rough Guide as well.

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Willliamsburg, Virginia: Dear George, My husband and I want to go to Peru this spring. The tours we have looked at include the airfare. There is a supplement of $350.00 each for us to get to Miami, where the flight originates. I have found airfare for around $800.00 directly from the Norfolk airport to Lima. What should we do? I am torn between the convenience of the all inclusive and trying to save almost $1,000.00 in airfare for the 2 of us. What should we do? Thanks, Marcia

George Hobica: It's often cheaper to buy two separate fares on your own; just leave plenty of time for the connection, or even arrive a day ahead in Miami and explore the city. With what you may save on airfare you can easily afford to pay for the hotel!

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Red Bank, New Jersey: Our son is a college music major specializing in jazz guitar. His winter break is during January, 2006. We had hoped to visit New Orleans to hear some great jazz. Then along came Katrina! We are still debating whether to try the trip. Is New Orleans ready for visitors? Will we find accomodations, restaurants, and jazz clubs open for business? Any time in January is fine. Thanks, Sharon

George Hobica: New Orleans is open for business, sort of. I think the city needs your business and it will be interesting to see the town without all the usual tourist crowds. They do plan to have Mardi Gras this year. And flights are pretty cheap right now. Also, January is a great time to go because it's not super humid. So I'd say yes, go!

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San Jose, CA: Hi George; Happy Holidays to you! My question: My mom, age 72, wants to go on a "Harry Potter" tour of England for no more than a week's time. We would leave from either San Fran or San JOse. What points of interest are close to London that you could recommmend? She gets around pretty good but had pnemonia last winter and can't go up and down alot of stairs or walk for long stretches of time. we want to go before April so I know the weather will be cold there. Please Help!!!

George Hobica: Well, I would certainly go to Oxford, which is a beautiful town and served as some of the locations for the Harry Potter films (it's also one of my alma maters... one of the most beautiful cities in Europe I think). And Bath is an easy train ride as well. Those would be my two picks for day trips; and spend the rest of the time in London, which has more than enough to do and see.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan : We are going on a cruise leaving SAN JUAN on Jan 28th. What is the best and CHEAPEST way to get there by air? Should we book something out of GRR and stay a day or two in Florida and then book something from there to San Juan. Help!!! It's only a few weeks from now.

Thank you, thank you very much!!

George Hobica: This is a tough one because fares from Detroit, GRR, and LAN are really high now to San Juan.. You're not going to save anything by flying into MIA and then going from there to SJU. Of course, fares could change at a moment's notice, especially if Spirit has a sale. You might want to give hotwire.com a try. And be sure to arrive for your cruise a day or two early in case winter weather delays your flight.

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Medford, OR: I am planning a trip to Europe in June of 2006, and will be traveling from Spain to Italy to Greece to Turkey. What are the cheapest and most reliable ways of travel? And where could I find great deals on flights within those areas?

Thanks!
Alicia H

George Hobica: Take a look at the routemaps page of Airfarewatchdog.com to see discount airlines within Europe. There are tons of them now.

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Boston, MA: Hey George! I subscribe to your daily fares update and really appreciate them. A question for Europe travel in summer 2006. If you recall, there was a discount airline called Eurofly that started flying from JFK to Naples, Bologna and Sicily last summer (I think they were previously a charter outfit). Do you know if there may be additional start-up LCCs flying from major US airports to Europe in time for next summer? Thanks.

George Hobica: There are no new low cost carriers that I know of (except for business class only carriers from New York to London), but since many airlines have beefed up their international routes at the expense of domestic routes, I have a feeling that we may see some better than normal fares. It's too early to tell what will really happen.

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Granbury, TX: George,
My friend and I are planning on visiting Venice next June. We will have a rental car, so should we stay just outside Venice? If so, where?
Thanks, Patsy

George Hobica: Since cars are not allowed into Venice itself, then yes I would stay outside the city and take the train or boat service into the city. If you're staying in Venice for several days, you might want to consider releasing the rental car, unless you have it for a week or two and it's a good deal. You can easily spend 3-4 days exploring Venice. Personally, I'd stay in the city, although you'll probably find better hotel rates outside.

