If you want another helping of dumplings, err, I mean another helping of our podcast with Farihah Ali, you can download the transcript. Read along as Farihah tries to find the best dumplings on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour.
Tour guides can really make or break an experience in a new country. Anyone who has ever gone on a group tour can attest to that, including Nicole Zuchelli and Zack Grahama. They just returned from Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour and thought their tour guides took their experience to a whole new level of enjoyment.
Nicole and Zack sent me a detailed e-mail about how wonderful their tour guides were and what they thought were some of the highlights of the group tour. I copied and pasted the e-mail (verbatim) below. Give it a read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
|Nicole and Zack in the Forbidden City|
“Dear Friendly Planet and CITS,
We just returned from Friendly Planet’s “Taste of China” tour and we are two incredibly satisfied travelers — it was fabulous. Although we’ve been fortunate enough to travel pretty extensively in our lives, this was our first experience with Friendly Planet and our first trip to Asia. We’ve barely been back in the states for 48 hours and we’ve already converted our families into Friendly Planet fans via our ‘Taste of China’ travel tales.
We must tell you that National Guide, David Bai, runs an absolutely excellent tour. David is personable,exceptionably knowledgeable and is careful to keep things lighthearted and fun, all of the essential ingredients for magnificent group travel.
He went above and beyond to ensure that we enjoyed a unique and memorable experience and for that, we are grateful. We’re already thinking about returning for the ‘Best of China’ tour and hope that David can be our guide. Local guides, Alan (Shanghai) and Susan (Xi’an) were wonderful as well, taking extra care to answer all of our questions and it was obvious that all three of our guides took extreme pride in introducing their country to us.
The hotels were fantastic(particularly the Grand Mercure in Xi’an)and the food was delicious and plentiful — no one ever left hungry. Every restaurant that our guides took us to was great and almost all were filled with locals, so we really felt like we were experiencing the “inside scoop” as far as cuisine was concerned.
We feel as though we received amazing value for our money and returned home with a deeper appreciation for travel, a greater understanding of another culture and new friends halfway around the world. What more could you ask for? Xie xie!” — Nicole Zuchelli and Zack Grahama, Los Angeles, Calif.
Thanks for your note Nicole and Zack! Drop us another e-mail if you decide to book the Best of China tour.
If you’re unable to listen to Charlie Clarke’s first-hand account of Friendly Planet’s Taste of Vietnam tour, grab the transcript. It’s a great resource to hold on to for anyone thinking about traveling to Vietnam.
You might remember me writing that Vietnam is one of my favorite countries to visit. And I not only love it for its extraordinary beauty and charming people, but for its delicious food. I never thought I’d find another traveler who is as enthusiastic as me about Vietnam, until I met Charlie Clarke from Calgary, Canada.
Charlie and his partner Wayne recently returned from Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of Vietnam tour and thought it was fantastic. They departed on Sept. 22, and when they returned, Charlie sent me an e-mail detailing every part of the trip he and Wayne particularly loved. From the hotels, to the food, to the tour guides, he explained why it was such as great trip.
One of our Friendly Planet bloggers, Melissa, followed up with Charlie on the phone to get a first-hand account of his experience on the Taste of Vietnam tour. I wanted to hear exactly how Friendly Planet stacked up against his past travels, and what made his trip fantastic. Listen to the podcast if you want to know what the tour is like, start to finish, from a Friendly Planet traveler.
In the podcast, Charlie takes Melissa through Vietnam’s largest and most important cities: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi. In Ho Chi Minh City, Charlie duck-walked through the Cu Chi Tunnels, learned how to make rice paper, ate elephant ear fish, and more.
In Hanoi, his group got the chance to celebrate Vietnam’s 1,000 year anniversary on Oct. 1. They also took in a Water Puppet show, an ancient form of Vietnamese entertainment, and more. Charlie was more than impressed with Friendly Planet’s tour guides in both cities because as he says, “they give you information that you can’t find on Google.”
