Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Hanoi’

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

Getting a Taste of Vietnam

It’s been almost a year since my visit to Vietnam. I can’t believe how fast time flies. It feels like I was just basking on the sun deck of the Emeraude, sailing in the beautiful waters of Halong Bay. Vietnam was one of those trips that I just didn’t want to end.

CRUISING: Halong Bay’s stunning emerald green waters

When I was there, I fell in love with the country’s extraordinary beauty and charming people. I’ve never before experienced a country whose people were so warm and receptive to tourists. Despite America and Vietnam’s history, the Vietnamese people hold no animosity towards us.

In fact, if you don’t speak Vietnamese, you really only have to smile to communicate with the people. After spending two weeks in the country, I wanted to make sure our Taste of Vietnam tour was giving something more than just tourism back to the country.

I set out to find opportunities for our travelers to directly give back to the locals of the towns they are visiting. So now on the Taste of Vietnam tour, we bring travelers to KOTO. It is a nonprofit restaurant and vocational training program that is changing the lives of disadvantaged youths in Vietnam. A portion of what our travelers spend there goes directly back to KOTO to continue to improve the lives of Vietnamese children.

Another place we visit, en route to Halong Bay, is a shop where travelers can buy paintings and jewelry. The profits from the shop go to a school that teaches handicapped Vietnamese to become artisans. The students then create all of the artwork in the shop our travelers visit. Everything you buy directly benefits students at the school.

Better yet, these two places are not often visited by tourists. So you get to not only give a little something back to this beautiful country, but you also get to see some places off the beaten trail.

In addition to finding these great social causes in Vietnam, I found more ways to make the eight-day Taste of Vietnam tour even better. For $1,199 you’ll also visit two of Vietnam’s most dynamic and culturally awe-inspiring cities, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi.

The price includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, all intra-Asia flights and ground transportation, superior hotel accommodations, daily buffet breakfast, and comprehensive sightseeing in each city with a local, English-speaking Vietnamese guide.

The tour immerses travelers in the country’s rich culture, starting with Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by many locals) and ends in Hanoi. They see the country’s floating markets, winding canals, sweeping rice paddies, and bustling cityscapes.

Travelers also take a step back into the country’s history with a trip to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” and the Cu Chi Tunnels that were part of the underground highway of the Viet Cong.

There is also an array of discounted optional tours, including the Halong Bay overnight cruise, my personal favorite. Travelers stay aboard a deluxe river boat, the Emeraude. It’s a replica of one of the classic steamships of the colonial era of French Indochina. You feel like you’re in the movie, “Indochine,” which consequently, is played on your stay.

And if that still isn’t enough, take advantage of your already included international airfare and spend three additional nights in Bangkok, Thailand. Visit what is often called the “Venice of the East” for its network of canals (klongs), and explore Bangkok by boat.

Book our eight-day Taste of Vietnam tour for $1,199 by Feb. 24, 2010. As I said earlier, it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with this amazing country and not want to leave. For complete details, visit our Web site. If you have any questions, send me an e-mail.

Friendly Planet Travel giving travelers what they want, according to Conde Nast Traveler’s 2009 Readers Choice Awards

As I was home catching up on some work-related e-mail this weekend, I spent some time browsing the latest Condé Nast Traveler: 2009 Readers’ Choice Awards. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I read that once again, Friendly Planet has it pretty well covered in terms of what travelers want.

Take the Top Cities category. We offer trips to eight out of the top 10 Asian cities: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, Kyuoto, Shanghai, Jaipur, Tokyo, and Hanoi. Singapore, also on the top 10 list, is coming in 2010, and that’s just Asia. We also cover four out of five of the best Africa and Middle East cities: Cape Town, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Dubai.

FP_Plane.jpgThe No. 1 and No. 2 airlines on the list of Ten Best Global Carriers – Singapore Airlines and Emirates – are prominently featured on some of our tours. And even some of the world’s best hotels, such as the Fairmont Hotel Dubai, are found on our programs.

So, you could be thinking, "big deal." A lot of companies feature these places, these airlines, and these hotels. And that’s the point. A lot do feature all of this and more, but at what price? That’s where we differ from almost everyone out there. The best for the least means something in my mind. It translates into a lot of work in creating the tours that result in great vacations in great destinations at great prices.
 

That’s the thought  I had after reading these lists, anyway. But more importantly, how do YOU think Friendly Planet Travel stacks up? Are there cities we don’t offer that you wish we did? Where do you want to go with us? Let me know in the comments section below! I would really love to hear from you.

