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VIDEO: A glimpse into China

China is a dynamic nation that perfectly unites the ancient past and modern present. Travelers can visit Shanghai, China’s most modern metropolis, and stand in the shadow of the city’s 126 skyscrapers. Visitors can hop a high speed train or take a short flight to Beijing and wander among some of the world’s most famous landmarks, such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, which have stood frozen in time for millennia. But your trip doesn’t end there. Expand outward to explore the romantic city of Hangzhou, the culinary hotbed of Chengdu, or the ghost city of Fengdu. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re dreaming of a dynamic getaway, one that will introduce you to an entirely new culture, China is the destination for you. Here’s just a sampling of the unforgettable experiences that await you.

What are you waiting for? Now’s the time to experience this top destination and open your mind to the wonders of our unique world.

Chinese city spotlight: A traveler’s take on Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi’an

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.

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5 amazing experiences you can only have in China

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.

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2 reasons why the Far East isn’t so far away for Friendly Planet travelers

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:

Tokyo skyline at night

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, ShanghaiXi’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!

Win a free trip for 2 to China with Friendly Planet Travel!

Two trips to fantastic destinations given away, four more free tours to go. If you haven’t won a trip yet, then this is for you.

You might have seen that we’re giving away a trip for two to China on our Taste of China tour, and you might have already entered our sweepstakes. If you haven’t, there’s still time.

A Friendly Planet traveler and a guest will be on their way to see Beijing, China’s capital and host of the 2008 Summer Olympics; Shanghai, often called the “Paris of the East;” and Xi’an, where one of the most fascinating archeological finds in the world, the Terracotta army, is found.

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!

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

The best cities in the world to shop

Travel and shopping. They’re like two peas in a pod. Most people want a great souvenir to bring home from a trip abroad. Not only is it a great conversation starter, but it brings back memories of your adventure.

I came across a few helpful articles about shopping when traveling that I thought I would share with you today.

For the bargain hunter in all of us, Frommer’s lists the “World’s Best Cities for Bargain Shopping.” It’s complete with the names of places to shop and gives you an idea about how much items should cost. Some of the cities are part of Friendly Planet tours, including Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hoi An, VietnamShanghai, China; and Bangkok, Thailand.

In addition to Frommer’s list, Conde Nast Traveler highlights the wonderful shopping in Marrakech, Morocco and Jaipur, India this month, two other cities Friendly Planet can bring you to. It reminds readers that Marrakech offers fashion in the form of art. Through a beautiful profile of a city that is in the midst of a renaissance, you’ll discover why a mosaic of colors and intricate designs are found on almost everything sold in the souk.

And in Jaipur, brightly colored saris and lavish gems are the Indians’ definition of casual. In stark contrast to the terrain around the city, hot colors are worn on everything — including the camels. The article takes you on a shopping journey through the “pink city” that will leave you lusting for your own jewels from Jaipur.

Where have you found incredible bargain shopping on your travels?

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.

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.

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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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