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NJ: I am soooo confused now about WHEN to book flights. What has happened to the tried & true rule that booking early & on mid-week days is cheaper?? My last few trips, I've found this rule to be completely untrue. I've booked flights early only to see prices slashed in half a few weeks before the trip. I've waited until a few weeks before a trip only to end up angry because the prices did not get slashed but instead got higher! It seems that info about when to book flights is outdated or obsolete. Help!
(I travel worldwide, so have no specific destination in mind for this question - would just love some solid, applicable info about when to book flights in general).
Thank you!

George Hobica: There really is no best time. Airlines lower fares on different routes everyday without advertising them. A fare could be $400 today and $98 tomorrow. And then $500 the next day. Usually, Tue/Wed/Sat are the cheapest days to travel, but not to buy airfares. You have to look at fares on the routes you want to fly every single day for a few weeks (using a Travelocity or Cheapair flexible date search) and then adjust your schedule to whenever the fare is lowest. That's what we try to do on Airfarewatchdog.com and in our newsletter.

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Ashland, Ohio: We are traveling to San Diego in Feb. and are having a difficult time figuring out the best area to stay. We prefer the beach and we were considering Coronado Island. Is it a hassle to take the ferry to go to the main land? We plan on doing some sight seeing while we are there. Is there any place you recommend? Thank you for your help. Still searching. Lisa

George Hobica: Definitely see the world famous Zoo of course, and Sea World. There are some great beaches. I think I'd stay on the mainland rather than the island and just visit the island for a day. Check out the San DIego visitor's bureau site for more suggestions: http://www.sandiego.org/nav/Visitors

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Washington, DC: I'm planning a trip to New York City, and I've read and seen news reports on tv about bed bug problems some hotels in the city are having. Should I be worried? Is there a site that lists the hotels that have had complaints from guests about bed bugs? Thanks!

George Hobica: I think this problem is probably overblown. But perhaps you should bring your own sheets and pillowcases, or a sleeping bag if you're really worried!

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George Hobica: Thanks for your questions. Happy Holidays!

