Every member of the Friendly Planet Travel staff has been bitten by the travel bug. Over the years, members of our team have gone soul searching in India; served in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Georgia; collected local art in Spain; returned to their roots in Ireland; and much more.
Each trip exposed them to a new culture and opened their eyes a little wider to the diverse world around them. To celebrate the unique experiences of our staff, I asked them to submit photos of some of their favorite souvenirs from their global travels. Here’s Friendly Planet Travel’s souvenir gallery.
Continue reading to hear a personal description about each memento.
In a recent post, I drew from my own travels throughout China to share five experiences that you can only have in this incredibly diverse and mysterious country. The response was so strong that I decided to dive deeper and interview some of our Chinese tour guides to uncover their insider insights on some fantastic, yet overlooked, activities to enjoy while touring China.
1. Wander the Old Town of Lijang
Escape the hustle and bustle of contemporary Beijing and Shanghai to explore one of the last remaining ancient towns of China — the Old Town of Lijang. Framed against the Himalayas, this 800-year-old city located in the Southwest part of the country, in Yunnan Province, is the ancestral home of the Nakhi people, one of China’s most vibrant ethnic groups. The town, which was recently named to the UNESCO World Heritage List, is home to an array of quaint shops, canals, and winding streets. Visitors can shop for burned wood carvings among local vendors, sample fried yak meat, and purchase a handmade boat to sail down the city’s many canals. At night, attend the bonfire at the central plaza and join locals in traditional song and dance. A trip to the Old Town of Lijang transports visitors back in time, and introduces them to an unknown side of Chinese culture.
2. Hike the Yellow Mountain
Few sites in China are more beautiful than Huangshan — the Yellow Mountain, located in Anhui province in Eastern China. The mountain range, with peaks standing more than 3,250 feet high, seems to have risen out of legend. Visitors can stand at the base and watch the clouds kiss granite mountaintops and gaze at pine trees that extend to the sky. Travelers can spend a day hiking the more than 30 miles of footpaths that wind among the scenic landscape or hop on the Yugun cable car to ride to the summit and explore the forgotten Dawn Pavilion — an alcove that boasts an unforgettable view of the sunrise. The serenity and tranquility of the Yellow Mountain is not to be missed.
I’m not the only person at Friendly Planet Travel with a love for international adventures. In fact, many of us here at Friendly Planet have been drawn to our work by our love of exotic destinations, and we travel regularly to stay abreast of great new tour opportunities for our customers.
Kate Katubi, a member of Friendly Planet Travel’s reservations team, recently returned from our 10-day A Taste of China tour. As all exotic travel should be, Katie’s trip was life changing, and she wanted to share insights about her tour with us on the Friendly Planet blog. View the slideshow to see China from her eyes and read on to hear what she had to say about three of her favorite Chinese cities.
Exploring the “Paris of the East”
Shanghai, China’s largest city, boasts an array of cultural delights. During my time in the city, I explored timeless silk shops, dined on decadent pork dumplings, and gazed at bronze sculptures at the Shanghai Museum of ancient Chinese art. Within a city renowned for its skyscrapers, I still stumbled upon beautiful ancient gardens and quaint meandering canals. At night, I joined the hordes of tourists and locals at Nanjing road and the historical Bund, and admired the brightly lit streets and Shanghai skyline. This city is a perfect example of China’s growth in the last 20 years.
I remember my first trip to China. After 15 hours in flight, my jelly legs wobbled off the plane and I found myself smack-dab in the middle of Shanghai. I stood amid Pudong, Shanghai’s high-end financial district, in an endless sea of businessmen marching through the city’s metallic skyscrapers. The scene put New York to shame, and motivated me to uncover more about a nation seemingly plucked from the future.