In addition to talking about the tour, Charlie offers advice on what to pack when traveling to Vietnam in September, how to pack lightly, and what to expect in terms of the weather. He also gives you a lesson in Vietnamese culture by sharing some gestures you should use and clothing you should wear to show respect.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more information in the podcast that’s incredibly valuable to anyone wanting to hear first hand what a Friendly Planet Travel tour to Vietnam is really like, directly from a just-returned traveler. All of us at Friendly Planet are grateful to Charlie for sharing his experiences with us, and we look forward to having him with us on tour again very soon!
|Charlie in the Cu Chi Tunnels|
|Charlie and Wayne on Halong Bay|
|A spectacular view of Halong Bay|
Earlier this year, I told you how I discovered several opportunities to make the best tour of India even better. Now we’re giving you more chances to experience them and more for only $999.
The Taj Mahal Express takes you on expert-guided tours of the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikhri, Jaipur (known as the “pink city”), and the Amber Fort, with an ascent on elephant or a Jeep.
You also get a one-day tour in Delhi that takes you to its most important sites, such as the Laxmi Narayan Temple, Raj Ghat, the Red Fort, and more. Your tour concludes with a rickshaw tour through Old Delhi’s most popular street market, Chandni Chowk.
New to the Taj Mahal Express in 2010 was a guided tour of an authentic farming village. It was a favorite of travelers, and is included again in the 2011 departures. Meet the village elder of Barara Village, and interact with the villagers who live and work there. The entire tour was developed exclusively by Friendly Planet Travel to give you the richest understanding of life in India.
But jump back to my previous posts on the Taj Mahal Express to hear how we’re able to give you all of this and more for $999. Also, read what travelers have to say about the tour and what it’s like traveling with a group to India.
Although the price for this tour is incredibly low, the accommodations are incredibly high. Our package price includes roundtrip airfare from New York on Air India; superior first-class hotels; daily buffet breakfasts; an authentic Indian farewell dinner in Delhi; expert guides throughout your journey; fuel surcharges, transfers, and much more.
If nine days just isn’t enough time for you, an optional three-day extension to Nepal is available. It takes you to Kathmandu to visit Durbar Square, the city of Bhadgaon, the famous five-story pagoda temple of Nyatapola, and local bazaars. You also get the opportunity to end your trip on a high note with an optional flight over the Himalayas and Mount Everest. You’ll fly over the highest peak on Earth.
I promise you, the Taj Mahal Express is one of the most amazing cultural experiences of a lifetime. The past few years have proven that these departure dates sell out quickly, so book the nine-day Taj Mahal Express by Dec. 8.
Last week I got the chance to share my passion for one of my favorite places in the world, Thailand, with Arthur von Wiesenberger from Around the World Travel Radio. We talked about how well tourism is bouncing back after the political protests, what makes Thailand one of the most beautiful locales in the world, and Friendly Planet Travel’s three tours to the country.
Listen to our conversation on Around the World’s website. Thanks to Around the World Travel Radio for chatting with me!
It warms my heart to hear the news that tourism to Thailand is making a strong rebound from the political protests that disrupted this normally peaceful country from March to June. eTurboNews reported that tourism is up by almost 14 percent and Thailand hopes to reach the 14 million visitors goal it set for 2010.
We followed the unfolding situation in Bangkok from day one to give you the most up-to-date information about what was happening on the ground. And as soon as the U.S. Department of State lifted its travel warning to the country we resumed our tours to Thailand to help the country rebuild the tourism infrastructure that it relies so dearly upon.
The country is also a top tourism destination. Travel and Leisure recently gave Bangkok its Top City award in its August issue. And Friendly Planet Travel loves it for its beauty, spirituality, and fascinating sights and sounds. Most of all, its welcoming, warm people make every visitor feel at home.
So that’s why I’m excited to give travelers more chances to experience the islands, cities, ancient ruins, and exotic architecture that make Thailand one of the best places on the planet to visit at an unbelievable price. Friendly Planet Travel’s nine-day Taste of Thailand tour is now just $999 (which is less than a weekend in Las Vegas when you think about it!).