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Keep reading

Dream Trips 2004

The Pyramids Cairo, Egypt The pharaohs built things to last. That's why the name of Cheops has survived for 4,500 years. After all, nothing says "Cheops was here" like a 450-foot-high pile of stones weighing 6 million tons and covering 13 acres. This Great Pyramid is the oldest, and last surviving, member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It bakes under the desert sun in the western suburbs of Cairo, surrounded by nine smaller siblings and the inscrutable gaze of the Sphinx. An old Arab proverb holds that "Man fears Time, but Time fears the Pyramids." GETTING THERE: Direct EgyptAir flights from New York to Cairo cost roughly $800, plus a $15 visa fee paid upon arrival. Taxis downtown are $10 (be firm on the price) and buses cost 50¢. Giza and the pyramids are an hour's bus ride (12¢ on air-conditioned minibuses #83 or #183), or 40 minutes in a taxi ($7, with airconditioning), from Cairo's main Tahrir Square, where relics from ancient times are housed in the Egyptian Museum. But in this case, an air/hotel package trumps going solo. One of the best deals in traveldom is Misr Travel's $899 package from New York. YOU MADE IT: Admission is $3.24 and covers the entire site: the Great Pyramid, two slightly smaller ones, seven teensy Queens' Pyramids, and the Sphinx. Shimmying into a burial chamber costs another $8 to $16, depending on the pyramid you choose, but involves a long, crouching shuffle down a steep passage less than four feet high. Claustrophobes will want to pass. WHO KNEW? The Great Pyramid of Cheops (his Greek name; the Egyptian name is Khufu) releases only 150 tickets each morning for burial-chamber visits, and another 150 at 1 p.m. Unfortunately, tour buses scoop up the first batch by 8 a.m. Solution: Arrive mid-morning, explore the grounds, then line up by 12:30 p.m. to snag an afternoon entry. Better yet, pay $13 to hire a taxi for the day and get there early. You can then drive just a few miles farther to Saqqara, Dahshur, or any of the other pyramid sites in the surrounding valley which, unlike crowded Giza, you can have virtually to yourself. --Reid Bramblett Taj Mahal Agra, India When his wife died in 1631, Emperor Shah Jahan was so bereaved that he spent 22 years-and most of his empire's riches-on this elaborate tomb, a tribute to love and mild insanity. His subjects locked him up for profligacy, but these days the Shah is most remembered as a romantic for the ages. Travelers who behold this soothingly symmetrical architectural ode report a sense of accomplishment, for there are few world monuments to match it for exotica and beauty. And-surprise!-if you've got the nerve to forge through chaotic Indian crowds, the Taj is reachable on a simple plane/train combo. GETTING THERE: Flying out of New York, San Francisco, or Toronto yields the best chance at a markdown. Hari World Travel, operating in five North American cities, can arrange flights to New Delhi, the nearest gateway, for under $900 (212/997-3300). Don't forget to bring a visa ($30, indianembassy.org). Once you land, take one of several competing airport shuttle buses (about $1.30) to New Delhi's main train station, and from there grab one of the many daily trains on Indian Railways (indianrail.gov.in), the world's largest employer, southeast to Agra. The express ride is two-and-a-half hours (slow trains take up to twice as long); prices float illogically between $6 and $12. Spring for first-class seats with air-conditioning, especially when the heat spikes, from April to October. A rickshaw from Agra station to the Taj should cost just a buck or two (always settle on a price before boarding). The package alternative: Djoser's guided 20-day India and Nepal tour hits Agra on days eight and nine. It costs $2,095, including airfare, leaving Los Angeles from February to May (877/356-7376, djoserusa.com). YOU MADE IT: Indian citizens pay 55¢ to enter the grounds (and they stay there all day, picnicking and hanging out), but you must pony up $20. Respectfully cover your legs with breathable pants-it's a Muslim burial site, which also means it's closed Fridays--and if you want to mount the plinth and pad around the polished inner sanctum that's inlaid with semiprecious stones (you do), you'll have to leave your shoes with an attendant. Tons of basic lodgings, of the type patronized by the Indian middle class and Western shoestringers, are in the adjoining Taj Ganj neighborhood and cost but $4.40 a night. After seeing the Taj, lots of tourists spin around and return to Delhi-you shouldn't. About a mile west, Shah Jahan's home, the Red Fort, still dazzles with its regal austerity, and 23 miles west of Agra, don't miss the fabulous palatial city of Fatehpur Sikri, built from scratch by the Mughals in the late 1500s and abruptly abandoned 14 years later. WHO KNEW?: Although every