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Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of Vietnam tour in photos

Last week Sue Phillips of Solana Beach, Calif. told you the reasons why she keeps booking group tours with Friendly Planet Travel. After I published the post, Sue sent me some photos she took on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of Vietnam tour.

Scroll down to give them a gander. And if you have photos from any of our tours that you’d like featured on the blog, e-mail me or post them on Facebook and tag Friendly Planet Travel in them.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Outdoor market in Vietnam

Sue and Reed on Halong Bay, Vietnam

Sue and Reed in the South China Sea

Restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam

Sapa minorities embroidering 

School in North Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Why one traveler keeps coming back to Friendly Planet Travel

It’s the shout-outs of travelers like Sue Phillips of Solana Beach, Calif., who provide the motivation for me to continue to do my day job — designing extraordinary group tours to exotic destinations for adventue-seeking travelers like you.

She’s already been on three Friendly Planet Travel tours and has two more booked. Sue, I hope you’re taking advantage of our Refer-a-Friend program!

Sue came to my attention when she sent me an e-mail after returning from Friendly Planet Travel’s Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands tour. I copied it (verbatim) below.

“Fabulous trip! Can’t say enough for Friendly Planet tours. Everything is a shiny 5 stars! We’ve also been to China and Vietnam previously and they were amazing trips. We will be going to India with Friendly Planet in February and really looking forward to it. We are taking our 8 year old grandson in July to Mediterranean 3 Continents trip with Friendly Planet. He is very interested in Greek Mythology, so this will be a special trip!” — Sue Phillips, Solana Beach, Calif.

Sue, I’m delighted to hear that you keep returning to Friendly Planet Travel again and again! We work very hard to earn your trust, and everyone in the office sends you a huge thank you for your loyalty, and we promise to keep working hard every day to make your vacations special.

And be assured your grandson is going to be the star of his class when he returns to school in September. We’ll make sure of that. Thank you for your note, it certainly made my day.

Disability, wheelchair doesn’t stop traveler from experiencing a Taste of China

I can’t imagine a more glum situation than sustaining an injury, especially one that hinders you from walking, right before a vacation.

But that’s what happened to Dorothy Kellher from Palm Beach, Fla. right before she went on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour.

However, two fractures in Dorothy’s hip didn’t slow her down. After weighing her options, she decided to use a wheelchair and go on the tour. And she doesn’t regret her decision for a second.

Friendly Planet Travel’s tour guides took excellent care of Dorothy and made sure she had just as great of an experience as everyone else in her group.

But enough of me telling you why Dorothy enjoyed Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour so much. I pasted the e-mail below (verbatim) she sent to me when she returned to tell you all about it herself.

“I was planning to cancel my participation in the tour, having recently sustained two fractures in my right hip. At the last minute, hoping I would not be a drag on the rest of the group, and being assured that a wheelchair would be made available, I made the trip. The accommodations, food and service at all the hotels were first-class. The optional tours were too good to miss. The guides did a fantastic job in keeping us informed as to what we were visiting, and, more importantly, in continually checking that we were enjoying every experience to the max. We were given excellent opportunities to indulge in shopping, but were never pressured to buy. All our guides made sure I was part of the group at all times, and my temporary disability proved no drawback. My use of the wheechair was discarded after I reached the top of the Great Wall with the help of my cane. You are fortunate to have Peter Pi as a national guide. Both he and Jon Wang went way beyond their duties to befriend every tour guest. For me the tour gave new meaning to ‘The Experience of a Lifetime!’ Thanks Friendly Planet.” — Dorothy Kelleher, Palm Beach, Fla.

Dorothy, I’m so happy that you had a wonderful time on your trip! I hope you recover quickly from your injuries and are able to join us on another tour in full health.

First-time Friendly Planet traveler reviews our Best of Turkey tour

It’s been almost a year since we introduced Friendly Planet Travel’s Best of Turkey tour. And every Friendly Planeteer I’ve spoken to who has taken this tour tells me how much they loved exploring the country known as the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

I wanted to share with you what Ann Ott from Cedar City, Utah had to say about her trip to Turkey. She sent me an e-mail that I’ve pasted below verbatim.

“Just returned from my first trip with Friendly Planet and was so impressed that I had to write this note. You have a lot of choices in travel and I have found my tour company at last. Everything about my trip was amazing- our guide, Ibrahim, was not only extremely knowledgeable, but also patient and very funny.

