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Archive for April, 2010

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All fun and no crowds: Skip Rio and head to Olinda, Brazil for Carnaval!

Everyone’s heard of Carnaval in Brazil, just like everyone has heard of Mardi Gras in Louisiana. When you think of Mardi Gras, you think New Orleans. And when you think Carnaval, you think Rio.

Now I’m about to change how you think.

Carnaval just doesn’t happen in Rio. It happens all over Brazil, and there are many ways to participate. Many people say that a lesser-known city, Olinda, has one of the most traditional Carnaval observances. In addition, Olinda’s Carnaval doesn’t have the overwhelming crowds, which gets you closer to this Brazilian experience.

These points were recently driven home to me by our webmaster, Cameron Clark and his equally talented photographer girlfriend, Amy Steinfeld, who went there this February. It was his first Carnaval. He flew into Saõ Paulo, and traveled to Olinda, Recife, Trancoso, and back to Saõ Paulo in 10 days. Four out of the 10 days were spent celebrating in the streets of Olinda. Cameron captured some amazing photos that I’m about to share with you here.

In his slideshow (below), he gives us some background on his trip, including a bit of the history of the frevo. The soundtrack to the slideshow is a recording of the frevo, which originated in Olinda. Grab a cold drink (trust me, you’ll want one) and start the show. You’ll be transported to the rosy pink colonial homes and sun-kissed beaches of Brazil.

CARNAVAL: Olinda, Brazil

We don’t have a tour to Olinda (at least not yet). But that’s no reason not to share this fabulous destination and Cameron’s experiences with you. After you’re done watching the slideshow, if you find yourself interested in a South American experience, we do have the Patagonian Explorer — one of my personal favorites — Incredible Argentina, Exotic Ecuador, and three other tours to choose from. Meanwhile, enjoy Carnaval!

Thailand remains calm, tourism to resume

This post has be updated here.

I received an update from the Thai Ministry of Tourism today. Here’s what they told me. Bangkok remains calm as the Thai government continues to work towards resolving the political situation. Popular tourist destinations outside of Bangkok have not been affected.

This past week, the Songkran, the Thai New Year holiday, brought a period of cooling off while many people celebrated the holiday. As a result, traffic has improved and protesters have moved from their traffic-stopping locations.

At this time, tourism to Thailand will continue as usual, unless something new occurs.

Here’s what Friendly Planet is doing for our travelers going to Thailand. We have asked our suppliers to help us with those travelers who, despite the calmer atmosphere, still do not feel comfortable traveling to Thailand.

For those traveling with Friendly Planet on April 28 (our next departure), anyone who feels unwilling to continue with the tour can postpone their trip without any penalties. They also have the option to book our Vietnam tour, which flies on the same airline.

I will post an update if there are any new developments in Thailand. Please write to me directly if you have any questions or concerns about your trip.

Last chance to win a Space Bag TO GO!

I asked, and you shared. I’m overwhelmed at all of the great packing tips you’ve posted to be eligible to win one of eight Space Bags TO GO. For those of you that haven’t shared your packing tips yet, time is running out!

You have until 11:59 p.m. EST TODAY to share your best packing tip in a comment on the original post to be eligible to win a Space Bag TO GO. Go to the post to get all of the details.

VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure you leave your name and an e-mail address where we can contact you if you win. If you don’t leave it and we pick your name, you will not be eligible to win. Eight winners will be randomly selected from the pool of applicants and announced on the blog next week.

What are you waiting for? Post your comment now. Good luck!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere, the podcast transcript

We’re giving you not just one, but two ways to travel around the world with Gary Arndt, creator of Everything Everywhere and world traveler. First, our podcast that we shared with you last week, and now the transcript of our interview, which you can read below.

Should you bring jewelry on vacation?

I’ve given a lot of advice to my customers on what they should and shouldn’t pack when traveling on one of our tours. One question I get asked frequently by women is whether they should pack their jewelry.

My answer is yes and no. Bring the less expensive pieces so you can still accessorize and dress up, but leave the pricey jewels at home. It’s not worth the risk. The last thing you want to do is spoil your trip if you lose expensive jewelry or someone swipes it from you.

In fact, it’s no secret that even on the fanciest of luxury cruises, many of the world’s rich and famous wear fake jewels. Plus, when you travel with Friendly Planet, you’re visiting some of the most exotic locations in the world where you can buy unique pieces of jewelry. Look at your trip as a way to expand your jewelry collection. ;-)

While I’m on the topic of accessories, let’s talk handbags. I can’t leave my house without my purse, let alone the country. The last thing you want to do — whether on vacation or at home — is put it down or hang it on the back of your chair at a restaurant and lose track of it. My trick is to carry a purse hook in my bag.