photograph you've ever seen of the Taj-including this one-makes it look tranquil and wistful, in fact the whole joint is usually jumping with sightseers. Plan to enter the grounds when they open at first light, as sunrise bathes the monument in an eerie peachy hue, and again in the evening, when moonlight seems to light the building from within. Quick-footed salesmen will offer to snap digital photos of you in the gardens and print them while you wander. They're actually pretty talented, and you don't have to pay unless you want a copy. --Jason Cochran Great Barrier Reef Queensland, Australia The world's largest reef system is arrestingly big. What other living thing is about as long as the American West Coast and visible from space? Nonetheless, it sure can be an ordeal reaching it, marooned as it is off the northeast coast of Australia. Better face it: With the planet's reef habitats withering at an alarming rate, it's a true see-it-before-it's-gone wonder. GETTING THERE: The best land gateways are tropical Cairns (touristy to a fault) and Townsville (Cairns' yokelly competition about 150 miles south). Americans usually first touch down in distant Melbourne, Brisbane, or Sydney and take a connecting flight to reach the reef. High airfares used to make that leg the deal breaker, but young Virgin Blue (virginblue.com.au) offers one-way Sydney-Cairns flights for $74 (on sale) to $170 (normal price). Add that to a good Los Angeles-Sydney fare ($899 in our summer), and your toes can get to the sea's edge for as little as $1,047 round trip. Alternatively, a company called Oz Experience (ozexperience.com) will guide you and a busload of other adventurers from Sydney to Cairns, allowing you to take your time, for $287; it requires a minimum of nine days each way. YOU MADE IT: Dozens of outfits vie to take you to the reef, an hour offshore. One of the cheapest, Compass Cruises, in Cairns (011-61/7-4051-5777, reeftrip.com), leads snorkeling outings for $45. Three-day, 10-dive expeditions cost around $425, and there's plenty of equipment to go around. Day trips to the many islands (some overcrowded, some virtually deserted) start at around $20. Generally, the farther from land you go, the better the diving is. WHO KNEW? Cairns has more than 20 hostels, many with nice double rooms, so lodging doesn't have to cost more than $25 a night. Avoid going in the rainy season, from January to March, when waters can get cloudy from river runoff-that's when transpacific airfare costs the most, anyway. And, for heaven's sake, always check with locals before jumping into these wild waters: From November to April, the deadly box jellyfish prowls the waves, and, year-round, saltwater crocodiles browse for meals at the shore. -JC Red Square Moscow, Russia Russia is more than a decade removed from the fall of Communism, yet the country's heart and soul is still Moscow's Red Square, a 500,000-square-foot swath of public space that is actually not red, or square (it's more like a gray rectangle). It's here that you'll find the royal trio of Russian icons: onion-domed St. Basil's Cathedral, the Kremlin looming behind high walls, and the world's creepiest tourist magnet, Lenin's corpse. GETTING THERE: Flights to Moscow often drop below $500 in winter, when temperatures there rarely climb above freezing. In summer, it's unusual to find airfare under $1,000. (Tip: Try Finnair, with a change in Helsinki.) But an air/hotel package is usually more affordable. For $699 in winter and $1,399 in summer, Eastern Tours offers a six-night package to Moscow and St. Petersburg, with lodging, air from New York, train tickets between the cities, transfers to hotels, and guided tours of both cities, with a particular focus on the Kremlin and Red Square. It's a bureaucratic nightmare to get a tourist visa (by itself, $100) without using a travel agent-another good reason to go with the package. Flight taxes and visa fees tack on about $300 through Eastern Tours (800/339-6967, traveltorussia.com). YOU MADE IT: Most decent hotels-such as the Rossiya Hotel (moscow-hotels.net/rossiya-hotel), a modern, three-star property right across from Red Square ($104)-help guests negotiate the complicated and mandatory visa procedure. It's also necessary to register with local authorities within three days of arrival. Most hotels take care of this for you for an additional $20 or so-skip it and you risk getting hassled by the police. The wait for Lenin's Mausoleum can sometimes last three or more hours (it's generally open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and closed Mondays and Fridays). Stone-faced guards turn tourists away for any number of reasons. Carrying baggage is a no-no of late, due to security precautions (both Red Square and Lenin's Mausoleum were closed for spells last year, without much warning, for renovations and terrorism concerns). Entrance to the mausoleum is free and also grants