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Archive for July, 2009

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Get a nine-day “Taste of Thailand” for just $899

It’s hard to determine what’s most alluring about Thailand. The splendid white sand beaches, exotic architecture, fascinating culture, and ancient ruins all leave travelers breathless. The country’s diversity attracts world travelers of every kind — from the frugal backpacker to the sophisticated beachcomber.
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But the almost 9,000-mile distance from the U.S. to Thailand, coupled with the high cost of long distance international travel, has made this golden land of Asia accessible to only a fortunate few of the many who would love to take the trip.
Not anymore. We just unveiled a breakthrough low price on a group tour to Thailand. Taste of Thailand starts at an astounding $899, and takes travelers to three of Thailand’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring cities: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi.
We’re very excited about this new tour. Taste of Thailand offers the chance to experience some of the country’s best places. And it’s at a price we haven’t seen in years, without sacrificing quality and comfort.
Thailand has emerged as one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan destinations in the world. At the same time, it remains deeply traditional in many ways. It’s this juxtaposition of old and new that gives the country its remarkable appeal.
The Taste of Thailand tour, conducted by English-speaking and licensed guides, immerses vacationers in the country’s intense beauty and rich culture, starting with Bangkok, Thailand’s sprawling capital city, also known as “Venice of the East.” In Bangkok, even the most frugal shopper can find treasures at unbeatable prices.
But to truly understand the country, travelers must experience the fabric that binds together the national identity that is Thailand: its temples. Vacationers will visit some of the country’s most important temple sites in Bangkok itself, including Wat Trimitr, where they’ll find the 700-year-old, five-ton Golden Buddha, the largest in the world.
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After touring in Bangkok, travelers continue to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site best known for its archaeological ruins from the King U-Thong kingdom in 1350, when the Ayutthaya was declared the capital of the country. It is this place that is referred to when the ancient name for Thailand, Siam, is used.
Then it’s on to Kanchanaburi, where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai Rivers converge into the Mae Klong River. It’s also where, in 1942 under Japanese control, the famous Bridge on the River Kwai was built by prisoners of war (POWs). Remember the movie? Travelers will view the bridge and also have an optional opportunity to ride an elephant through the lush jungle and enjoy a bamboo raft ride down the gently flowing River Kwai.
Travelers can take advantage of their already-included international airfare with a three-night visit to Phuket Island, known as “the Pearl of the Andaman Sea.” This optional extension includes a relaxing stay at the beautiful Novotel Resort, situated on eight acres of breathtaking tropical gardens overlooking the pristine waters of Kalim Bay.
There’s also an optional tour to Angkor Wat in Cambodia for travelers looking to explore one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in the world. For those who can’t decide between the two options, it’s possible to have them both.
And for travelers with more time, there’s also a 12-day Treasures of Thailand trip for the low price of $1,499, with optional extensions to Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Phuket Island. The 12-day, fully escorted tour takes tourists from north to south — with stops in Chiang Mai, Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai, and Bangkok. The trip includes a savings of up to $600 per couple if reserved by Aug. 14.
For more information on either of our Thailand tours, have a look at our Web site, or feel free to contact us.

