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A first-hand account of Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of China tour

In case you’d rather read my interview with Ron Beller about his Best of China trip, I’m posting the transcript here. Don’t forget to take a look at his photos too.

Friendly Planet review: A snapshot of the Best of China tour

It’s nice to have a friend recommend a city, a hotel, and even a restaurant when you’re deciding where to travel. I know it makes me feel more comfortable knowing that someone else has been there and liked it.

Ron with his wife Jan and trusty camera in China 

So when Ron Beller was deciding to travel to China, one of his friends recommended Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of China tour. His friend just returned from the tour and was raving about it. That was enough to sell Ron on the trip.

Ron and his wife Jan booked the tour for October 2009. They had an equally amazing time in China traveling to Shanghai, Yichang, Three Gorges, Guilin, Xi’an, and Beijing.

When he returned, Ron e-mailed us some fantastic photos he took in China. If a picture says a thousand words, these pictures said all that and more.

I had to give him a call to get the stories behind the photos. He told me he was a nature photographer, so he was practically born with a camera in his hand. He was always lagging behind the group trying to capture just a few more photos. He had taken 1,600 by the end of the trip!

We talked about what it was like traveling to China in late October, seeing the 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soliders, the Yangtze River cruise, the camera he used, and more. So if you’re considering traveling to China, listen to my podcast with Ron and then view his photos. He’ll give you a first-hand look into Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of China tour.

Ten days on the Taste of China tour for $1,099

China has become one of the most attractive travel destinations in the world. Its modern achievements interwoven with an ancient culture, and a recorded history spanning over 5,000 years, entices savvy travelers from all over the globe.

But with its popularity comes rising travel costs. Other tour companies are scaling back their accommodations and trip durations to maintain their pricing — not Friendly Planet. Once again, we’ve maintained our high standards for price and quality with our $1,099 10-day Taste of China tour.

We didn’t cut any corners to get you this price. In fact, we were able to book a better hotel in Xi’an. We’re constantly negotiating better pricing for travelers while maintaining a high level of hotels, service, and programming. It’s not easy to do, but it’s my job to look for new ways to make our trips even more exquisite.

Let me refresh your memory on the attractions Friendly Planeteers will see while in China. Beijing, China’s historic and cultural capital, and Shanghai, often called the “Paris of the East,” are probably two of the most dynamic cities in the world.

Xi’an, which at first glance may appear to be a typical city, is actually the site of one of the world’s most important archeological treasures, an army of 2,200-year-old, terra-cotta soldiers. It includes more than 8,000 life-size ceramic soldiers, chariots, and horses buried there to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor.

On this tour, travelers will be introduced to the all of the most significant treasures of China, from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall of China to the Temple of Heaven. They’ll also get a taste of what life is truly like in China, when we stop by picturesque villages, a traditional school, and bustling street vendors.

Here’s what’s included in the price: round-trip flights from LAX via Air China (including fuel surcharges), all ground transfers and intra-China flights, deluxe and first-class hotels, 12 meals, comprehensive cultural touring with a local guide, a professional English-speaking tour director, and more.

While you’re in the neighborhood, why not take advantage of your already-included airfare and visit exotic, frenetic Hong Kong, where East truly meets West, for only $599. City-lovers worldwide rank Hong Kong among their must-see destinations, and for good reason. With its glorious harbor, excellent shopping, renowned restaurants, and some of the best nighttime skylines in the world, Hong Kong has it all.

I encourage you to read my previous posts about the Taste of China tour, and also see what our travelers have said about it. It sells out fast, so book our 10-day Taste of China tour for $1,099 by June 30.

For complete details about the tour and the Hong Kong extension, visit our website. Have any questions? Write to me directly.

Customer Testimonial: From Ecuador to China

I know I’ve done my job when I hear from customers who want to return for another tour. Or when travelers keep coming back to experience a new exotic destination. These next two testimonials are from opposite sides of the globe. They loved every part of their trip, and I hope they’ll become Friendly Planet Travel frequent flyers.

You know by now how much I love reading these. So don’t hesitate to let me know how your exotic tour went!

A Taste of China

This was our second tour with Friendly Planet the first being India 3 years ago. We just got back from China and wanted to tell you how amazing the trip was and what a great time we had. Our guide David was fantastic and all the accomodations were perfect. We are so glad that we went and we will do more tours with Friendly Planet in the future. 