It’s a small, lightweight hook that latches on to the table you’re sitting at. Place the handles of your bag on it. Now your purse is hanging under the table next to your legs, rather than on the ground or on the back of a chair. The hook costs only a few dollars and is well worth it.

It’s little tips like these that make packing for a vacation less stressful. If you have other questions about what you should or shouldn’t pack, write to me or post a comment. Also, check out some of the packing tips we’ve been getting on our Space Bag TO GO contest.

We’re asking people to share their best packing tips to enter to win one of eight Space Bags TO GO. If you want to share yours, go to the original post and leave a comment. All of the details are there. You just might be one of our lucky winners!

Thailand protests spark travel alert from US: What Friendly Planet travelers need to know

This post has been updated here.

We have been posting regular updates on the blog about the political situation in Thailand, keeping you informed on what has been taking place. The situation changed over the weekend, and I wanted you to know what you should do and how we are handling it.

The safety of our travelers is one of our prime concerns, so we reacted immediately to the situation. Here is the e-mail we sent to all of our travelers who have booked a tour to Thailand. It explains what has happened and what we are doing to accommodate each traveler.

If, after reading it, you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly or post a question here on the blog.

Dear Friendly Planet Thailand Travelers,

Like us, you have no doubt been following the unfolding drama in Bangkok. We have posted regular updates about the situation on our blog, and until this past weekend, the situation was peaceful despite the growing numbers of protesters. Unfortunately, as we now know, violence erupted during the weekend causing some deaths and injuries. This is truly not in character with the Thai people, who have a history of expressing their dissatisfaction with their government through marches and demonstrations but not violence.

These are the facts as we know them at this moment. According to our representatives on the ground in Bangkok, the outbreaks of violence have occurred in a small part of the city and did not spread to other areas. While the protesters have not yet dispersed, the city appears to be calm, although many people are shocked and saddened that such hostile acts could occur in their midst. Both sides of the dispute are now in talks to try and resolve the impasse, and we are hopeful that a solution will now be found so that no further violence will occur.

This coming week, Thailand will celebrate a national holiday and many people are away. The streets are relatively quiet, and all tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, shops and businesses are all open as usual. The US Department of State has issued a travel alert about the situation. http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_1998.html. While the alert describes the situation, it does not ask travelers to refrain from visiting Thailand. In fact, the alert states that Thailand is usually a very safe tourist destination and only asks that visitors take extra precautions to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place. Please follow the link to read the entire text of the alert.

Under the circumstances, we want to make sure that you are comfortable in knowing that all options are available to you, from going forward with your plans to canceling your trip without penalty. Please consider the following options for travel to Thailand between April 12 and April 23:

  • You may proceed with your trip as planned. If, when you arrive in Bangkok, the situation has not stabilized, our representatives will offer a revised program outside of Bangkok. Details of this alternate program will be made available upon arrival.
  • You may switch to another date of the same trip. No change fees will apply should you select another departure. However, the tour price in effect for the new dates will apply. That is, if your tour price is presently $1500 and the new date price is $1800, your balance due will be $300. If your new date price is $1300, you will receive a refund of $200.
  • You may cancel your Thailand tour and apply your tour payments to a different Friendly Planet tour. Again, the tour price of the new tour will apply.
  • You may cancel your tour without any cancellation penalties whatsoever, even if tickets have already been issued.


For departures after April 23, we do not as yet have a ruling by the airline or hotels regarding penalties. It is believed that the situation will be calm by then, and no further cancellations will be necessary. However, if this is not the case and the situation remains volatile, we believe our suppliers will extend the grace period and waive penalties for departures beyond April 23.

Please notify us without delay about your wishes. You may call us (800-555-5765) or send us a message by email at (reservations@friendlyplanet.com)

Rest assured that your well being and safety is our primary concern. We are watching the situation carefully, and we will do everything possible to facilitate a proper and positive outcome for all our travelers. If you have questions or need further clarification or information, contact us so we can help.


If you want to be the first to find out about Friendly Planet news, we will be introducing a new feature that will let you sign up for e-mail notifications. Once it is in action, I will tell you about it here.

Vietnam is Anthony Bourdain’s favorite place on Earth to eat

MAIN COURSE: Vietnamese elephant fish

Last week on the Travel Channel’sAnthony Bourdain No Reservations,” Tony traveled to his favorite place in the world to eat, Vietnam. Tony’s got good taste. It’s one my favorite places to go to for the food. Last year on my trip to Vietnam, I happily ate my way through the country.