Eight-day Taste of Vietnam for $999 featured on the Examiner.com

As you probably picked up from my series of posts about my own Vietnam experience, Vietnam today draws thousands of Americans eager to fully understand the country, its people, culture, and ways of life — despite its controversial past.
But this remarkable journey has traditionally come with a high price tag, with tour prices easily exceeding $2,000. Until now. Last week, we unveiled our ultra-low-cost Taste of Vietnam vacation deal. The examiner.com picked up the press release we sent out last week with the full details. You can also read on below for more information.
The package, starting at just $999, visits two of Vietnam’s most dynamic and culturally awe-inspiring cities: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi.
The trip includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles (with JFK departures available at a surcharge of between $150 and $200, depending upon departure date); all ground transfers; all intra-Vietnam flights; six nights in superior hotel accommodations; daily buffet breakfast; and comprehensive sightseeing in each city with a local, English-speaking Vietnamese guide, including entrance fees.
Travelers can also choose from an array of discounted optional tours, such as Halong Bay, which can be done in one day or an overnight stay aboard a deluxe river boat, the Emeraude, as well as an optional extension to Bangkok, Thailand.
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There’s no doubt that Vietnam is spellbinding, and allures travelers for so many reasons. Its exotic location has shielded it from throngs of tourists and trampled habitat, fast food chains, and strip malls that often accompany those groups.
The country’s pivotal role in recent history also draws many U.S. veterans who want to return to Vietnam to find closure, see how the country has changed, find old haunts, and even rediscover old friends. There are also many Vietnamese people who settled in the U.S. in the years following the war who are longing to return for a visit, and whose children have never seen the homeland of their parents. Before now, maybe they couldn’t afford it. But now travelers can do it all for $999. That’s a deal that I’ve never seen in my 30 years of travel experience.
Among savvy travelers, Vietnam has emerged as one of Asia’s most popular new destinations. The fascination for Vietnam comes from its extraordinary beauty; simplicity of life; and warm, incredibly approachable people. The tour, conducted by English-speaking, Vietnamese licensed guides, immerses vacationers in the country’s intense beauty and rich culture, starting with Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by many locals) and ends in Hanoi.
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Vacationers get a taste of life in modern day Vietnam, with the country’s floating markets, winding canals, sweeping rice paddies, and bustling cityscapes. They also take a step back to the country’s controversial past, including a trip to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” and the Cu Chi Tunnels that were part of the underground highway of the Viet Cong.
For travelers with more time, Friendly Planet Travel also offers a 13-day Best of Vietnam trip for the low price of $2,399, with optional extensions to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Sapa Hill Tribes.
The 13-day fully escorted tour takes vacationers from south to north — with stops in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hanoi. For both vacations, on sale prices include savings of up to $800 per couple if reserved before Aug. 28.
If you’d like more information, or want to book, please visit our online booking agent, or contact us.

A little look at gran Paris (part 2)

Last week I gave you a little taste of beautiful Paris, through the eyes of my friend Leanna. When we left off, Leanna had described a diverse segway ride past many of the most incredibly attractions of Paris. She continues …
Our Segway tour guides, Simon and Billy, prepared a double-secret list of “best restaurants” not generally known to tourists. We seized immediately upon that. Our favorite restaurants that week were on that list. That was a much-appreciated extra “tip” from the guides to us!
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That same day, after exploring the Jardins du Luxembourg, we embarked on a night bike tour. The bikes were without lights, but we did have reflective jackets to warn any other tourists that we approaching.
We rode at breakneck speed from the Eiffel Tower to the Latin Quarter, over the bridge to the Ile Saint Louis, past Notre Dame, down the Champs Elysee to the Seine, where we took a midnight flyboat up and down the river. The boat trip treated us to sights along the riverbanks — folk dancers, rows of young men mooning the boat, lovers leaning against the walls with wine, the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower on the hour.
Next, we enrolled in a wine and cheese tasting class, held in an old subterranean cellar, formerly some sort of prison. Our sommelier was very French, very knowledgeable, and the wine was delicious (we scored a bottle of Sancerre). The other folks in the class were fun, and we ended up sitting with the family of Ted Nugent (remember “Cat Scratch Fever”?).

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Of course, Leanna’s description of delectable French delicacies doesn’t stop there. Stay tuned for the final post tomorrow, when Leanna will tell you all about the romance and flavor of dining in Paris.