-O.R. Nasseri, San Diego, Calif.

Exotic Ecuador

I just returned and wanted to let you know that this trip was absolutely wonderful. It was very well put together; had a great itinerary, involved no surprises; and was a great value. The hotels were outstanding and I truly enjoyed the variety of activities expecially in the Amazon Region. Based upon this great experience I will definately consider Friendly Planet again.

-Theodore Lattanzio, New York, N.Y. 

How much responsibilty should you take for your vacation?

For those who might have missed Chris Elliott’s latest article this past Sunday (I caught it in the Philadelphia Inquirer), I wanted to share it with you here today.

In the article, a traveler wrote to Chris for help because a hotel refused to honor a price they had mistakenly printed as a keystroke error. The hotel manager still gave the traveler a significantly discounted rate, and waived other associated fees with staying at the hotel, such as the mandatory valet parking fee. Still, this traveler was adamant that the original price be honored.

Clearly, this traveler expected Chris — the champion of travelers’ rights — to side with him. And here’s where some readers might have been surprised. Chris did not believe a hotel should be forced to honor a price that was printed in error, if the price was obviously too good to be true — such as a $28 night at the Westin.

The point that Chris drove home in his article is that just as vendors have a responsibility to travelers, we as travelers also have responsibilities as consumers. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we all need to have understanding.

In my own opinion, that traveler was being unnecessarily demanding, especially considering the many ways the hotel tried to make it up to him. So I greatly appreciated Chris response. This leads me to the subject I wanted to write about today: What happens when something goes wrong on your trip?

What happens if a weather delay grounds you in an airport in the middle of a vacation, when you’re supposed to be en route to a new city? We had to deal with this exact situation this past week on one of our Taste of China tours.

Thumbnail image for FP_delays.jpg

A heavy fog prevented a plane of Friendly Planet Travel passengers from landing at the destination city of Shanghai. Instead, the plane landed at the next nearest airport. The problem was, people had signed up for a tour, and this was not part of the plan!

The Friendly Planet Travel operator — who wants very much to accommodate the group the best way possible — turns himself into a pretzel to find an alternative way to get 34 to Shanghai as quickly as possible. He finds a way — at a minimal cost —  and ultimately saves the day. But wait. These new arrangements — everything from new tickets to accommodations — will now cost our travelers an additional $157.50 out of pocket.

Some of our passengers were NOT happy. I spent the entire afternoon fielding complaints from livid customers who had not been told they would have to pay this extra amount. And immediately Chris Elliott’s latest article was called to mind. What should you expect when you travel? What should a responsible person be thinking about? How should you really prepare for a trip? Are there times when you have to know that things can go wrong?

There’s a situation known as force majeure: situations that no one can control (such as bad weather). You can’t, as a travel dealer, create a fantastic deal that includes a great trip, wonderful arrangements, all for an incredibly good price, and still have the buffers to cover $157.50 for 34 people.

So I wrote a letter to everyone on the trip, explained what had happened, and apologized that they hadn’t been told about the cost. I asked them if they would be willing to pay this extra cost, so that our China rep wouldn’t be liable for this money himself.

Out of 34 people, 23 immediately paid the $157.50, and the there were another few that said they would pay later. The remaining members were still angry. In situations such as this, most people are very understanding, but there is truly something to be said about having some responsibility for the way life sometimes works. As I said, force majeure — when something is no one’s fault.

My takeaway: When you prepare for a trip, don’t forget to mentally prepare yourself for situations that can arise when you’re away from home. Friendly Planet Travel promises to take care of you when you travel with us, but we still ask that you understand that in situations beyond our control, we sometimes need a little wiggle room from you.

We will always make the decision that we feel is right for you, no matter that. That said, every traveler needs to make the decision to travel responsibly. And as every experienced traveler knows, life happens. (And sometimes, life makes for the best stories ;) )

Customer testimonials: Taj Mahal Express and Best of China and Yangtze Cruise

As you know, we always have a steady stream of customer testimonials flowing in to the Friendly Planet Travel offices. Maybe it’s the holiday cheer, maybe it’s because it’s so satisfying to see all of our hard work pay off, or maybe it’s just because, but our customer reviews have really put a smile on my face recently. So I thought I’d share a couple with you today, verbatim.