access to the Kremlin Wall, where Stalin, Brezhnev, and other luminaries are buried. WHO KNEW? Lenin's body in the mausoleum is dabbed with embalming fluid twice a week. Every year and a half, the entire corpse is bathed and decked out in a new suit. The so-called Lenin Laboratory, which is in charge of the former leader's upkeep, has become quite adept at preserving the human body. A recent client was Kim Il Sung, father of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il, whose embalming was rumored to have cost $1 million. You don't need to have Communist ties for its services, however. The laboratory will actually immortalize anyone who's willing to shell out $300,000. --Brad Tuttle Antarctica You can't get more remote than The Ice (as scientists call it), the coldest and windiest of the continents, where 90 percent of our planet's freshwater supply is locked up in deep freeze. Although it was hypothesized to exist by the ancient Greeks, humans didn't set foot there until the 1800s. It seems like the least likely tourist destination, but nowadays up to 15,000 travelers a year sail to the fringes of the elusive Seventh Continent so that they can take in its primordial beauty-and brag about it for a lifetime. GETTING THERE: Because of Antarctica's unpredictable weather, scheduled plane service is nearly impossible, so tourists visit the continent via ship. The season blips by between December and March, which means the few available ships book up fast. Some tour operators charge $20,000-especially for longer cruises departing from Australia or New Zealand-but it's simple to find a run under $4,000 leaving from Ushuaia, at the tip of Argentina (about a $350 round-trip flight from Buenos Aires, which is itself about $600 from Miami). Because it's convenient to the spindly Antarctic Peninsula, Ushuaia is base to many 100-passenger vessels, primarily Russian-built icebreakers, promising professional lecturers and landfalls by Zodiac dinghy. Ten-night departures sell for under $4,000 through U.S.-based Adventure Center (800/228-8747, adventurecenter.com). That includes all meals but means sharing a triple cabin; reserving a double adds about $800 to the bill. Some trips don't actually make landfall, so scrutinize the itinerary before you sign on. You might want to find a cruise through the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (iaato.org), whose members adhere to stringent environmental guidelines. YOU MADE IT: You won't need any cash on the cruises because they're essentially all-inclusive-residual stuff like your bar tab is settled at the end by credit card. But be sure you have seasick patches and pills since you'll be crossing the nasty Drake Passage, where swells can top 60 feet. Layers of synthetic-fiber clothing are recommended instead of cotton and wool, which tend to trap moisture and keep you colder. And since there are no stores in Antarctica, bring more film than you think you'll ever need. And then pack even more-those penguins are photogenic. WHO KNEW? Book a trip that stops at one of the scientific outposts, such as the Ukranian-run Vernadsky Research Station. You can get a mock Antarctica stamp in your passport and have a drink and play pool with the scientists who live there year-round. --Matthew Link Graceland Memphis, Tennessee The King is rock-and-roll royalty, and Graceland is America's Versailles. Priscilla Presley threw open the wrought-iron, musical-staff gates of Elvis's 14-acre estate to the public in 1982, and it has since become one of the nation's most-visited homes, a holy-pilgrimage site for 600,000 fans annually, and for the unenlightened, a curiosity of American kitsch. GETTING THERE: Low-cost carrier AirTran serves Memphis, and Graceland is barely four miles west of the runway. A direct taxi costs just $10. Taxis downtown run $25, or hop on the $15 airport shuttle. Sun Studio, where Elvis once crooned alongside Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, runs a free shuttle bus (800/441-6249) that stops hourly at the blues clubs on Beale Street, Stax Records, Sun Records, Heartbreak Hotel, and Graceland. YOU MADE IT: The 90-minute tour ($18) of the home's perfectly preserved '70s decor covers the Jungle Room (with built-in fountain and shag carpeting), the bedroom Elvis kept for his mama, and a vintage kitchen where he scarfed peanut butter and banana sandwiches and fried pickle chips. Outbuildings house guitars, press clippings, rhinestone-slathered jumpsuits, video snippets, and endless walls of gold records. The tour ends by the pool, at Presley's Meditation Garden grave. Additional tickets get you in to see the original pink Cadillac and other Presley cars ($8), his customized jets ($7), and the "Sincerely Elvis" collection of personal items ($6). Graceland is closed Tuesdays from November to February (800/238-2000, elvis.com). 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

