SO, THE new Seven Wonders of the World have been decided by about 100 million Internet and phone voters around the world.
They are the Great Wall of China, India's Taj Mahal, the ruins of Petra in Jordan, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico and the Colosseum in Rome.
The results were announced last Saturday in Lisbon. Voters picked from 21 sites shortlisted out of 77 by a jury of renowned architects and former United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) chief Federico Mayor.
The short-listed sites included the Acropolis in Athens, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the statues on Easter Island, Britain's Stonehenge, Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples, the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Alhambra in Spain.
Among the seven ancient wonders , only the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt still stand today. Organisers of the poll have agreed to automatically include the pyramids as the 'eighth wonder'.
The new list was launched by a private Swiss foundation. It has been criticised as being flawed as multiple votes - potentially from fans, citizens, governments, tourism agencies or other interested parties - were allowed.
While countries which play host to these sites celebrated and say tourism will get a boost, tour agencies here say they do not expect a sudden surge in interest among Singaporean travellers to these places.
"The Great Wall of China and India's Taj Mahal have always been quite popular with tourists," Country Holidays Travel general manager Jess Yap points out.
"As for the rest of the sites, as they are in rather far-flung places, they appeal more to a niche market and only the well-travelled set will be keen on them."
These would include travellers like account manager Kelvin Hang, 38, who likes historical sites like Cambodia's Angkor Wat.
"Among the new Seven Wonders, I've only been to the Great Wall, so I'm quite curious about the rest in the list," he says."It'd be fun to see how they compare to Angkor Wat, since they are supposed to be better."
If you are thinking of checking out the Seven Wonders yourself, here's the low-down and some of the packages available.
1. Statue of Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)
History: Perched in a strategic position on Mount Corcovado overlooking Rio de Janeiro, the statue is the symbol of Brazil.
It was inaugurated in 1931 after five years of work that required the building of a road and a rail line giving access to the 710m-high Corcovado heights.
It is Rio's top tourist attraction with 1.8 million visitors a year. It is made of concrete and took five years to build. The statue was built with open arms to show that God loves and embraces all who come to Him. A chapel was consecrated there on the statue's 75th anniversary in October last year.
Visitor's tale: Retiree Foong Mei Lin, 65, loved the site so much she has visited it twice - in 2005 and early this year.
"I'm not a Christian but there is something about the statue that makes you go 'Wow'," she says. "The magnificent view from the mountain top is indescribable. It just takes your breath away."
Getting there: One way is to fly Qantas, taking the Sydney-Auckland-Santiago path. At Santiago in Chile, take a LAN Chile flight to Rio. The whole journey will cost about $1,500.
Universal Travel offers 16-day packages to Argentina, Brazil and Chile for $6,999. Country Holidays Travel offers 11-day trips to Brazil from $5,890.
2. The Great Wall in China
History: Its construction started over 2,000 years ago. The world's longest human-made structure, it stretches over 6,400km from the Shanhai Pass in the east to Lop Nur in the west. It was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1986.
Visitor's tale: Language teacher Jane Oh, 45, visited two sections of the Great Wall near Beijing: Badaling, in the late 1980s, and Simatai, in 1998.
"I didn't like Badaling as it was too crowded," she says. "But Simatai was a fantastic experience. It is less developed and you can feel the long history of the wall simply by breathing in the air there."
Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies to Beijing for about $650. Badaling is about 11/2 hours by car from Beijing and Simatai takes about three hours.
Chan Brothers Travel offers five-day tours to Beijing from $498. UOB Travel Planners (tel: 6252-6822) offers five-day tours from $1,198.
3. The Colosseum in Italy
History: The Colosseum, symbol of the city of Rome, was built nearly 2,000 years ago during the first century AD. It was completed in AD80 during the Roman Empire.
Financed by the Roman victories in Judea and the pillage of the Temple of Jerusalem, it is Rome's largest amphitheatre in the centre of the city.
Originally capable of seating around 50,000 spectators, it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles.
Visitor's tale: Freelance translator Tay Peck Hoon, 28, made the trip there two years ago after she saw the Oscar-winning film Gladiator in 2001.
"It was like a set right out of the movie, although I did expect it to be larger," she says.
"You need to understand the history of the place to appreciate it or it would be just another crumbling historical site that provides great photo opportunities."
Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies to Rome for about $2,150.
Chan Brothers Travel offers eight-day free and easy tours to Italy from $2,388. UOB Travel Planners offers eight-day tours to Rome, Tuscany, Florence and Venice from $4,426.
4. The pink ruins of Petra (Jordan)
History: The centuries-old pink-coloured ruins of Petra are a Unesco World Heritage Site located 200km south of the capital Amman. They comprise stunning temples and tombs carved in the rock and were the capital of Arab Nabataean nomads, who settled in the area more than 2,000 years ago.
