Friendly Planet Blog

The romantic side of Thailand

There are a lot of incredible reasons to visit Thailand: bustling cities with mouth-watering markets, ancient and adorned temples, rich and flavorful food, bygone ruins to wander, pristine beaches to lounge on, and incredible sunsets. So have you considered it for your next romantic getaway? From “newlywed” to “forever after”, Thailand is one of THE premier places for lovers. With our newest line of romantic getaways you and your partner can experience the Land of Smiles in luxurious bliss. Below we break down for you five destinations in Thailand and why their romantic side makes them tempting for two.

Bangkok

Bangkok ©Adam Selwood - Flickr

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7 things you can’t skip in Turkey!

Situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey has enchanted travelers for centuries. And for good reason! Stunning sun-soaked beaches dotted with quaint seaside towns line the coast. Bustling cities like Istanbul and Ankara charm visitors with incredible food, fascinating cultural experiences, and covered markets full of handwoven rugs, intricately painted ceramics and brass samovars. And with more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites, history comes alive across the breathtaking landscape as ancient cities and ruins are found at every turn.

But, where do you start? We’ve got you covered. Here are 7 things you cannot skip when you travel to this incredible destination.

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#FriendlyFiles: Kristin goes to Spain

Recently Kristin, a member of Friendly Planet’s Product Development team, had the opportunity to travel to a destination that’s always been on her bucket list! Check out some highlights from her recent adventure on our Discover Spain tour:

Barcelona ©Ajay Suresh, Flickr

History & Art

Spain is rich in history and culture. Whether I was exploring the ancient cities of Toledo and Cordoba, discovering the towering icon that is La Alhambra, or wandering through the narrow medieval streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, it felt like I had stepped back in time!

There is an abundance of art and architecture throughout the country: wander through the opulent jewel that is Madrid’s Royal Palace; explore the fascinating La Alhambra fortress and citadel with its Moorish influence; marvel at Giralda Cathedral in Seville, the largest Gothic cathedral and third-largest church in the world; visit the Mezquita of Cordoba which illustrates a fascinating blend of Roman, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions; and of course, you can’t miss Gaudí’s iconic Art Nouveau architecture throughout Barcelona…and that’s just to name a few!

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Friendly Planet Travelers: Fan Photo Round Up

Each week across our social media channels, we feature traveler submitted Fan Photos! Our travelers LOVE to share their experiences from across the globe: from bucket-list destinations and breathtaking safaris to people-to-people experiences and so much more! Take a look at some of our favorites from the last few months. Friendly Planet travelers: want to submit your travel moments to this running series? Email a few of your favorite photos along with captions to aklein@friendlyplanet.com!

Kenya Safari Express

It’s #FanPhotoFriday! This week’s photos were sent in by Ruth from her Kenya Safari Express tour! Check out her…

Posted by Friendly Planet Travel on Friday, June 16, 2017

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5 Countries Where Game of Thrones is Filmed

UPDATE: We hope everyone enjoyed the Season 7 Premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones and doesn’t if feel like this season is just zipping by?! But we digress… this post is long, and full of spoilers through the end of Season 6.

ORIGINAL POST: Now, down to business. If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones then we don’t need to remind you that season 7 kicks off on Sunday July 16. Last we left our lovable band of ambitious thrones seekers, Daenerys Targaryen was on her long awaited journey back to Westeros with Tyrion (and dragons) in tow, Jon Snow and Sansa Stark were reuniting the North, and Cersei Lannister had wrested power from the grips of all challengers. But there’s still so many questions to be answered (like who are the three heads of the dragon?). Unfortunately, aspiring Maesters won’t find much resolution in the lines of this ponderous tome. But what we can offer is a look into the actual filming locations and sets of many of the iconic GOT settings; and while we’re at it, give you some insight into how you can visit some of these places on our tours.

The Dark Hedges ©HBO (Left) ©Paul Bowman/Flickr (Right)

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is to GOT as Kings Landing is to Westeros – that is to say, the buzzing capital of the entire operation. Paint Hall studio in Belfast, located on the original Harland and Wolff shipyard where parts of the Titanic were built, holds the interior sets of Winterfell, Castle Black, Daenerys’s throne room in the Great Pyramid and so much more. But it’s the broad sweeping landscapes and grand castle exteriors that really shape the settings of the show and define the stories of its characters, and it’s here where the country of Northern Ireland steals the show.

The entire series opens in Tollymore Forest Park in County Down where a Night’s Watch scouting party discovers that White Walkers are no longer the stuff of ancient lore beyond the Wall. This same forest is where the Stark children discover six orphaned direwolf pups. Not far from the forest sits 1,000 acres of land belonging to Old Castle Ward. On these lands is Audley’s Castle which serves as the exterior of Winterfell. And who can forget when Ned Stark beheaded a deserter of the Night’s Watch, performed against the backdrop of moors and hills of Cairncastle in County Antrim. Also in this county is Shane’s Castle, whose cellars serve as Winterfell’s crypts, and Cushendum Caves where the Red Priestess Melisandre gives birth to the shadow creature that assassinates Renly Baratheon. But perhaps the site that is most iconic to Northern Ireland and the show is the Dark Hedges, a countryside avenue flanked by beech trees that serves as the Kingsroad leading North to Winterfell and the Wall.