Inspiration

Grand Canyon Skywalk

In January, a glass-bottomed, horseshoe-shaped walkway over the Grand Canyon--protruding 70 harrowing feet--will be unveiled. The Skywalk was envisioned nine years ago by David Jin, a tour operator specializing in trips to the Canyon's westernmost side, home to the Hualapai tribe. The tribe liked the idea, and Jin tapped Mark Johnson, a Las Vegas-based architect, for the design. The Skywalk has six-foot-tall glass walls, and is built to bear more than 71 million pounds, withstand winds over 100 miles per hour, and endure an 8.0-magnitude earthquake within a 50-mile radius. Still, says Johnson, "it's going to take some courage to step out there. Looking through a glass floor is intense." Views of the Colorado River, 4,000 feet below, come with a steep price. You must first book a tour of the tribe's grounds (877/716-9378, destinationgrandcanyon.com). The cheapest ($29) includes a walk through dwellings and an outdoor craft market. Only then can you test your mettle on the Skywalk, for an extra $25.

Honolulu: Downtown, Chinatown & Fun For Kids

DOWNTOWN SEE Hawaii State Art MuseumNo. 1 Capitol District Building, 250 S. Hotel St., 2nd Fl., 808/586-9958, state.hi.us/sfcaOpened in 2002, the museum exhibits the work of Hawaii's best contemporary artists. As elsewhere in Honolulu, the islands' rich mix of cultures is apparent, from Japanese-style embroidery to traditional folk art. Free. Closed Sun.-Mon. CHINATOWN SEE First Friday Honolulu808/521-2903, chinatownhi.com/firstfri.aspOn the first Friday of every month, art galleries, artists' studios, and boutique shops stay open until 9 p.m. Live music and free pupus (snacks) in the galleries and on the streets. The ARTS at Marks Garage (1159 Nuuanu Ave., 808/521-2903, artsatmarks.com) ignited the arts revival in the neighborhood, and it's the best place to start. SEE Hotel StreetBetween Bethel and Smith Sts.A notorious strip lined with bars and brothels during World War II. Smith's Union Bar (19 N. Hotel St., 808/538-9145) is the last vestige of the area's seedy past. These days, hipsters head to thirtyninehotel (39 N. Hotel St., 808/599-2552, thirtyninehotel.com) where Honolulu's best DJs spin. The brand-new Next Door (43 N. Hotel St., whoisnextdoor.com) hosts Chinatown's independent film fest every summer, as well as edgy films and music acts year round. SEE Kuan Yin Temple170 N. Vineyard Blvd., 808/533-6361A Buddhist temple dedicated to Kuan Yin bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy. Leave your shoes outside, bring a gift of fruit or flowers to place on the altar, or burn "paper money" for prosperity. On feast days there are vendors outside the temple; otherwise, buy the fruit and funny money in the shops nearby. SHOP LeisMaunakea St., between N. Beretania and King Sts.Locals buy leis as gifts to celebrate occasions-birthdays, graduations-and to welcome special visitors. You'll smell the flowers long before you actually see the tiny stores with open doors that line this street. Simple flower strands with purple orchids or sweet-smelling ginger are a good bet at $5; more intricately woven creations can cost $25 or more. SHOP Viet Hoa 162 N. King St., 808/523-5499An Asian herb shop where the walls are lined with tiny drawers filled with dried flowers, ground-up roots, and who knows what else. Consult with the herbalist about what ails you and you'll get a prescription on the spot. SEE Hawaii Theatre1130 Bethel St., 808/528-0506, hawaiitheatre.comConcerts, opera, dance, theater, and even the occasional hula contest (buy tickets online, from $10). Tours of the historic art deco theater-which was completely restored in 1996-are given on most Tuesdays at 11 a.m. $5. FUN FOR KIDS SEE Honolulu Theatre for Youth2846 Ualena St., 808/839-9885, htyweb.orgHour-long plays suitable for all ages. Musubi Man, Hawaii's answer to the Gingerbread Man story, was a recent hit. Performances take place all over the island. Buy tickets online or over the phone; from $16 adults, $8 kids. PLAY Honolulu Zoo Twilight Tours151 Kapahulu Ave., 808/971-7171, honoluluzoo.orgGuided tours of the zoo after sunset let visitors see the nocturnal animals come out and play. Every Saturday in summer, and one Saturday a month (near the full moon) during the rest of the year, 5:30-7:30 p.m.; $12 adults, $8 kids. "Snooze in the Zoo" throws in dinner, breakfast, s'mores around the campfire, and an overnight under the stars (bring your own tent and sleeping bag). $39, ages 4 and up. PLAY Pineapple Garden MazeDole Plantation, 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy., Wahiawa, 808/621-8408, dole-plantation.comMade up of more than 11,000 plants (including pineapple and hibiscus), the Dole maze made Guinness's list in 2001 as the world's largest ($5 adults, $3 kids). To see the rest of the grounds, hop aboard the Pineapple Express train for a 20-minute narrated ride ($7.50/$5.50) or take a self-guided tour of the gardens ($3.75/$3). SPLURGE Polynesian Cultural Center 55-370 Kamehamaha Hwy, Laie, 800/367-7060, polynesia.comLearn to crack open a coconut or throw a Tongan spear at this 42-acre cultural theme park offering crafts, music, food tastings, and interactive activities from seven Polynesian islands: Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Marquesas, Tonga, and Samoa. Arrive when the doors open at noon to avoid the crowds, and plan for at least a two-hour visit. Skip the dinner luau and pay only for general admission: $36 adults, $25 kids. A full-day pass including night show is $50 adults, $34 kids, or $65/$49 with transportation from Waikiki. SPLURGE Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park400 Farrington Hwy., Kapolei, 808/674-9283, hawaiianwaters.comTwenty-five acres of wave pools, slides, inner-tube flumes, and swimming pools. Da' FlowRider creates a constant set of waves so surfers and boogie boarders can hang 10 all day long. Adults $35, kids $25.