A little look at gran Paris

In my travels over the years, I’ve had numerous opportunities to visit Europe. I’ve toured lots of cities and have rarely found a single one that I wouldn’t want to visit again. However, Paris remains in a category all by itself.
I admit that Paris is my favorite, and each time I go there, I expect to be disappointed in some way, so that I can finally bump Paris from the top of my favorite places list and give that revered spot to another city. But it never happens. Paris never disappoints. It only inspires, entertains, enchants, engages, and always makes me fall in love with it all over again.
A business associate and friend, Leanna Johannes, spent a week in Paris last month for vacation. Like me, Leanna knows a great city when she sees one. She agreed to write about her journey, which I’ll post here on our blog. Enjoy, and see if you can resist planning your own visit to Paris after reading! The following was taken right from the pages of Leanna’s journal …
Although our entire week in Paris was filled with sunlight, romance, and good food and wine, certain occasions deserve particular note.
First of all, our hotel, Relais Hotel du Vieux Paris, was the perfect place to spend our time there, as it was located in the heart of the St. Germain de Pres, not far from the Latin Quarter, near the Place St. Michel and Metro. It is on a quiet street, just around the corner from the action and romance of the night cafes and street scenes.
Our windows opened to fresh air and a view of the Seine. Our room was spacious (by European standards), air conditioned (an important question to ask if you are making a reservation,) and had half-timbered beams exposed in the ceilings and walls (and even the bathroom with a tub).
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The attention to detail was impressive, from the Brunschwig & Fils fabrics to the piping lining the draperies and beams. The owner, Madame Odillard, and her staff were extremely helpful everyday. We agreed that this will be the hotel we return to, as there is nothing to improve upon.
FP_Paris2.jpgWhile in Paris, we spent our days taking in as much as the Parisian culture and sites as we could. The first sightseeing tour we took was the City Segway Tour of Paris. What a sight! I mean us on Segways — that was the sight. We tried so hard not to look like tourists — no athletic shoes, no jeans — and there we were, in a pack of obvious tourists, Segwaying at high speeds through the beauty of Paris.
We started at the Eiffel Tower, motored by Napoléon’s Tomb (originally built by King Louis XIV in 1676 as an exclusive place or worship for the Royal family, now the resting place of the most famous Frenchman in history), Ecole Militaire, Les Invalides, Alexander III Bridge (my favorite bridge of all), Grand and Petit Palais, and on to Musée D’Orsay, through the plaza of the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens (where we had lunch at a café nestled in the chestnut trees), down the Champs-Elysées from the Place de la Concorde, and past the Arc de Triomphe.
That’s a lot to see but we covered it all on those fast-moving, foot-friendly Segways! We booked our tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours, and found our young guides very helpful and friendly.

Stay tuned, because I’ll continue with Leanna’s trip through Gran Paris next week!

A step through time: Classic Israel

Last week I told you about our customized tour options through the Holy Lands. Well, we also have a set tour through Classic Israel. On this nine-day vacation, travelers can see, touch, and experience the land of the Bible, as it was in ancient times, and as it is today.
This trip’s itinerary features all of the most important Biblical sites. And unlike many of our other vacation packages, there aren’t any optional tours on Classic Israel, because everything “must see” is already included in the program and part of our low price of $2,199.
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Every tour is escorted throughout by a certified Friendly Planet Travel teacher-guide who knows and loves the land and will make the Land of the Bible come alive. Every hotel has been selected for its location, comfort, and service. And every day of the program has been carefully designed to be sure that our vacationers’ experiences in Israel is the best.
The journey begins in Tel Aviv, and travels north along the Mediterranean Sea to Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea. There, travelers have a chance to explore the beautifully restored theater and extensive and ongoing excavations of the ruins of the ancient town, its harbor, and aqueduct.
Next is Megiddo, Biblical Armageddon. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, Megiddo’s 20 major strata contain the remains of around 30 different cities and holds a central place in the biblical narrative. Continue to Mount Carmel, where Elijah defeated the priests of Ba’al then on to the Sea of Galilee.
The next morning, set sail through the Sea of Galilee aboard a wooden fishing boat built to represent vessels used during Bible times, and arrive at Capernaum, once a simple fishing village, where Jesus was often a guest of his disciple Peter. Here, vacationers can visit the ruins of the ancient synagogue and house of Peter, then continue to Tabgha, site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the Mount of Beatitudes, site of the Sermon on the Mount.
Travelers will drive south via the Jordan Valley to Beit She’an, an extraordinary excavation of an ancient Greco-Roman city. Located some 30 kilometers south of the Sea of Galilee, Beit She’an was one of the major cities in the land of Israel, due primarily to its location at the intersection of the road to Jerusalem and the road to Transjordan. Next is Qumran and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.
Next, travelers can enjoy a cable car ride over the historic fortress of Masada. After a tour of the extensive excavations at Masada, continue to Ein Gedi, David’s waterfall and a pristine nature center.
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On to Jerusalem and everything the fascinating city entails, including the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, Mount Zion, the site of the Upper Room, the Kidron Valleyn and the Garden of Gethsemane. Within the walls of Old City lie the Via Dolorosa, the restored Jewish Quarter, the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Rabbinic Tunnels under the Wall, the Temple Site on Mount Moriah, and the Garden Tomb.
The final destination of the nine-day journey is the new city of Jerusalem, outside the walls of Old City. Here, travelers will find the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed, the Memorial to the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, and a model of the city during the Second Temple period.
If you’ve ever dreamed of understanding and experiencing more about the origins of faith — whether that be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim — this journey of Biblical discovery and spiritual renewal in Israel, Land of the Bible, will be an unforgettable adventure. For more information or to book now, please visit the Friendly Planet Travel Web site.