As I ventured beyond the “Paris of the East,” I discovered the true diversity of the world’s most populous country. I journeyed to the water town of Zhujiajiao, glimpsed the barren Karst Mountains, and strolled among the gardens of the Forbidden City. My explorations helped me develop a truer understanding of the country — one beyond the metropolis of Shanghai. China is a dynamic nation, one rooted in the dynasties of the past while integral to our world’s future. It’s a nation composed of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and one of my favorite destinations.
In a country spanning nearly four million square miles, it’s impossible to view all of China’s wonders. For that reason, I developed my list of top five things to see and do in China to help travelers navigate this fascinating land.
1. Hike the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is an obvious must-see for any first-time visitor, but the best way to experience the Great Wall is by hiking it, instead of just visiting and snapping a couple of pictures. The wall, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty, stretches more than 13,170 miles in length and is the largest man-made structure in the world. Obviously, no one can hike the entire length. Instead, try the three-hour walk from Jinshanling to Simatai, where hikers can experience the vast ruggedness of China’s wilderness and its lush farmlands.
If you’re looking to stay under about $2,000 per person, I recommend:
A Taste of China or Beijing & Tokyo. Visiting China is the trip of a lifetime for travelers interested in exploring a culture truly different from their own. The country has impressive modern achievements and an ancient, rich culture. Beijing, China’s capital, and Shanghai, often called the “Paris of the East,” are two of the most dynamic cities in the world. And Xi’an, a large industrial city, is the site of one of the world’s most important archaeological treasures: the army of 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soldiers buried to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor.
A Taste of Ireland or Discover Ireland. As I’ve said before, whether you have Irish roots or just a love of Irish culture, there has never been a better year to visit Ireland. That’s because The Gathering, a year-long celebration of Irish ancestry with clan gatherings, festivals, sporting events, music, and concerts, is going on this year. This event only adds to the lush countryside, friendly and wonderful people, and the array of beautiful destinations — Dublin, Kerry, Killarney, Kilkenny, Limerick, and more — in Ireland.
Captivating Costa Rica or Costa Rica Pura Vida. From jungles, cloud forests, and active volcanoes to its rivers and Caribbean and Pacific coasts, travelers need to experience everything that makes Costa Rica the jewel of Central America. This destination has beautiful resorts and adventurous travel opportunities — making it the perfect place for every kind of traveler. And the location is out of this world: the island contains 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity. (more…)
We’re always trying to think of new, innovative tours to offer our customers at a great value. We’ve created two of these new tours in the Far East, which incorporate cities that are geographically close in proximity, but vastly different in history and culture. I wanted to fill you in on the details:
Beijing and Tokyo: A Sale of Two Cities. On this 10-day tour, travelers visit two of the most attractive destinations in the world, Beijing and Tokyo, for an outrageously low price. The package combines two of Asia’s cultural and economic powerhouses that exhibit impressive modern achievements within ancient and incredibly rich cultures. Spend four nights in each city, with touring included, which provides just enough time to experience all that Beijing and Tokyo have to offer. Since we’re coming up on the cooler winter months, travelers will be able to take advantage of less crowds and incredible prices with this tour—a great perk! While the moderate temperatures in both cities throughout the winter months still provide an enjoyable climate for touring.
Taste of China and Hong Kong. This 13-day tour was created for the traveler who wants to see all of the sights and ancient culture that the vibrant international cities in China and Hong Kong have to offer. Visit three of China’s most awe-inspiring cities, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Beijing, and then continue on to the beautiful, cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong. The best part? We’ve calculated that travelers will save over $1,000 with this tour, as compared to booking on their own. You simply can’t beat that for these attractive travel destinations!
Are there any Far East destinations that you’d like to see us offer next? Let us know in a comment below!
Don’t wait to visit our Facebook page and fill out the entry form. If you entered to win the Best of South Africa tour or Amazing Peru tour, then your name is already in the pool and you don’t have to enter again. But referring your friends to enter will get you more chances to win!
Who would you take with you to China? Invite that person to enter, and that’s two more chances to win! I like those odds!