Eight-day Taste of Vietnam for $999 featured on the Examiner.com

As you probably picked up from my series of posts about my own Vietnam experience, Vietnam today draws thousands of Americans eager to fully understand the country, its people, culture, and ways of life — despite its controversial past.
But this remarkable journey has traditionally come with a high price tag, with tour prices easily exceeding $2,000. Until now. Last week, we unveiled our ultra-low-cost Taste of Vietnam vacation deal. The examiner.com picked up the press release we sent out last week with the full details. You can also read on below for more information.
The package, starting at just $999, visits two of Vietnam’s most dynamic and culturally awe-inspiring cities: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi.
The trip includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles (with JFK departures available at a surcharge of between $150 and $200, depending upon departure date); all ground transfers; all intra-Vietnam flights; six nights in superior hotel accommodations; daily buffet breakfast; and comprehensive sightseeing in each city with a local, English-speaking Vietnamese guide, including entrance fees.
Travelers can also choose from an array of discounted optional tours, such as Halong Bay, which can be done in one day or an overnight stay aboard a deluxe river boat, the Emeraude, as well as an optional extension to Bangkok, Thailand.
FP_Thailand2.jpg
There’s no doubt that Vietnam is spellbinding, and allures travelers for so many reasons. Its exotic location has shielded it from throngs of tourists and trampled habitat, fast food chains, and strip malls that often accompany those groups.
The country’s pivotal role in recent history also draws many U.S. veterans who want to return to Vietnam to find closure, see how the country has changed, find old haunts, and even rediscover old friends. There are also many Vietnamese people who settled in the U.S. in the years following the war who are longing to return for a visit, and whose children have never seen the homeland of their parents. Before now, maybe they couldn’t afford it. But now travelers can do it all for $999. That’s a deal that I’ve never seen in my 30 years of travel experience.
Among savvy travelers, Vietnam has emerged as one of Asia’s most popular new destinations. The fascination for Vietnam comes from its extraordinary beauty; simplicity of life; and warm, incredibly approachable people. The tour, conducted by English-speaking, Vietnamese licensed guides, immerses vacationers in the country’s intense beauty and rich culture, starting with Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by many locals) and ends in Hanoi.
Thumbnail image for FP_VietnamFishflags.jpg
Vacationers get a taste of life in modern day Vietnam, with the country’s floating markets, winding canals, sweeping rice paddies, and bustling cityscapes. They also take a step back to the country’s controversial past, including a trip to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” and the Cu Chi Tunnels that were part of the underground highway of the Viet Cong.
For travelers with more time, Friendly Planet Travel also offers a 13-day Best of Vietnam trip for the low price of $2,399, with optional extensions to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Sapa Hill Tribes.
The 13-day fully escorted tour takes vacationers from south to north — with stops in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hanoi. For both vacations, on sale prices include savings of up to $800 per couple if reserved before Aug. 28.
If you’d like more information, or want to book, please visit our online booking agent, or contact us.

My journey through Vietnam (part 4)

In the fourth part of My Journey through Vietnam series, I’m going to take you to the Halong Bay. If you want to catch up on my Vietnam travels so far — from the streets of Saigon to the waters of the Mekong Delta — you can have a look.
After our wonderful visit to the Mekong Delta, we drove from Hanoi to Halong Bay, where a dense cluster of about 3,000 limestone islands and islets rise spectacularly from the sea. The islands are topped with dense vegetation, and a few have huge caves with gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites, one of which we visited later that day. Without a doubt, Halong Bay is among Vietnam’s most beloved and visited tourist attractions, and definitely deserving of its appointment a World Heritage Site.
En route to Halong to board our cruise, we stopped at a special embroidery and handicrafts factory and showroom. Aside from being the best restroom stop of the trip, it was a chance to purchase souvenirs made by young handicapped Vietnamese artisans. The embroidered wall hangings and table linens were particularly beautiful, and — like everything else in Vietnam — very inexpensive.
I bought a wall hanging was able to have my picture taken with the artist. He is deaf, and this job is one of the few, apart from rice farming, that he can do to earn money to support himself.
FP_Vietnam_peggy and artist.jpg
We arrived at Halong Bay around midday, and settled into our cabins aboard the cruise ship Emeraude, then joined others in the ship’s dining room for lunch. I think I discovered my dream menu there in Vietnam. I couldn’t seem to get enough of pho, a light, delicious Vietnamese soup made with a lovely, delicate beef stock, rice noodles and aromatic herbs.
The lunch buffet also had spring rolls, which are artistically wrapped with bits of shrimp, sprouts, green onion, basil, and cilantro, along with several types of sauces for dipping. There are other choices as well, but who cares, when I can enjoy pho and spring rolls?
After lunch, we headed for the Hang Sung Sot Cave. This cave, whose name in English means Cave of Surprises, was named by a French explorer who was amazed by the size and beauty of the cave’s interior rooms. It is probably the most beautiful of all the caves found in this region of Vietnam, with amazing stalagmites and stalagtites.
FP_Vietnam_interior of cave.jpg
When you exit the cave, you find yourself high above Halong Bay, peering at a gorgeous panoramic view of the water, the mist, the limestone karsts, and the women paddling boats laden with all sorts of things for sale — from conical hats to Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies. It was truly an amazing site.
FP_Vietnam_Halong Bay view from cave exit.jpg
We returned to the Emeraude full of awe at the cave’s spectacular interior chambers, and I was again left wondering how I could be in such a beautiful place with such a painfully inadequate camera. But the images of the cave and the incredible views of the Bay from high atop the water are very clear in my mind.
That afternoon, while I took a cooking class conducted by the Emeraude’s chef to teach the art of making a spring roll, others in our group took advantage of a kayaking adventure offered aboard the ship.
FP_Vietnam_Les  Nancy.JPG
Many of those aboard the Emeraude enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and evening in the experienced hands of a Vietnamese masseuse. People were lined up for a treatment (more like a treat), and the women were booked up right through dinner. It wasn’t until after dinner, when everyone assembled at the ship’s bar and took their seats for the movie, Indochine, that the woman giving massages left the boat, hopefully having earned lots of money in well deserved tips.
Finally, I settled into my seat for an evening of Indochine under the stars on Halong Bay. There was a gauzy fog draped haphazardly over the limestone karsts. But that didn’t obscure them or dim their beauty. As the movie progressed, the familiar karsts of Halong Bay appeared, as lovely and mysterious on the screen as they are in real life.
The next morning, we reluctantly disembarked and returned to Hanoi to continue our tour. We were already regretting the moment we’d have to leave Vietnam, and we still had some days to go. That, my friends, is the test of a truly wonderful destination. Not ever wanting the day of departure to arrive!

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

Tours & Packages Our specialty for 30 years! Find one now:
choose a region Europe Mediterranean Asia Middle East Africa Central America Caribbean South America South Pacific