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Posts Tagged ‘Burma’

Aung San Suu Kyi makes change in Myanmar a reality

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Making change
in Myanmar

I wrote about Aung San Suu Kyi and the progressive changes she’s making in Myanmar (also known as Burma) a little over two and a half months ago. During this time, considerable strides have been made towards democracy after decades of military rule.

This includes the election of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy opposition party in Myanmar, to parliament on April 1. While her party’s swearing in was delayed because of a dispute over the wording of the oath of office, a compromise was agreed to yesterday, and Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in to Myanmar’s parliament today!

Aung San Suu Kyi has already been invited to Europe to attend meetings with high-ranking officials. She also plans to visit Norway to show her gratitude for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her peaceful struggle while on house arrest as a political prisoner for almost two decades.

It seems very fitting that this woman, who has been a symbol of freedom for so many people, will now have a chance to accept the Peace Prize in person! This will be the first time in 24 years that Suu Kyi will travel outside Myanmar, as she had previously feared that the military junta would refuse her entry back into the country.

I have been personally fascinated by this woman, who has been revered as a worldwide symbol of peace, along with such figures as Nelson Mandela and even Mahatma Gandhi. When Suu Kyi announced that tourism to Myanmar only supported the military junta — not the people — and therefore should not be encouraged, I listened. This was in spite of many requests from our clients who wanted to go there.

So you can imagine our excitement when Suu Kyi, in clear recognition of the loosening of the generals’ iron grip on the country, announced that the time was right to come and visit. We went right to work on our long-anticipated program. (more…)

Mystical Myanmar: Taste the forbidden fruit

One surefire way to get any kid to do something is to tell them not to do it. That’s the lure of forbidden fruit. For travelers, forbidden fruit comes in the form of countries they can’t visit, due to government bans or other restrictions.

That was the case for travelers wanting to go to Cuba. But last October, we helped blaze the path into Cuba for American travelers, letting them taste the forbidden fruit of Cuba’s culture for the first time in over 50 years.

And now, that’s the case for worldly travelers who’ve been wanting to visit Myanmar, a beautiful country in Southeast Asia, formerly called Burma. You might have heard that political activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and vocal advocate against Myanmar’s former military dictatorship, began encouraging travelers to visit the country as a way to open up Myanmar to the rest of the world.

Suu Kyi had asked travelers not to visit Myanmar because she felt strongly that the repressive military regime should be thwarted from profiting from tourism. But now that the military dictatorship has been replaced by a new prime minister who is taking steps to improve life and freedom in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has invited travelers to once again come visit. While Myanmar is still far from becoming a modern democracy, the changes cannot be ignored. And when Aung San Suu Kyi asked, we listened.

We think this is a golden opportunity, as in the case of travel to Cuba, to use global tourism as a means to help bring a country from a dark past into a brighter future. To that end, we’ve just created a new tour to Myanmar that will give you a chance to experience this lush, tropical country.

Its Buddhist spirituality, natural beauty, and warm citizens make it among the most unique, friendly, and enchanting destinations in the world. In fact, it is said that Myanmar, as it is today, is like a glimpse into the past to a time in Asia before consumerism and other trappings of modern life began to invade and take over ancient culture.

But that’s just scratching the surface of why you should visit Myanmar. Here are five more reasons you should put Myanmar on your “must-visit” list.

Experience the revival of the Myanmar people. Suu Kyi has spent her life striving for democratic freedom for the people of Myanmar. Now that the path toward freedom is slowly opening, Myanmar’s people are experiencing a time of great optimism and joy as their country begins changing. Indeed, by visiting Myanmar, you are, in effect, an ambassador for peace and hope, and by your very visit, you are helping fuel the country’s revival.

Help Myanmar be a member in good standing of the global community. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Suu Kyi last December to help restore Myanmar’s diplomatic relations with the United States and open international trade. This is setting the stage for Americans to follow. You can be part of this historic moment by being among the first to bridge the culture gap between our peoples.

Bask in Myanmar’s luscious countryside. This Asian country’s landscape has remained largely untouched by industry and development, ironically due to Myanmar’s history of repressive dictatorships. This contrasts greatly against the industrial countries surrounding it, such as Vietnam, China, and even South Korea. Travelers will get front-row seats to the simpler way of life the people of Myanmar live, in stark contrast to our fast-paced Western society.

Strengthen Myanmar by seeing it. Myanmar is an amazing destination to experience with all five senses. And everything you experience will help improve the economy by creating jobs and stimulating growth in the industries that touch tourism, such as hospitality, restaurants, transportation, retail, and more.

Friendly Planet Travel aided Myanmar during Cyclone Nargis. Cyclone Nargis tore through Myanmar on May 2, 2008, leaving over 140,000 fatalities and $10 billion of damage in its wake. When it hit, we reached out to our Friendly Planet travelers for their support to aid in the country’s recovery. They came through with flying colors by raising $15,000 in under 48 hours — I couldn’t have been more proud! If you were among those who supported Myanmar, you’ll be able to see those you helped firsthand.

If you’re ready to explore one of the most exotic and fascinating countries in Asia as a witness to a national transition in real time, I suggest that you consider Myanmar. And keep your eyes to the blog, as I plan to post more about Myanmar in the upcoming weeks and months. If you travel there with us, I’d love to hear about your experiences when you return.