The site was turned into a junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
The long-hidden site was revealed to the world by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 and was the location for Hollywood movie Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. Today, the Palace Tombs of Petra, with the 42m-high Hellenistic temple facade on the El-Deir Monastery, are impressive examples of Middle Eastern culture.
Among the ruins is a semi-circular theatre with a seating capacity for 3,000 spectators.
Visitor's tale: Mr Chang Theng Hwee, 42, managing director of Country Holidays Travel, visited Petra last year and loved it so much, he went there three times - twice in the day and once at night. He walked 2km into the site and rode a horse on most of the trips.
"It was really quite a sight and has the wow factor of a great archaeological site, with its desert setting," he says. "When you remind yourself that it was hewn from rocks over 2,000 years ago, you really marvel at the wonder of it."
Getting there: Emirates Airlines flies to the Jordanian capital of Amman for about $1,500. From there, it is a 31/2-hour drive to Petra. Atrium Eco Travel offers seven-day tours to Jordan from $1,175 (excluding airfare). UOB Travel Planners offers seven-day packages from $2,767.
5. The Taj Mahal mausoleum (India)
History: The Taj Mahal is located in Agra. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child.
Construction began in 1632 and was completed around 1648. Built of white marble and standing in formally laid-out walled gardens, it is regarded as the most perfect jewel of Muslim art in India.
It is the country's most visited monument with nearly three million visitors a year.
Visitor's tale: Ms Lim Bee Chin, 48, who is self-employed, visited the Taj Mahal in 1996 as part of a tour to Delhi, Jaipur, Kashmir and Nepal.
While she was 'not blown away' by the sight, she says it is a place she would like to visit again.
"I remember feeling very peaceful and quiet just sitting there staring at the monument. I went in the morning and I think it would look lovely during sunset," she says.
Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies to Delhi for about $900. The Taj Mahal is a three-hour drive or two-hour train journey from the Indian capital. A first-class train ticket costs about 750 rupees (S$28).
Chan Brothers Travel (tel: 6438-8880) offers sevenand nine-day tours to India and Kashmir from $1,418, which include tours to the monument. Country Holidays Travel (tel: 6334-6120) offers luxury six-day tours to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur for $4,480.
6. The Incan ruins of Machu Picchu (Peru)
History: Machu Picchu, a pre-Columbian city created by the Incas, is located above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, about 70km north-west of Cuzco.
Forgotten for centuries by the outside world, it was brought back to international attention by archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911, who made the first scientific confirmation of the site.
The legendary temples, llama husbandry and the steep slopes of the Incas' last refuge from Spain's 16th-century conquest can be seen at www.machupicchu360.com
Visitor's tale: Bank officer Tai Ping Ling, in her 40s, visited Machu Picchu in 2001. She trekked for five days from Ollantaytambo, a town about a three-hour drive from Cuzco.
"When we arrived, it was raining. The whole place was misty with heavy clouds. It looked very mythical," she recalls.
Getting there: There are various ways to get to Peru - via the United States, Europe or Australia. Qantas, for example, takes the Sydney-Auckland- Santiago route. At Santiago in Chile, you take a LAN Peru flight to Lima. The whole journey costs about $2,000.
KLM flies to Amsterdam, then onwards to Lima for about $2,500 in total. Continental Airlines flies to Tokyo, then Houston and finally Lima for about $3,400 all in.
Universal Travel (tel: 6535-5577) offers 13-day tours to Peru for $4,599. Atrium Eco Travel (tel: 6536-9282) offers 12-day tours to Peru and Ecuador from $3,165 (excluding airfare to Lima).
7. The ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza (Mexico)
History: Chichen Itza is a pre-Columbian city built around AD500 in the north of the Yutacan Peninsula in Mexico.
The Maya name "Chichen Itza" means "at the mouth of the well of the Itza".
Four staircases of 91 steps lead up to a platform, making 365 levels for 365 days of the year. Besides the pyramid, an astronomical observatory and the temple of warriors, going back to the conquest of the Yutacan by Toltec groups from central Mexico, are the most imposing buildings.
Visitor's tale: Mr Robert Khoo, 56, the chief executive of the National Association of Travel Agents of Singapore, visited the site about 15 years ago.
"I'm not surprised it made the list because I've always thought it's pretty awe-inspiring and not inferior to the pyramids in Egypt," he says.
"Besides, as it's not so high and there are steps, it's a lot easier to climb."
Getting there: United Airlines flies to Los Angeles, from where you can take Mexicana Airlines to Cancun. The total cost is about $2,500. From Cancun, you have to drive about three hours to Chichen Itza.
Atrium Eco Travel offers 10-day tours to Mexico from $3,379 (excluding airfare to Los Angeles). Universal Travel offers 13-day packages to Mexico and Cuba from $4,799.
- All prices not inclusive of taxes and surcharges.
- Photos: AP, AFP, Reuters