Twitter yourself a great travel deal

Last week I touched upon how travel tweeting — by both the travelers themselves and the companies that get them on their way — has taken off in a big way.
A few weeks ago I commented on a story in USA Today about how travelers can use Twitter to snag some fast-moving travel deals. The article was fantastic, but in my comment, which has made it’s way to the top of the comment stack :) , I let readers in on some tips to further leverage Twitter to find those travel deals easier than ever before, such as hashtags, searches, and Twitter platforms. Have a look to find out more.
And if you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow us @FriendlyPlanet for the latest Friendly Planet Travel news and a peek behind the curtain at the Friendly Planet Travel office, as well as tips, tricks, and deals for traveling the world.
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Travel News: Ancient chamber found in Israel

You might have already heard about the incredible ancient underground chamber that was recently found in Israel. Archeologists discovered the chamber this past March, which they believe might date back to the Roman period around the first century A.D. I came across this National Geographic article about the chamber, and wanted to share it with you because of the stunning photos included. Extraordinary!
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Tips from the Practical Traveler: How to avoid the snarls of a cancelled trip

Obviously, a lot of planning goes into putting together a vacation package. Operators set dates and prices more than a year ahead of the departure date so they can be printed in brochures. Today, planning that far ahead comes with a risk.

A few years ago, travelers were smart to book trips as early as possible. Vacations such as cruises and group tours filled up quickly. But that was before the economy took a nose dive. There are far less people with the extra financial cushion to spend on vacations today, and tour operators are worried about finding enough paying customers to cover costs.

As Michelle Higgins says in today’s Practical Traveler, vacationers that are making moves are holding out for last-minute deals. This is forcing tour operators to revise their budgets and cancel more trips.
And as tour operators cancel trips, travelers who have already booked are stuck with airline cancellation fees, botched vacation plans, and other unexpected fees. In her article, Michelle lets readers in on some of the system’s tips and tricks to avoid getting slammed, and called on me for my two cents. Have a look at the article, and keep it in mind when booking your next vacation!

Where did Jesus really walk?