What’s to come at Friendly Planet Travel in 2011

One of my favorite times of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It’s the perfect time to take a few days off to relax from the hustle and bustle of work and spend quality time with family and friends. It’s also a fitting time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past year, and what we’re hoping to achieve in the next year.

2011 will be a momentous year for Friendly Planet Travel. It marks our 30th year in business! Back in 1981, I never thought about where I would end up in 30 years. Now, three decades later, I’m still here. I feel so lucky to have what to me feels like the best job in the world.

Throughout the year I’ll be sharing stories of why I started Friendly Planet Travel, and about our first group tour, which included my first group tour to Israel for the first gathering of Holocaust survivors in Israel. I’ll also be interviewing the travelers who have been booking tours with Friendly Planet Travel since the beginning, and much more.

In addition to celebrating our 30th anniversary throughout the year, we’ll be introducing new products and new ways of giving back to many of the countries that welcome our tours. Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect from Friendly Planet Travel in 2011.

New destinations. We surveyed Friendly Planet Travelers to discover the location they want to travel to most. The winner was Madagascar. And 2011 will be the year you can visit this fascinating destination with Friendly Planet Travel. We’re also introducing tours to Spain and Portugal, Burma (Myanmar), and Botswana.

New tours. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I will be leading a select group of tours to the new destinations being introduced in 2011. I’ll get to put my first-hand experience and research of these new locales to use when I extend invitations to these four tours later this year.

New booking engine. We will be unveiling a new air-hotel-car booking engine for travelers who want to create their own vacations without worrying about set departures or prepared itineraries. This consumer- and service-oriented portal is for savvy travelers who know what they want in services, including great pricing, but don’t want to give up service to get it.

New cruises. We will also be adding a robust, new series of cruise selections, featuring such highly regarded cruise brands as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and Asamara. All will be available for individuals who want to travel independently, as well as set departure programs that include lots of additional services.

New nonprofit foundation. When I created Friendly Planet Travel, outreach and support for humanitarian causes was always part of my mission. We contribute directly to projects in many of the countries we visit, as well as right here in America. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, I’m fulfilling my original mission with the creation of the Friendly Planet Travel Foundation. All the outreach and support that we conduct will move to our foundation, and we’ll be offering you plenty of new opportunities to get involved in helping as you vacation.

Continuous improvements to our digital ecosystem. You might have noticed some changes to the Friendly Planet Travel website in 2010. It’ll continue to evolve as we include more enhancements to the website and booking engine.

There’s plenty more to come in the new year, but I hope that in the meantime, these tidbits of news will tickle your curiosity and bring you back to the blog for more details. Come back and visit the blog soon to see what else we have in the works in 2011.

What’s to come at Friendly Planet in 2010

I always enjoy this time of the year. It’s relaxing to get a few days off from work and spend the holidays with friends and family. As the year comes to a close, you reflect on how much you’ve accomplished, and think about what you want to achieve in the next year. 
 
I know what I’m looking forward to in 2010. We’re going to be introducing several new and exciting tours and community projects at Friendly Planet Travel. I want to share with you all a sneak peek of what’s going to happen.  
 
New Web site. One significant change will be our upgraded Web site. By the end of January, expect to see a faster, more responsive site. It’ll be filled with new tools for individual travelers, as well as a new search engine that will make it even easier to search for deeply discounted air and hotel packages to many foreign destinations including London, Rome, Paris, even the Caribbean. 
 
New booking engine. Along with a new Web site comes a new booking engine. It will let travelers book reservations completely online. It will be even more convenient for travelers to make deposits and final payments online, safely and securely with their own username and password. Travelers can also view their tour information, reservations, documents, invoices, destination guides, and other important details anytime. 
 
New travelers’ community. Another important feature of the new Web site is the new community, where we will host forums for our visitors, have places to post pictures and travel blogs, and provide various ways to interact with us. The forums will be important in getting feedback from our travelers, and allow people who are traveling solo to find roommates easily through our site.
 
New micro-lending project in India. As you’ve heard me talk about before, we’re working on projects with Kiva and the Trailblazer Foundation, and now we’re looking into launching a new micro-lending project in India. It will fund the purchase of rickshaws for drivers who are presently forced to rent them by the day, giving up a good part of their daily earnings, rather than keeping them to support their families.
 
Since these drivers have no access to credit to fund the loans for the rickshaw purchase, they are forced into this rental situation. If we’re able to create a fund that allows the drivers to pay back the loan to us, and end up with the rickshaw in the end, the drivers will soon be able to keep the day’s wages for themselves. 
 
New ways to give back to needy students. We’re also organizing a collection of school supplies for every Friendly Planet travel destination where they are needed, but not available. This is the case in most of Africa, Asia, and certainly in India. Notebooks and pencils that are given to children directly are usually confiscated by needy families who then turn around and sell it for food. 
 
Our project will distribute the supplies to trusted teachers, who will store and distribute them as needed to students. The school supplies project is being organized by local guides in each place where the supplies are needed, and will be implemented early in the new year.
 

Thumbnail image for New Picture (3).jpgNew destinations. Finally, we’ll be adding new destinations to the Friendly Planet globe. Tours are being planned to Madagascar, Burma (Myanmar), Bali, and Indonesia, plus a number of river cruises in Europe and Asia. In addition, several new ocean cruises will be available starting in the spring of 2010, via Louis Cruises and Costa Cruises, two familiar Friendly Planet favorites. 

 
These are just a few of the new things arriving in 2010. There is plenty more in the works for throughout the year, but this gives you a taste of what’s to come!

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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