The World’s Most Expensive Trip

A new journey organized by London’s Hurlingham Travel, a bespoke luxury travel company, has made headlines for being the “World’s Most Expensive Holiday.”  The trip, which would take two years, costs a hefty £990,000 (approximately $1.5 million). Whoever is lucky enough to be able to afford the holiday would visit hundreds of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Taj Mahal DaylightDestinations included on this high-priced adventure include the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Pyramids in Egypt, the Forbidden City in China, and the site of Machu Picchu in Peru. Currently, the trip is for sale on British website VeryFirstTo.com. The website promises business-class flights whenever it is possible and accommodations in hotels such as the Cipriani in Venice and Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton.

Douro ValleyDon’t have a million bucks to spend on a vacation? Trips organized by Academic Arrangements Abroad might not visit hundreds of World Heritage sites, but many of our travel programs include spots on the UNESCO list. For example, our Rajasthan program features a sunrise viewing of the Taj Mahal as well as a stop at the Jantar Mantar Observatory.  Travelers on “In the Realm of Angkor: The Splendors of Thailand & Cambodia” admire the magnificent 12th-century temple of Angkor Wat. The 19 perfectly aligned Windmills of Kinderdjik, built in the 17th century and placed on the list of UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997, are part of our 2014 “Dutch & Flemish Landscapes” program. And a cruise from Porto travels through Portugal’s Douro River Valley, the world’s first demarcated wine region.

Kinderdijk_ZhenWhich World Heritage sites would you most like to see?

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Bagan, Burma: The City of 1,000 Pagodas

Referred to as “the new Angkor Wat” by one blogger, Bagan, in central Burma, lies 90 miles southwest of Mandalay. In an area covering 16 square miles, this capital of several ancient kingdoms is home to thousands of temples, pagodas, monasteries, stupas and other religious monuments — and at one time there were thousands more.

Most of these extraordinary structures, such as the Shwezigon and Sulamani temples, were built between the 11th century and 13th centuries. With a gilded bell-shaped dome that is an architectural prototype for later temples, Shwezigon, built in the 11th century, houses four 13-foot bronze Buddhas and representations of all 37 nats, or spirits. Red-brick Sulamani, erected in the late 12th century, displays fine frescoes and skilled plasterwork carvings.

Writing about seven hundred years apart, the great explorer and merchant Marco Polo and the noted author Somerset Maugham expressed their awe of the many temples of Bagan:

“They make one of the finest sights in the world, being exquisitely finished, splendid and costly. When illuminated by the sun they are especially brilliant and can be seen from the great distance.”

–Marco Polo

“They loom, huge, remote, and mysterious, like the vague recollections of a fantastic dream.”

–Somerset Maugham

Who Put Angkor on the Map?

A fascinating man, Alexandre Henri Mouhot was a Greek scholar, a noted entomologist (a beetle, which he discovered, is named for him) and naturalist, an accomplished artist and a daguerreotype photographer.  He is however, best known for bringing the splendors of Angkor to the attention of the world with his posthumously published Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Laos and Annam. In great detail, he observed the site’s floor plan and architecture. He also drew maps and striking renderings of the magnificent temples, lush jungle and animals he encountered in the region. The interest and excitement generated by Mouhot’s book led to the French government’s leading role in the preservation of this world treasure.

Born in 1826 in a French town on the Swiss border, Mouhot was fluent in Russian, Polish and English as well as French. He lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was a professor of languages and philology, and on the English island of Jersey, with his wife, a descendant of Mungo Park, the famous Scottish explorer.

Adventure was in Mouhot’s blood as well, as he set off alone to Bangkok, with the sponsorship of the Royal Geographical Society, to catalog zoological specimens and to document literally uncharted territory in Siam (Thailand), Cambodia and Laos.

In 1860, Mouhot wrote about the temples of Angkor: “…no one who has not seen them can form any adequate idea.” And he described Angkor Wat specifically as “erected by some ancient Michelangelo,” “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”

Facing great hardships of fierce wild animals, dense jungle terrain, barrages of mosquitoes and leeches, torrential rains and oppressive humidity, as well as local bureaucracy and graft, Mouhot persevered with his native guides and King Charles Spaniel.

Not long after his time in Angkor, Mouhot died from fever in Luang Prabang, Laos, in 1861 at the age of 35. That he was someone who had found his true calling is evidenced in his writings:

“I have never been more happy than when amidst this grand and beautiful tropical scenery, in the profound solitude of these dense forests, the stillness only broken by the song of birds and the cries of wild animals; and even if destined here to meet my death, I would not change my lot for all the joys and pleasures of the civilised world.”