If you’re a spiritual person, you understand how deeply religion permeates the lives of people throughout the world. Imagine then, being given the chance to put down the Bible and physically experience the sights, smells, and sounds described on those very pages.
In addition to our popular international destinations that sell out quickly, an equally popular traveling experience is our journeys to the Holy Lands. Christian groups in particular contact us to help them design the perfect trip for their congregation or church group, to experience the lands where Jesus once walked and ministered.
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As you probably know, every Christian denomination has its own unique way of observing its faith. For example, Catholics believe Jesus was resurrected from Calvary, which is now within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Many Protestant denominations want to visit the Garden Tomb, widely considered to be Jesus’ burial place. Seventh Day Adventist groups schedule their worship services on the Jewish Sabbath, rather than on Sunday. And so on.
Every denomination experiences Jesus’ life in the Holy Land differently. That’s why, while we’ve carefully designed our tours to include the all relevant places to Christian travelers, we also give our pilgrims the chance to customize their trips. We understand completely the commitment and emotional investment a traveler makes in choosing a pilgrimage, and we go to great lengths to design and operate our tours so that they provide an experience that is at once deeply spiritual and rewarding, as a vacation should be.
At the same time, we calculate prices with a razor sharp pencil, knowing that we must be excellent stewards of our passengers’ resources. A Holy Land group tour that is booked with Friendly Planet will be as inexpensive as it is rewarding. That’s a commitment we’ve kept for 30 years, and we’ve got plenty of pastors and their congregations who’ll vouch that we keep our commitments.
Our specialty Holy Lands tours center around a nine day itinerary that typically begins in the north with a night in Tel Aviv or vicinity upon arrival, then continues through the Galilee and then up to Jerusalem, usually the highlight of the trip. The program encompasses the perfect blend of breathtaking natural scenery, incredible historical sites, and awe-inspiring religious significance. A perfect journey of Biblical discovery and spiritual renewal is the goal for every group, where the Bible comes alive for all.
Here’s how it works. We help each group plan its ideal itinerary. While nine days is the most popular tour length, the itinerary can be extended to include more of Israel or other countries in the region, such as Jordan, with visits to Petra and Mt. Nebo, and Egypt. Once the details are clear, we will prepare a costing based on all the desired features, including the most convenient gateway for the group. Once everything is agreed upon, we’ll create an attractive web page which we post on our website, so that the group can easily provide information to everyone who is going and for those who are just considering.
Pastors and tour leaders typically value this free exposure, and they use the Web page as a promotional tool to help recruit travelers. A special, personalized registration form is provided for every group, and group members have the option to book on line, by mail, or by telephone.
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Our group tour leaders especially appreciate our service to them in every phase of the tour. We collect deposits and final payments, arrange for everything from flights, transfers, hotels, meals, special requests, even tipping. Group leaders can look to us to take care of all the details, so that they have plenty of time to recruit their group and then enjoy the tour.
The most recent Israel and Jordan tour took advantage of nine days of touring for just $2,380. And as with every Friendly Planet Travel vacation, the prices don’t skimp on the details. They include roundtrip airfare, fuel surcharges, great hotels, transfers, many meals, touring, and more.
Destinations and tours for a personalized Israel/Jordan tour include Bethlehem; the Church of the Nativity; the Church of the Visitation; the Church of John the Baptist; Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; the Shrine of the Book, and the newly restored model of Jerusalem from the Second Temple Period; Mount of Olives; the Garden of Gethsemane; the Church of All Nations; the Old City of Jerusalem; the Western Wall; the Byzantine Cardo; St. Anne’s Church; the Crypt of Mary; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; Mount Zion; the traditional burial site of King David; the Room of the Last Supper; the Garden Tomb; Calvary; the Dead Sea; Galilee; the Church of St. Peter; the Mount of Beatitudes, the site of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount; the Heptagon Church at Tabgha, where Jesus performed the Miracle of Loaves and Fish; and many, many more
As with all Friendly Planet Travel packages, prices includes airfare from the group’s gateway city, fuel charges, all group transfers, superior hotel accommodations, buffet breakfast and dinner daily, comprehensive touring, and more. To book or for more information on any Holy Lands tours, please visit the Friendly Planet Travel Web site, or contact us.

Travel tweeting and the twitterers worth tweeting with, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

As New York Times travel columnist Michelle Higgins wrote, whether you’re on the Twitter bus or off, there’s no denying that companies are taking notice of what is being tweeted about them, and — especially when it comes to travel — that could benefit you in a big way.
Indeed, travelers around the world have jumped on board Twitter as a means to share their experiences, air their grievances, and give and take travel advice. So I was excited to see that last week, The San Francisco Chronicle listed their top choices for travel tweeters that we travel fiends should be following.
What the article didn’t mention however, was some of the great ways travelers can unlock the power of Twitter, beyond simply hitting the “follow” button. So I left a comment with a few of the tips I’ve learned throughout my own travel-tweeting process. I hope you find them as helpful as I did!

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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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