Not a single corner is cut in the price tag. Included is round-trip airfare from Los Angeles via China Airlines, including fuel surcharges; intra-Thailand transportation; accommodations at first-class hotels; full American buffet breakfast daily and one dinner; sightseeing tours as per itinerary and all transfers; professional, English-speaking tour guides; optional extensions to Angkor Wat and Phuket Island; and more.
The Taste of Thailand tour takes travelers to three of Thailand’s most dynamic and awe-inspiring cities: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi. I’ve told you all about these locations before, so flip back to my previous post on Thailand to read all about them, or visit our website for the full tour itinerary.
I expect this tour to be one of our most popular, so don’t wait an extra second to book the nine-day Taste of Thailand tour for $999 price. If you have questions, visit our website for the full tour itinerary, write to me, or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.
|Tokyo Tower at dusk|
Japan might be the most expensive travel destination in Asia with the shortest touring season, but Friendly Planet Travel’s Japan Panorama tour is consistently one of the best for the least. Those of you who have been calling and writing to us asking when our 2011 dates will be posted, you’ll be pleased to know that they’re ready and are available at prices that are hard to beat.
Our 10-day Japan Panorama tour starts at $3,199, with departure dates on: April 19, May 10, May 24, June 14, and July 5.
Japan’s futuristic cities, ancient temples, and peaceful countryside epitomizes its ultra-modern life while respecting and coexisting with its cultural heritage. It’s this mixture of technological innovation and tradition that puts Japan on top of Friendly Planet’s list of must-see destinations.
Your 10-day exploration of Japan begins in Tokyo, one of the world’s main economic centers and Japan’s modern capital, as well as its largest city. You see all of the main attractions, including: Tokyo Tower, modeled after the Eiffel Tower in Paris; the historic Imperial Palace, which dates back to the 15th century and is the present residence of the Emperor of Japan; Sensoji, or Asakusa Kannon, the Buddhist deity of mercy and compassion; and the Ginza, Tokyo’s most famous up-market shopping, dining, and entertainment district.
After a good night’s sleep at the Tokyo Prince Hotel Park Tower, it’s off to Mount Fuji, a beautiful snow-capped volcano. Experienced hikers can trek from the summit to get some amazing panoramic views.
After lunch take a cruise on Lake Ashi, a slender body of water formed in the Hakone caldera about 400 thousand years ago. Board the Komagatake Ropeway, and don’t forget your camera, because you’re treated to a picturesque ascent up Mount Komagatake and sweeping views of Hakone National Park and Mount Fuji.
The following day you have the chance to explore Tokyo independently or join an optional tour to Nikko, a city filled with shrines and pagodas. The tour takes you to to the Toshogu Shrine, it is the original site of the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys, which are carved on one of the gates.
|The bullet train|
Then get ready for a high-speed adventure the next morning aboard the Shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train. The train itself is an experience. It links the major cities in Japan efficiently, while reaching speeds of over 170 miles per hour. It takes you to Kyoto where you check in at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto.
While in Kyoto, Japan’s spiritual capital, visit the 17th-century Nijo Castle. You can see the architecture change as you go from the most public spaces to the private chambers of the shogun, which were protected by a highly imaginative security system comprised of floorboards deliberately built to squeak when walked upon.
Proceed to the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji Temple), which is covered in gold leaf and whose three stories each reflect a different architectural style. Continue to the Handicraft Center, where you can pick up some souvenirs on one of its five floors. Complete your day with a walking tour around the Gion neighborhood, where the best-selling novel “Memoirs of a Geisha” was set.
Then take advantage of a day of leisure in Kyoto or hop on the bullet train for an optional tour of Hiroshima, including a ferry ride to Miyajima. After breakfast the next day, you’re driven to Nara, one of the earliest capitals of Japan.