Like me, Anthony had plenty of good things to say about the food in Vietnam. For starters, you can sample the amazing cuisine of this beautiful country, and not spend a fortune. Whether you choose a restaurant, a sidewalk restaurant, or a market food stall, it’s consistently delicious, aesthetically presented, and quite affordable.

I told you about the succulent five-course lunch I enjoyed at a remote Mekong Delta restaurant.The entire meal, including delicious appetizers, main course, and dessert was prepared for 19 guests on four little burners in a sliver of a kitchen that lacked most modern-day appliances. And like my other meals in Vietnam, it was not only palate pleasing, it was beautifully presented in the Vietnamese way: simple ingredients, artistic arrangement, appetizing, and delicious.

One of my favorite foods, and one of the prettiest, is the Vietnamese spring roll. These spring rolls are created with a thin, flat rice pancake filled with a variety of ingredients. They usually include perfectly cooked shrimp, which are placed in the center, fragrant fresh basil or parsley, a sliver of cucumber or another vegetable, and a fresh scallion.

The pancake is carefully rolled, with the ends tucked in, to hold the contents in place. The scallion’s green end protrudes from one end of the roll like a tail, to be eaten with the last bite of the roll. The roll is then dipped into a delicate, mildly spicy fish sauce garnished with a few paper-thin slices of chili pepper. Ordinarily, a fish sauce would make me say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Not in Vietnam. The fish sauce adds to the medley of delicate flavor, and the result is simply sumptuous.

What makes Vietnamese food even better is that it is very healthy and extremely low in fat. I came home having lost five pounds, despite eating at every opportunity. It consists of fish and meat in small quantities, plenty of vegetables, and fruit galore. And, while we here in the West love our freezers and microwave ovens, in Vietnam everything is fresh, fresh, fresh!

In the restaurants you’ll find the chef going to the market to buy herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits two, even three times a day. Herbs that were bought early in the morning are no longer considered fresh by 11 a.m. I have no doubt that the freshness of the ingredients adds to the amazing taste of the food.

One of my favorite spots to visit whenever I travel is a local market. I love to see the types of foods consumed by the locals, and I enjoy tasting when conditions permit. In Vietnam, a visit to a local market is an amazing treat.

First, they are incredibly clean, despite the fish, poultry, and meats on display. Then there are the colorful pyramids of exotic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They say that anything you stick in the ground in Vietnam will grow, and a visit to a local market will prove the point.

Finally, you’ll discover that you can easily taste your way through the country by visiting these markets. Just stop for a snack or a meal at the small stalls, where vendors prepare some of the most delicious treats you can imagine.

There’s so much food to savor in Vietnam, and I’m not surprised at all that Tony Bourdain selected it as his favorite country for eating. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who is interested in a true cultural experience coupled with a gourmet holiday will be delighted by a visit to Vietnam.

If you get a chance, see what Tony’s experience was like. And if you want to taste some Vietnamese food, you can always book Friendly Planet’s Taste of Vietnam or Best of Vietnam tours.

Reminder: Share a packing tip, win a Space Bag TO GO

We’ve gotten some terrific packing tips for our Space Bag TO GO giveaway. Thanks to those who have shared their tips so far! I wanted to remind everyone that the deadline to enter is on Friday, April 16 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

To enter, share your best packing tip in a comment on the original post. All of the contest details are there. I have eight Space Bags TO GO to give away, so enter to win before time runs out!

Around the world in 12 minutes with Gary Arndt

Gary Arndt on a glacier in New Zealand

Gary Arndt is doing what so many people fantasize about: traveling around the world. He’s been to 70 countries — a lifelong endeavor for some people. But you might be surprised to find out he’s visited them all in the past three years.

Gary went from your average business owner to world traveler seemingly overnight. The idea struck him like a flash of lightening. He sold his house and off he went.

Last week, Gary was in Bangkok, Thailand, and I was able to pick his brain about his travels in a podcast, which you can listen to below. As Gary put it, living like a nomad is something you just can’t prepare for.

Gary’s been documenting his journeys on his blog, Everything Everywhere, which is now one of the most widely read travelogues on the Internet.

In our podcast, I talked to Gary about what he’s discovered so far, including why history books make the best guide books and why Argentina and Japan have the best food. He discusses what it’s like to be in an area where there is political conflict, and much more.

He says the best thing about his blog is that it not only lets him communicate with people, but it’s a great way to get feedback from readers on where he should go next. Gary just doesn’t write on his blog either, he produces weekly podcasts with travel experts and posts his beautiful photography.

Click play to step inside Gary’s world. Seventy countries down, only 125 to go. ;)

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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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