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So over Reykjavik? Unwilling to sit through another safari? Intrepid travelers, take heart: There are still places unspoiled by a crush of visitors, tourist traps and trinket hawkers -- think Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Bhutan.

And companies exist to deliver once-in-a-lifetime trips in far-flung places, so you don't have to endure hostels and mud huts to take an authentic Silk Road journey.

"Our trips appeal to seasoned travelers who have seen and done it all," says Marilyn Downing Staff, co-founder and chief executive of

Asia Transpacific Journeys. "Generally, people who seek out these experiences want more than their lives and luxuries transplanted to an exotic place."

The company arranges trips for small groups and private custom journeys to East and South Asia and the Pacific islands.

Once there, bilingual guides can arrange everything from private tea with monks in Thailand to meetings with former kings in Bhutan.

"It's indescribably exciting to be someplace where almost nothing is familiar, no sight, no sound, smell or language that I can feel I know," says Raquel Levin, who traveled to Bhutan in October 2005 with ATJ.

Finding a new destination has grown increasingly difficult for Levin, a former executive director at New York Women in Film and Television, as she can list South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Morocco, Egypt, Nepal, India, Costa Rica, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan among the places she has visited.

"And all through Europe, don't forget Europe," she says.

She and her husband began eyeing remote Bhutan after hearing about its unspoiled beauty and strong Buddhist sensibility. "Then all of a sudden it seemed to be getting hotter and hotter," she says.

"We began to read about fancy hotel chains going in, and I realized that the experience I wanted to have was going to disappear."

Visa and travel arrangements are still difficult in Bhutan, so Levin hired ATJ to nail down her dream trip.

"Our itinerary didn't include any of the country's larger festivals, and that was initially disappointing. But we were the only tourists at the smaller festivals we went to, so we actually took part in the rituals. ... It broke down so many barriers between us and the people who lived there," she adds.

Bridging the gulf is exactly what Staff's company aims to do. "You can buy a

Lonely Planet

and go pretty much everywhere," Staff says. "Our guides dig beneath the surface."

Douglas Grimes, president and founder of

Mir, adds that the desire to be immersed in a foreign culture is really the desire to learn.

"The people who go on our trips have the time, money and inclination to find places they've never been, learn about the history and experience it from the inside," he says.

Mir, which means both "peace" and "world" in Russian, specializes in trips to Russia, the Baltics, Central Asia, Iran, the Trans-Caucus, Eastern Europe, Mongolia and China.

It was founded 20 years ago to unite American special interest groups with their counterparts in the former Soviet Union.

Now Mir's teams of destination specialists -- an army of logistics wizards, multilingual former diplomats, art historians and top-notch guides -- safely allow Western travelers to indulge an enthusiasm for foreign cultures, living history, exotica and just plain adventure.

But even when travelers are haggling for silk rugs at a bazaar or witnessing the art of camel-milking, they're fostering understanding between Americans and Mir's destination countries, many of which are known primarily for social upheaval and military uprisings.

"People are always surprised by how extremely hospitable the local people are," says Grimes, who is a former diplomat.

Levin believes that this sort of trip enables people to step away from the

New York Times


Fox News

to really understand how Americans fit into the world.

One of her most extraordinary encounters was while discussing Hurricane Katrina with a woman in a local market in Bhutan. "Finally the woman said, 'Americans seem like such nice people. Why are you always at war?' You get a question like that, and it highlights a very paradoxical impression our country gives ... and it's painful. But it's reality, and it's important."

"You check your Western sense of reality at the door" in these lost corners of the world, says Staff. "If we always just take our own culture wherever we go, we miss the point of travel."

If you're ready to brush off your passport, read on for two destination picks.

Central Asia: The Five 'Stans

You can be sure that none of your friends will have the same vacation photos if you're traveling through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the five countries at the heart of central Asia.

The area has bridged Turk and Asian cultures for more than 2,000 years, crisscrossed by the famous Silk Road trade routes, and travelers can still see how the two civilizations have melded in architecture, clothing and art.

The trip begins in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, seated at the foot of the Tien Shan mountain range, and then moves through the Charyn Canyon to unspoiled lakes and valleys, as travelers soak in the sounds and sights of several ancient Silk Road towns.

Explore blue tile mosaics in Samarkand, brickwork in Bukhara and the winding alleys of Khiva, a walled-in, perfectly preserved city. Then inspect the ancient ruins of Penjikent, Nisa and Merv.

By the time you've loaded up on deep-red carpets, handcrafted jewelry and blue tile, it's time to go home.

The cost of this 21-day trip begins at $5,295, and the itinerary can be modified to suit your needs.

Unlocking Bhutan

A trip to Tibet may still seem like a walk on the wild side for many, but intrepid travelers have moved on from the land of dharma, famously traveled by the likes of Steven Segal, Brad Pitt and Richard Gere.

Instead they're going to Bhutan, a relatively unknown kingdom in the Himalayas that's a land of myth and mystery.

The country has been isolated from the outside world for centuries and closed off to visitors until recently. Travelers will enter an unspoiled natural landscape and see prayer wheels spinning all around in this land where most are devout Buddhists.

The tour begins in Paro, a bucolic valley that houses the magnificent monasteries, the National Museum, temples and ruins. Then move on to Thimphu, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, and perhaps the only one without streetlights.

Culturalists, historians and adventure-lovers will adore the spectacular natural environment, and travelers can add alpine trekking to an itinerary that includes festivals, spiritual dances and trips to the market.

The cost of a 14-day trip begins at $5,495, and this itinerary can also be modified if desired.