Tour the Todaiji Temple, whose Buddha is the largest bronze statue in the world, and whose main structure is the world’s largest wooden building. Continue to Osaka, which remains a vital center for trade and entrepreneurial culture. On a city tour, you see the Osaka Castle, which played a major role in the unification of the country during the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
Stroll down Dotonboroi Street, a former pleasure district now famous for its theatres, shops, and restaurants, as well as the colorful neon and mechanized signs. You might recognize the snack/candy manufacturer Glico’s giant electronic display of a runner crossing the finish line. On your final day in Japan you’ll board the bullet train for Tokyo and your flight home.
Packaged in the price, from $3,199, are round-trip flights from Los Angeles via Singapore Airlines (voted the world’s #1 airline for safety, comfort, and service) non-stop jet service, including fuel surcharges; all intra-Japan ground transportation; superior first-class hotels; American buffet breakfast daily plus one lunch; fully escorted touring program with entrance fees; professional, English-speaking tour director and local guides; and more.
With limited departure dates and a price point that’s hard to beat in the travel industry, I’m expecting this tour to fill up fast. So if you’ve ever wanted to see Japan, book the 10-day Japan Panorama tour for $3,199 by Oct. 28.
And if you’ve been on this tour before, post a comment to let fellow travelers know how you liked it. And as always, if you have questions, you know the drill. Visit our website for the full tour itinerary, write to me, or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.
At the beginning of every year, I give myself a Friendly Planet Travel to-do list. One of the items on my list this year was to add new destinations to our tour offerings. I can put a check mark next to that one today! For the first time Friendly Planet Travel is going to Turkey, with our new 14-day Best of Turkey tour.
I’m excited to offer travelers a chance to visit Turkey, a country steeped in history and touched by many civilizations. It’s where the east and west truly blend together.
But you’ll find much more than just history in Turkey. The sun-splashed Mediterranean beaches, modern cities, covered bazaars, and whirling dervishes will leave even the most experienced traveler in awe, and with a new appreciation of world history.
For 14 days, you’re transported around the country beginning in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. You start at the Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, for its tiles adorning the walls of the interior. Later, roam the Grand Bazaar built in 1461. It’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 1,200 stores.
From there you’ll stroll the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The museum holds Anatolian artifacts from excavations including Assyrian trading colonies, Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman Byzantine, and Ottoman periods.
|Cappadocia rock formations|
In the land of the fairy chimneys, get to know Cappadocia. It’s famous for its natural rock formations and underground cities. Afterwards, you’ll go south to the coastal cliffs of the Mediterranean Sea to Antalya. Upon arrival you can take a tour to Aspendos. It is renowned throughout the world for its magnificent ancient Roman theater, famous for its perfect acoustics.
Depart the coast for Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish. The city contains hot springs and terraces of carbonate minerals left by flowing water. After a night in the town, you’ll leave for Kusadasi, a port town on the Aegean coast.
Here you’ll take a short drive to Ephesus to see the Temple of Artemis. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the second most well-preserved ancient site in the world. It’s also home to the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean.
In the last portion of your trip, you’ll make your way back to Istanbul stopping in Pergamon, a powerful kingdom during the Hellenistic period in the first century. Then Asklepion, a famed ancient medical center built in honor of Asklepios, the god of healing. Before you cross the Dardanelles for Istanbul, you can’t miss the ancient city of Troy, the focus of the Trojan Wars as described in the epic poem by Homer.
The best part is that you get all of this and more in the $1,599 price tag. Included in the price are roundtrip, nonstop flights from New York (JFK) via Turkish Airlines, including fuel surcharges; arrival and departure transfers with meeting, assistance, and porterage; intra-Turkey transportation; accommodations in superior hotels; 22 meals; comprehensive touring program including entrance fees; and a professional, English-speaking tour guide.
Right now we only have five departure dates available. So if you want to visit Turkey, book the 14-day Best of Turkey tour for $1,599 before Sept. 22, or as long as space lasts. If you have any questions, visit our website for the full itinerary. And as always, feel free to write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.
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