Hotels, transportation, meals, added excursions were all superb. Everything went off without a hitch- I felt safe and cared for every minute and could spend ALL of my time enjoying the trip instead of worrying about the travel details. Turkey, its people, scenery, food, monuments and parks are just wonderful. I can’t wait for my next trip. So little time, so much to see.” — Ann Ott, Cedar City, Utah

Ann, it brightens my day to find out how pleased you were with your first Friendly Planet Travel tour! Let us know which tour you pick as your second trip. And thanks again for your note!

Farihah Ali searches for the perfect dumpling on Friendly Planet Travel’s Taste of China tour

Spiced beef dumplings in Shanghai

Food and travel — they’re like two peas in a pod. I always enjoy trying the exotic foods native to the country I’m visiting.

In fact, I’ve told you plenty of times that Vietnam tops my list of countries to go to for the food. But it’s not the only country in Asia that foodies adore.

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, ShanghaiXi’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.

Farihah in Suzhou, China

Taste of China tour guides shine bright in one couple’s eyes

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.

Friendly Planet review: An in-depth look at the Taste of Vietnam tour

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

A Michigan family’s adventure on Friendly Planet Travel’s Athens and 4-Day Greek Isles Cruise

Taking your whole family to the Mediterranean can be an adventure of a lifetime, and it sounds like it was for Sarah Hirsch from West Bloomfield, Mich. She went on Friendly Planet Travel’s Athens and 4-Day Greek Isles Cruise with her husband, Kevin, and son and daughter, Jacob and Elena.

The Hirsch family recently returned from their tour of Greece and sent me an e-mail recapping their trip. I thought I would share with you all the kind things Sarah had to say and her beautiful photos. Thanks Sarah!


Our family at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

It may be a small world after all, but it sure seems big when trying to narrow down vacation options. Luckily, Friendly Planet Travel makes planning a vacation easy with a variety of specific itineraries of the best destinations around the world.

I had always wanted to go to Greece and see the beautiful islands, and visit amazing historical sites like the Acropolis, Agora, Plaka, and Panathenaic Stadium.

The Athens and 4-day Greek Islands Cruise itinerary offered by Friendly Planet provided me the opportunity to do all of this and more. With help and guidance from our Friendly Planet Travel agent, Becca, it was easy to prepare for a once in a lifetime family vacation.

Our journey began with an overnight flight to Europe, and our layover in Germany gave us a morning to explore the lovely Frankfurt. We arrived in Athens in the late afternoon, and were met by a Friendly Planet representative who brought us to our hotel.

Our family on the Greek Isles

It was so nice to eliminate the stress of handling ground transportation as that was all taken care of, since it is included on every vacation booked through Friendly Planet.

Our evening consisted of an informational meeting with Yanni, our Friendly Planet point person in Greece, who gave us all of the information we would need for our cruise and oriented us for the week.

We chose to have dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, which featured a view of the Acropolis all lit up for the night like a beacon welcoming visitors to Athens.

The next morning we were taken by bus to the port, where we embarked on our cruise. The ship brought us to the ports of Mykonos, Kusadasi (Turkey), Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini in the span of four days and four nights.

We were at each destination only briefly, just long enough to taste each island’s unique flavor. These ports of call are so fantastic that even to simply walk around town and spend a few moments dipping our feet into the Aegean Sea equalled an incredible experience.

Elena and I in Ephessus, Turkey

Friendly Planet offers optional excursions for an additional fee in each of the ports. We mostly chose to explore on our own, though we did take an organized tour that we booked through Yanni to the ancient ruins in Ephessus in Turkey, which gave us a look back to the way of life experienced thousands of years ago.

Our final stop was Santorini, which is so unique a place on Earth that it kind of blows your mind a little!

After the cruise, we had two more nights in Athens. Our hotel was located just a couple of minutes walking distance to most of the best sites to see in Athens. Because we chose to go during the middle of summer, the temperature hovered around 100 degrees, so we broke up our days by spending the siesta hours at the hotel pool to keep us cool.

Kevin, Jacob, and Elena in front of Greece’s famous windmills

We began our days with the complimentary breakfasts at the hotel, and spent our mornings and evenings seeing Athens’ great sites.