Honolulu: Natural Hawaii

SEE Foster Botanical Garden50 N. Vineyard Blvd., 808/522-7060, co.honolulu.hi.us/parks/hbg/fbg.htmA 14-acre living testament to the flowers, herbs, orchids, and palms that have flourished in Hawaii since the 1850s. With the help of a free tour book, track down the double coconut palm that can produce a 50-pound nut, as well as Honolulu's official tree, the rainbow shower tree (which can grow as high as 40 feet). Free tours weekdays at 1 p.m. $5 adults, $1 kids. SEE Nu'uanu Pali LookoutNear the summit of Pali Hwy. For one of the best views on the island, brave the 35 mph-plus gusts that-over centuries-have carved out dramatic finger-like cliffs that face east towards Kailua. To the right of the lookout, the Old Pali Highway makes a pleasant little detour on foot. Note: TheBus does not stop here. SEE Waimea Valley Audubon Center 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/638-9199, audubon.orgOne of the most tranquil places on the island, spanning 1,875 shady acres. A paved path meanders from the visitors center to a swimming hole at the base of a 40-foot waterfall. A dip here makes a refreshing reward before heading back down to the car. $8, kids $5. PLAY Diamond Head Crater Enter from Diamond Head Rd. near 18th Ave.The sweeping panoramic view of eastern Koko Head, Waikiki's pearly sand, downtown's skyscrapers, and Barber's Point (the southwestern corner of Oahu) is worth every step of the 1.75-mile climb to the top of this 760-foot volcanic crater. $1. PLAY Ka'ena Point State ParkEnd of Farrington Hwy., MakahaAt the very western tip of the island, Pohaku o Kauai ("Rock of Kauai") is where legend says souls depart this world for the next. To get there, you'll have to hike a couple of miles on a dirt path (it begins where the road ends) to one of the outcroppings over the water-the sunsets here are worth it, and you'll probably have the view to yourself. PLAY Kualoa Regional ParkKamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe A 150-acre, tree-lined peninsula perfect for a picnic lunch, especially with the scenic, craggy peaks of the Koolau Range in the background. On the windward coast, tales still circulate about hearing drums and seeing night marchers after the sun goes down. PLAY Pu'u Ualaka'a State ParkNorth of Honolulu; 2.5 miles up Round Top Dr. from Makiki St.Jaw-dropping views of southern Oahu; at night, Honolulu's twinkling city lights inspire smitten lovers to "park" here. SPLURGE Surfing LessonsSurf N Sea, 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, 808/637-9887, surfnsea.comInstructors help beginners catch waves, stand up on the board, hang 10 (all toes curled over the edge), and even make turns. $75 for two hours, includes board rental. SOUVENIRSOahu doesn't take itself too seriously. While there's plenty of respect for history and culture, there's also an appreciation for the kitsch inextricably linked to Hawaiian tourism. Locals and visitors alike go for hula-girl bottle openers and aloha belt buckles. If you have serious shopping stamina, brave the stalls at the outdoor International Market Place (2330 Kalakaua Ave., 808/971-2080). Otherwise, retreat to two surprisingly good sources for cheap souvenirs: Kmart (500 Nimitz Hwy., 808/528-2280, plus three other locations around the island) and Longs Drugs (2220 S. King St., 808/949-4781), which carries a wide selection of inexpensive leis made from fresh flowers, dried kukui nuts, macadamia nuts, or candy. ISLAND DRIVINGHaving a car in Waikiki is unnecessary and parking is expensive, up to $15 a day. The area is a maze of dead ends and one-ways, many of which seem to be permanently under construction. It's better to rent a car on the days you know you want to venture out of Honolulu. Stay off the roads during rush hour: There are only three major highways on the island and they're jammed on weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. On Friday nights, rush hour extends until 8 p.m. If you do hit traffic, don't lay on the horn; it's considered rude. Honolulu locals will give directions by telling you to head makai (toward the ocean, or south), mauka (towards the mountains/north), toward Diamond Head (east), or toward Ewa (west).

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