Bring food to a sacred temple and savor your own royal cuisine
While enjoying the luxury of the Four Seasons Chiang Mai, try out the daily classes at the hotel’s Lanna-style cooking school, focusing on the distinctive dishes of this northern city, a favored summer retreat of Thai royalty. Leave a fruit offering at the little spirit-house outside the traditional teak pavilion, then prepare curry noodle soup with chicken, and dry spiced pork with pickled garlic. Help harvest rice in the paddies surrounding the resort, then donate it to the monks at nearby Wat Pa Dara Piram, one of Chiang Mai’s more than 300 Buddhist temples. Rise early one morning to visit the "wet market" stalls crowded with spices. Take a riverboat to the Four Seasons’ tent camp in the Golden Triangle, where mahouts (drivers) teach guests how to ride friendly elephants along jungle trails. Four Seasons, 800/819-5053; www.fourseasons.com; packages from $685 per night (three-night minimum).
Turkey, North Africa, and the Middle East
Follow in the steps of ancient traders
A custom-fitted Boeing 757 private jet allows you to retrace the silk roads and caravan routes of the world’s first merchant princes to magnificent Byzantine cities and remote Saharan outposts. Accompanied by seasoned Abercrombie & Kent guides, you’ll visit a Berber village in the Atlas Mountains; feast bedouin-style in the Jordanian desert; marvel at Petra, the lost city of Nabataean traders; sail the Bosporus; and wander the ruins of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. You can explore the medieval medina in Fez; pretend you’re Lawrence of Arabia during a rest stop at Wadi Rum, a natural oasis; and enjoy a lavish evening at a private mansion on the island of Malta, once a strategic crossroads for crusading knights and Arab merchants. On board, you’ll find flat-bed sleeping quarters, an entertainment lounge, and five-course meals that highlight the local cuisines. Abercrombie & Kent, 800/554-7016; www.abercrombieandkent.com; April 18-May 5, 2008; from $70,000.
Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity
Through Habitat’s Global Village travel program, you can join a humanitarian-aid team in East Africa and build housing in a rural community. Uganda—which lies on the equator, with Lake Victoria forming part of its southern border—is one of the world’s least developed nations. Volunteers (no skills necessary) set up in a remote village, where they assist Habitat affiliates in digging foundations, laying handmade bricks, and installing window shutters, among other tasks. Visits to local schools and markets are also arranged. Conditions are generally primitive (sleeping bags and latrines), but the cultural exchange with your Ugandan hosts is priceless. After completing the construction project, your team spends a day watching hippos in Lake Mburo National Park, then heads for a white-water rafting trip on the Nile. Habitat for Humanity, 800/422-4828; www.habitat.org; Nov. 3-18, 2007; $1,500.