From the Parthenon and Acropolis, to Syntagma Square, where we used the free wifi to check in back home. The Parliament building where we caught the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium, home of the first modern Olympics, the new Acropolis museum, the National Gardens, and the Plaka, the main streets of Athens, where we found many great shops and restaurants to enjoy.

We left early on our final morning, with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call, but as tired as we were, Yanni was there with a friendly smile to help us arrive in the right place at the airport.

Overall our voyage was indeed incredible. It was everything that I had always imagined my desired trip to Greece would be, without any of the stress that can come along with trying to manage all the details of traveling abroad. I will always be grateful to Friendly Planet Travel for providing my family with this wonderful experience. Thank you!

Friendly Planet Travel’s Exotic Ecuador reviewed: How tour guides make the difference

Our most recent Exotic Ecuador tour just returned and I’ve received a lot of e-mails from travelers raving about it. I was thrilled that everyone had a great time, and I can understand why. This tour took travelers through the capital of Ecuador and UNESCO World Heritage Center of Quito, the bustling Otavalo market, the natural springs in Baños, the volcanic peaks of Cotopaxi National Park, the Amazon rainforest, and more.

I thought I would share with you two of the e-mails I received from Friendly Planeteers. Give them a gander. If you’re thinking about traveling to Ecuador, these reviews might help you make up your mind. Plus, departure dates are still available for only $1,199 when you book by Nov. 3.

“What a wonderful experience on this tour! Patricio, our guide was outstanding. His knowledge and love of Ecuador gave us a special insight into the country and its people. Edwin, our driver made the bus go places that looked impossible and did it in a way that we were always at ease. Patricio helped us and others with small things that came up during the trip. Patricio always did more than was expected and was a perfect gentleman. All the places were fantastic, just wish we had more time at each one. We would tour with Friendly Planet again without hesitation.” – Leslie and Dwight Adams, New Brockton, Ala.

“By far this has been the best trip ever!!! Our tour guide Patricio and bus driver Ewin made our stay as pleasant as possible. They were courteous and attentative to everyone’s needs and made us feel safe at all times. I highly recommend this trip to anyone who has never dared to venture to South America – you will not be disappointed.!! The canoe ride up the Amazon river and the scenic panoramic view of the mountains will leave you breathless!!! Pictures to come soon for your enjoyment!!” – Ivonne Davila and Lucia Morales, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Four-time Friendly Planet traveler reviews our Egypt and China tours

Customer loyalty is what makes the Friendly Planet go round, and this review from Margaret Bernarding put an extra pep in my step today. She’s gone on four Friendly Planet Travel tours! She sent us an e-mail telling us about her favorite parts on her most recent adventures — Treasures of Egypt and Best of China. I pasted it below (verbatim) to give you some first-hand feedback.

Funery mask in Egyptian museum

“I went on two of your tours this year, Treasures of Egypt and Best of China, as well as two other tours (Athens/ Istanbul with optional Classical Greek extension; Croatia/Slovenia/Montenegro) in previous years. I don’t know how friendly planet puts together such amazing trips so reasonably, as I couldn’t book things separately for double the price.

Treasures of Egypt, my last tour, was lead by a fantastic tour guide with an advanced degree in Egyptology! The accommodations on the cruise ship were top notch with all the amenities and great food breakfast, lunch and dinner, helpful and friendly crew. We also stayed in a luxurious hotel in Cairo (breakfast included). All the admissions to the various temples / pyramids were included. They even provide extra security guards, though we always felt completely safe and well taken care of.

Wild Goose Pagoda in China

Best of China was wonderful! We had our guide, Sam, plus a local guide in each area we went to. The trip included a 4 day cruise on the Yangtze River (a highlight) with very nice cabins with private decks, a 4 hour cruise up the Li River through some of the most beautiful sites in China, many flights within China, which allowed us to see more of the country, 5 star hotels, clean and modern buses to transport us to the sites of interest, such as the spectacular Great Wall.

My favorite parts were where we saw the mountains and other natural wonders of China. One of things I will never forget was an optional excursion out in the countryside up river from Guilin where we were able to meet a family and visit their 400 year old home, walk in the rice fields, etc. I would wholeheartedly recommend this travel company.” – Margaret Bernarding, Forest Knolls, Calif.

Margaret, I’m beaming hearing all of these wonderful things. I’m glad you had a great time, and please share with us when and where you book your fifth tour. ;-)

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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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