FP_TajMahal.jpgWhen we first heard about our tour to India, we were a little hesitant because the price was so low. We thought it may be too good to be true. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that it was everything we had hoped for and more. The flights were trouble-free and all the hotels were much better than expected. Our hotel in Delhi was the nicest hotel that I have ever stayed at! And I have traveled the world and been to many high class hotels. Also, we were initially concerned about our safety while in India. It turns out that safety was not an issue. Again, we were pleasantly surprised to find the Indian people very welcoming towards Americans. You couldn’t find nicer people in the world. I don’t know how you kept the tour price so low! Keep up the low prices and high standards. I can’t wait to book my next Friendly Planet trip!

- Riley Loback, Seattle

FP_YangtzeRiver.jpgMy husband and I want to thank you for creating comprehensive, fun packed days of touring in China. We saw all the sights we had on our own lists and the city guides made sure that if possible, they worked in places the group requested. With the number of inner city flights and hotel transfers on this trip, the national tour guide made sure it did not eat into our time to enjoy the marvels of history that we were about to see. The daily planning, the food, hotels, the shows, and the ease of getting around made this package one of the exceptional values for a once in a lifetime vacation.

- Susan Razenson, Nanuet, N.Y.

A taste of the sentiment from the Taste of China tour

FP_ChinaPagoda.jpg

"This is on of the best of the many tours I have taken over the years, notable the quality of the accommoations, excellent quides in all cities, specially, SAM, who patiently stayed with us to the ending. I have and will continue to highly recommd Friendly Planet, Very much a high-end budget package which was very flexible. Thanks to your hospitaly from you as well as the Chinese — so accommodating with a smile. — Shirley Bell"

Taste of China REDUX!

As we see every day here in the office, when something’s good, it’s really, really good. And when that something is a chance to tour an incredible part of the world at jaw-dropping prices, it definitely won’t last long. Our latest Taste of China trips for $999 were so popular and sold out so quickly, we knew we had to work extra hard to make those prices available again … and soon! 

And today, I’m thrilled to report that WE DID IT! It’s not often that a once-in-a-lifetime deal actually comes around for a second time. But that’s exactly what’s happened with our Taste of China tour at only $999, including airfare, great hotels, many meals, all transfers, and some guided touring.

FP_GreatWall.jpg

As a refresher, Taste of China takes Friendly Planeteers on a 10-day tour through three of China’s most fascinating cities: Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.

Beijing — China’s historic and cultural capital — and Shanghai — often called the "Paris of the East" — are probably two of the most dynamic cities in the world. And Xi’an is the site of one of the world’s most important archeological treasures: the army of 2,200-year-old terra-cotta soldiers, including more than 8,000 life-size ceramic soldiers, chariots, and horses buried there to protect the tomb of the first Qin emperor.

Travelers on the Taste of China vacation will be exposed to all of the most significant and breathtaking splendors of China, from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall of China to the Temple of Heaven. They’ll also get a taste of what life is truly like in China, when we stop by picturesque villages, a traditional school, and bustling street vendors.

FP_ChinaStreet.jpg

 If you missed it the first time, don’t let this opportunity pass you by again! For more information or to book, contact us or visit the Friendly Planet Travel Web site.

Customer Testimonial: Taste of China with video!

We’ve had a flurry of customer testimonials come in, after a recent Friendly Planet Travel Taste of China tour. While we love getting feedback of all kinds, this one in particular caught our attention because the couple on the tour had made a short movie of their Taste of China experience, which I’ve included below. It’s a wonderful walk through some of the best China has to offer, and we hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

“David and I loved the China Tour. We felt it introduced the different sites and sights in the best way possible. We actually did a movie on the tour: it is listed on YouTube (under the name of traveldudes2 ). It is named Friendly Planet China Tour. I hope you enjoy it. We tried to include our favorite sights. We will almost certainly take another Friendly Planet Tour. They are reasonable and have excellent guides. Ours was named Vivian. She was so informative and friendly. Check out our Video… Also our coverage of the tour on TravBuddy (under the name sylviandavid). Blessings, Sylvia
– Eureka, California”

Taste of China UPDATE

To update yesterday’s China post and our original Taste of China post, I was pleased to see that this past Sunday’s L A Times published details for our Taste of China vacation.
FP_LATimesChina.jpg
As you can see in the article, our China deal for $999 has completely sold out, with 161 passengers booked, but we still have about 25 spots available for tours for only $100 more at $1099. But hurry, because this deal just opened yesterday, and it won’t take long before it’s all booked up!

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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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