While we don’t visit any of these particular sites on our Best of Ireland, you do spend plenty of time in Northern Ireland’s countryside drinking in the rolling landscapes and ancient ruins that inspired GOT show makers to set their show primarily here. Plus, when in Belfast, you’ll visit the Titanic Belfast Experience, which is located along the same dock complex as Paint Hall studio. And Bonus: on your way to the Giant’s Causeway, from the road you may be able to make out the silhouette of Dunluce Castle, the ancestral seat of the Greyjoys!

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India’s Major Festivals

With a population of over 1.3 billion, and about 90% of the world’s Hindus, it’s no wonder India’s festivals are so engaging and larger than life. And every year, countless travelers flock to India to be a part of these culturally immersive celebrations. Below are three of the most iconic of India’s festivals, which you can actually visit on a Friendly Planet Tour.

Illuminated ©Jasleen Kaur/Flickr

Diwali

Known as the “festival of lights” in Hinduism, Diwali literally translates to “a series of lights”… and what an appropriate name given the ancient tradition of lighting lanterns, candles, and prayer! This annual holiday takes place on the night of the darkest new moon of the Hindu Lunisolar month. To brighten this seemingly hopeless darkness, millions of twinkling lights shine outside homes, windows, temples, and other community buildings; a shining beacon designed to be seen by all, and a confirmation that light has won over darkness, hope over despair, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. You can visit India during Diwali on our Taj Mahal Express & Diwali, Festival of Light small group tour.

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Bhutan’s Fascinating Festivals

Landlocked between India to the South and China to the North, this small Asian country has a cultural presence much larger than the country itself. Staying completely independent over its history, the Bhutanese people have a strong devotion to their faith, with almost 75% of its population practicing Buddhism. To represent and revel in this devotion to their beliefs, locals of Bhutan participate in many festivals—all throughout the year—to flaunt their bright and vivacious values. Every one of the departures of our Beautiful Bhutan small group tour is scheduled around a real Bhutanese festival or authentic festival performance. So check out some highlights below from the festivals we visit in one of the world’s happiest countries, then take the road less traveled and experience Beautiful Bhutan for yourself!

Bright masks accompany almost every Bhutanese festival! © Arian Zwegers/Flickr

What are Teschu festivals?

All the festivals we have on our departures are called Tsechu festival (Tse-Date Chu–Ten). These festivals are celebrated to commemorate the great deeds of 8th century Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava who is credited in spreading of Mahayana Buddhism in the entire Himalayan region. So it is commemorated on the 10th day of every month (according to the lunar calendar) in different states.

These Tsechu festivals are dominated by ancient old religious Mask Dances that are performed by both monks and lay person in brilliant costumes re-enacting the legendary events, accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums, and clashing cymbals as they whirl and leap around the ancient old courtyard of a Dzong (Fortress) or in a small temple at a village. Crowds gather in their finest hand woven dress, brightly patterned for which Bhutan is renowned, creating an intensely colorful and exciting atmosphere that had remained unchanged in its traditional purity for centuries. Locals believe that by dressing in their finest is another form of offering that could bring them blessings, give them an opportunity to please the deities which in return bring them merit, luck, prosperity and also an occasion to see people and to be seen. The dance itself is believed to be the representation of the deities that are encountered during the intermediate period of death and rebirth.

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Hiking the Tiger’s Nest

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan ©PROGöran Höglund (Kartläsarn)/Flickr

Last year we received this wonderful letter from one of our travelers, John Monahan. His beautiful story about a trek to The Tiger’s Nest Monastery—a famous Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple perched high on a cliff in Bhutan—reminds all of us here at Friendly Planet why we do what we do! This experience will stay with John the rest of his life, and we’re humbled to be a part of it.


Dear Friendly Planet,

I am sending you this because I want to share an experience that I had hiking to Tiger’s Nest monastery high in the Himalayas, the Mecca for Buddhism in this part of the world. I had many good experiences in Bhutan, but this one in particular was really special. You see, I was supposed to spend the last two days in Paro, the town below the monastery, before leaving Bhutan for Bangkok. But my flight in Bumthang was cancelled because of rain and the only road was not passable because of rock slides. Luckily, I was able to get on a late afternoon charter the following day, but that also meant I only had one night in Paro. Turns out, this was not enough time to visit the Tiger’s Nest, because my guide, Karma (I hope that I am spelling his name correctly), said that we would need at least five hours to complete the hike; the flight to Bangkok was at 1PM. So I asked if I could do the hike at 5AM. He agreed, even though he didn’t think that we would make it to the top in time.

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Our Travelers’ Favorite Airports (Infographic)

We asked our travelers on Facebook to weigh in on their favorite airports across the globe – check out what they had to say!

 

Top 5 Ways To Get Internet Abroad

Top 5 Ways To Get Internet AbroadIt’s the age old question on every international traveler’s mind. More important than flight details or where they’re going to stay. More pressing than the sightseeing or the dining or the evening entertainment. The answer to which assures their very survival while away….

Will there be WiFi?

Ok. So maybe this is a much more recent phenomenon. And maybe access to the Internet isn’t really all that important while traveling. But the truth remains: the ability to keep in touch with friends, family and work, to use your GPS location to find a restaurant, to post a picture to show everyone else what they’re missing out on – these things are important to today’s traveler. And you can’t do them without Internet access.

So here we demystify the process of accessing the Internet while traveling abroad and provide you an overview of your options.

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