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Archive for June, 2009

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My Friendly Planet journey through Vietnam (part 1)

Perhaps no country in the world hits such a psychological nerve as Vietnam. It is a notion that nearly divided our entire country 30 years ago, and yet today draws back thousands of Americans eager to fully understand the Vietnam experience — its people, culture, and ways of life.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I’m no stranger to the world. But despite my decades of world travel (plus the fact that we’ve been offering Vietnam as popular tour destination for years), I’d somehow never had the chance to visit Vietnam. Having just returned from 10 days of touring the country south to north, my only regret is that I didn’t make it there sooner.
In Vietnam, you won’t find any of the usual sites and sounds of typical Western countries, such as towering cathedrals, impressive monuments, colossal amphitheaters, or excavations of ancient civilizations. Rather, the fascination for Vietnam comes from its extraordinary beauty; simplicity of life; and warm, incredibly approachable people. Not that Vietnam is lacking in ancient civilizations and monuments, but the culture — like its Buddhist religion — shuns opulence in a way that we westerners might find surprising.
Life in Saigon, Vietnam’s largest city, is different from any other place in the country. On arrival, driving from the airport to the city, I was dazzled by the swarms of motorbikes that are this country’s major mode of transportation. Often, there are two, three, and even four passengers on a single bike. And they move like a river through the busy streets, flowing around anything — or anyone — that gets in the way.
As you can see, it was crowded.
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Lesson one upon arrival from Man, our sweet and helpful guide, was in crossing the street without risking life or limb. It turns out that the trick to navigating safely is to keep moving, slowly but steadily, through the traffic, and to keep looking, not in the direction of the oncoming flow of motorbikes like you might think, but in the direction of your destination. Man swore that the motorbikes would just maneuver around me, and — to my amazement — he was right.
Here’s Man, a Friendly Planet Travel tour guide, giving us a few handy tips on navigating ourselves through the streets of Saigon.
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Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called) has plenty of sites to explore, including a wonderful central market that filled with aromatic fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, clothing, shoes, and anything you might want, all at prices that might make you an instant shopaholic. There are also rows upon rows of food stalls in the market, where you can taste some of the delicacies that make Vietnamese cuisine so popular around the world.
If you’ve never tasted an authentic Vietnamese spring roll made from a paper-thin rice crepe, carefully filled and rolled up with sprigs of basil, cilantro, steamed shrimp, bean sprouts and dipped into a delicate, slightly spicy fish sauce, you’re missing an incredible treat. And without any help from sugar or addition of any kind, the pineapple, mango, mangosteen, and lychee are delicious. I couldn’t get enough of them (and I’m not known for my voracious appetite).
This woman is making the rice paper for spring rolls by hand. Delicious!
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Stay tuned, because I’ll be continuing my Vietnam tales this week!

Customer Testimonial: Coordinating care abroad

Here at Friendly Planet Travel, we work with groups of all shapes, sizes, and causes. And one group in particular that we’ll be focusing on in the weeks to come is religious groups.
There are a number of Friendly Planet Travel tours that cater specifically to religious pilgrimages, excursions, and fundraising trips, such as our Classic Israel – Land of the Bible tour. Our decades spent working with different groups of all faiths has given us the experience to know and understand the interests, sensitivities, and even diets of different religions.
But I’ll expand more on that soon. Because besides giving us our strong religious knowledge, our 30 years of experience has also made us experts in reacting to an emergency. Now, I’m not saying that emergencies happen often, but when they do, we know how to handle it. As I said in one of our previous customer testimonials, when you’re abroad, anything from someone getting sick on the trip, to losing a wallet or passport, to a snafu in the itinerary, could turn into an emergency. And if it does, rest assured that we are going to take care of you.
We recently received a testimonial from a Friendly Planet Travel vacationer who was on a religious group tour with his pastor in Israel, when something no one had planned for happened: He broke his ankle. Here’s what he had to say about that experience, (as always, unedited).
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Excellent trip. Over two years ago I went with a pastor and his wife on a Friendly Planet tour of Israel. About half way through the tour, I fell and broke my ankle. Friendly Planet and their associates really went out of their way to take care of me and to coordinate my care in Israel and to orchestrate my trip home. I highly recommend taking any tour arranged by Friendly Planet and, also, purchasing the very reasonable trip insurance.
– Gene Haury, Simi Valley, CA

If Gene broke his ankle and still calls his Classic Israel vacation an “excellent trip,” then I’d say we did our jobs well!

Taste of China UPDATE

To update yesterday’s China post and our original Taste of China post, I was pleased to see that this past Sunday’s L A Times published details for our Taste of China vacation.
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As you can see in the article, our China deal for $999 has completely sold out, with 161 passengers booked, but we still have about 25 spots available for tours for only $100 more at $1099. But hurry, because this deal just opened yesterday, and it won’t take long before it’s all booked up!

Taste of China meets MSNBC

I’m happy to report that our Taste of China vacation was published in today’s MSNBC Budget Travel column, so have a look!
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For more information on Taste of China, have a look at our original blog post, or our recent podcast with Taste of China tour guide and Beijing resident, Sam Lui.

Friendly Planet Travel Podcasts: chatting with China

At Friendly Planet Travel, we’re in constant communication with our tour guides around the world. We just like to be sure that we’re completely on top of everything that’s taking place in every Friendly Planet Travel destination, and make sure our guides know they’re doing a fantastic job. In fact, the No. 1 praise we receive from returning travelers is all in thanks to the great work done by our talented and informative tour guides.
Since our guides play such an integral role in your Friendly Planet Travel experience, we thought it would be a great idea to kick off a podcast series in which you can get to know a little bit about some of the locals.
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First up in our series is Sam Liu. Sam has been a Friendly Planet Travel tour guide in China for the past nine years. Last week, Bridget, one of our Friendly Planeteers, had the opportunity to speak to Sam, and learn a little bit about what it’s like to be a Friendly Planet Tour guide in China.
We’re thankful Sam could take the time out of his busy schedule to chat with us for a few minutes, as he was getting ready to leave for the annual Duanwu Festival, otherwise known as the Dragon Boat Festival.
Hit play below to meet one of our very talented China tour guides.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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