And if you’re still not convinced, I have lots to say about the fascinating country of China. It’s a beautiful place, full of fast-paced cities, ancient history, lots and lots of people, plenty of great shopping, and cultural experiences everywhere. I recently went to China, and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. You simply have to see it to believe it. I’ll be sharing my experiences on my trip in the future, so stay tuned.
The winner of our Taste of China tour and a guest will win round-trip flights from Los Angeles via Air China, including fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees; all intra-China flights and ground transportation; and deluxe and first-class hotels with a private bathroom.
Also included are 12 meals, including eight buffet breakfasts, three lunches, and one dinner; comprehensive touring programs, including entrance fees; and a professional, English-speaking tour director and local guides.
What are you waiting for? Hop over to our Facebook page and enter to win this fantastic trip!
I would never offer a tour that wasn’t a terrific value — that’s the core of our business at Friendly Planet Travel. But there are some tours that are so value-packed, I want to point them out specifically.
I had the opportunity to do just that at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show last month. I named my speech “The Top 10 Affordable Destinations of 2012,” and delivered exactly what I promised. Check out my speech in it’s entirety below.
If you don’t have time to watch the full video, I’ve detailed a few of my favorites, as shared in my speech, below.
Pick #9: Ireland. Like Greece, Ireland has gone through some difficult financial times, but you would never know it from the incredibly friendly and welcoming people you’ll meet when you visit. Ireland has always been a popular destination for Americans, but in the coming years, Ireland is expected to see record numbers of tourists. That’s no surprise. The country is beautiful, with lush, green landscapes; picturesque towns and villages; castles galore; and plenty of pubs where you can mix with the locals, especially since they speak your language.
Pick #6: India. This wild, disorganized country of over a billion people is simply amazing. It has plenty of history and culture to experience and admire. It has an educated, entrepreneurial population that is rushing toward modernity at the speed of light. It has the most gorgeous building I’ve seen, the Taj Mahal, and believe me when I tell you that no picture does this palace justice. That’s how all of India is.
Pick #3: China. Each year, we wait to see if interest in China will finally drop among travelers, but it never does. This is a country that continues to amaze travelers, with its ancient history, gorgeous landscapes, incredibly welcoming people, and, of course, the food. Oh, and did I mention that you can buy an entire wardrobe for pennies on the dollar? Travel to China continues to be a terrific bargain.
Pick #1: Cuba. You might be thinking Cuba is a place that Americans can’t visit. But in the past year, the rules have changed, and a few tour operators are lucky to have been granted one of the new people-to-people licenses, including us. This tropical island is a 50-minute flight from Miami, but until recently, it could just have easily been on Mars. Thanks to a liberalizing of laws, Americans can visit Cuba legally. Visiting Cuba is like taking a trip back to the ’50s, and not just because of the cars. When you visit Cuba, you get to see how people have created a life for themselves with very little money or resources. The music is everywhere, street parties abound, and everyone is welcome to attend. It’s quite an experience.
What places are you planning to visit in 2012? One of these or somewhere different? Let me know here.
Let’s head north to China. Farihah Ali, from Atlanta, went on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour in November and wrote about her time in the country on her own blog, Spice Bites. When I stumbled upon her blog posts, I asked one of our Friendly Planet Travel bloggers, Melissa, to get to know what mouth-watering food Farihah discovered in China.
In our podcast Farihah dives into what she saw and ate in the three cities she visited in China, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Beijing. Dumplings where on the top of Farihah’s list to find. She tells us about her adventures to find the best ones in each city, as well as the other food she tasted along the way thanks to help of her tour guides.
Farihah breaks down what the hotels, escorted tours, tour guides, and transportation was like in each city. She also tells Melissa how it was easy to get around the cities when she only knew one or two phrases in Chinese, and much more.
After you listen to the podcast, I encourage you to flip over to her blog to read her posts about China and look at all the beautiful photos she took. If you’ve been to China and ate some amazing food, please tell me about it in a comment on this post.
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