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Posts Tagged ‘Taste of Vietnam’

Save on Friendly Planet Travel tours and receive a Kiva gift certificate

Kiva recently made headlines when Oprah included a Kiva gift certificate in her 2010 Ultimate Favorite Things show. Today, I’m bringing you more Kiva news by announcing that every traveler who books a Friendly Planet Travel tour by Dec. 23 will get a gift certificate for a $25 micro-loan to distribute through the organization.

Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Here’s how it works. Lenders browse profiles of entrepreneurs in need from different countries throughout the world, and choose someone to lend to.

When they lend, using PayPal or credit card, Kiva collects the funds and then passes them along to one of their microfinance partners worldwide. Kiva’s micro-finance partners distribute the loan funds to the selected entrepreneur.

Often, partners provide training and other assistance to maximize the entrepreneur’s chances of success. Over time, the entrepreneurs repay their loans. Repayment and other updates are posted on Kiva and e-mailed to lenders who wish to receive them. When lenders get their money back, they can re-lend to someone else in need, donate their funds to Kiva (to cover operational expenses), or withdraw their funds.

Friendly Planet Travel started a Kiva lending team in August 2009. Since then, we’ve grown to almost 200 members who have loaned over $25,000 combined. This is Friendly Planet Travel’s second year offering Kiva gift certificates for every tour booked.

I love the idea of being able to give a gift that never goes away. You lend a struggling entrepreneur $25, which, combined with other loans of $25, can put a person in business in a developing country, changing their life and the life of their family. If you lend to a group of entrepreneurs who have teamed up in a business, you can change the lives of a whole village. It’s amazing. And the inspiration for the system, Dr. Mohammad Yunus, even won a Nobel Peace Prize for the concept in 2006.

At this time of year, it’s impossible not to want to reach out and do something for others. So if you’re looking to take advantage of our gift certificate offer, here are some hot deals that might pique your interest or make a spectacular holiday gift.

Twelve-day Treasures of Egypt: Be mesmerized by Egypt’s sweeping natural beauty on land, then board the M/S Tulip for a seven-night Nile River Cruise where you’ll dock at Edfu, Aswan, Kom Ombo, and more. Take $70 OFF with coupon code 121410-187 on all departures dates.

Ten-day Italian Treasures: Indulge in la dolce vita on a tour that takes you to the Italian classics. Visit Venice, Florence, and Rome, as well as off the beaten path gems, including Bologna, Siena, San Gimignano, and Assisi. Take $70 off with coupon code 121410-141 on all departure dates.

Nine-day Taste of Vietnam: Fall in love with this country’s extraordinary beauty, charming people, and delicious food when you visit its two most important cities: Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Take $50 off with coupon code 121410-178 on the March 16, April 6, and 20 departure dates.

Thirteen-day Aegean Greek Island Hopper: Jump from Athens to Paros, to Mykonos, and Santorini, all while staying in beautiful four- and five-star hotels that show off the individual character and majesty of each Greek Island. Take $50 off with coupon code 121410-192 for the April 27, May 11, 18, and 25 departure dates.

Thirteen-day Cyclades Greek Island Hopper: Stay in cliff-side hotels with idyllic views as you hop from Athens, to Mykonos, to Santorini, and Crete. Take $50 off with coupon code 121410-193 on April 23 and 30, May 14 and 21 departure dates only.

Fifteen-day Best of China: Experience China’s most dynamic, modern cities to its timeless villages and breathtaking natural wonders when you visit Shanghai, Yichang, Three Gorges, Guilin, Xi’an, and Beijing. Take $70 off with coupon code 121410-112 on the April 12, 19, May 10, 17, and 24 departure dates.

Coupon codes are valid until Dec. 28, 2010, for new reservations. Enter the code when booking online or mention the code to your phone agent. For complete details and itineraries for each tour, visit our website. And remember, you must reserve a tour by Dec. 23 to receive the $25 Kiva gift certificate. Happy holidays!

Get another serving of the Taste of Vietnam tour with the podcast transcript

If you’re unable to listen to Charlie Clarke’s first-hand account of Friendly Planet’s Taste of Vietnam tour, grab the transcript. It’s a great resource to hold on to for anyone thinking about traveling to Vietnam.

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

Vietnam is Anthony Bourdain’s favorite place on Earth to eat

MAIN COURSE: Vietnamese elephant fish

Last week on the Travel Channel’sAnthony Bourdain No Reservations,” Tony traveled to his favorite place in the world to eat, Vietnam. Tony’s got good taste. It’s one my favorite places to go to for the food. Last year on my trip to Vietnam, I happily ate my way through the country.

Like me, Anthony had plenty of good things to say about the food in Vietnam. For starters, you can sample the amazing cuisine of this beautiful country, and not spend a fortune. Whether you choose a restaurant, a sidewalk restaurant, or a market food stall, it’s consistently delicious, aesthetically presented, and quite affordable.

I told you about the succulent five-course lunch I enjoyed at a remote Mekong Delta restaurant.The entire meal, including delicious appetizers, main course, and dessert was prepared for 19 guests on four little burners in a sliver of a kitchen that lacked most modern-day appliances. And like my other meals in Vietnam, it was not only palate pleasing, it was beautifully presented in the Vietnamese way: simple ingredients, artistic arrangement, appetizing, and delicious.

One of my favorite foods, and one of the prettiest, is the Vietnamese spring roll. These spring rolls are created with a thin, flat rice pancake filled with a variety of ingredients. They usually include perfectly cooked shrimp, which are placed in the center, fragrant fresh basil or parsley, a sliver of cucumber or another vegetable, and a fresh scallion.

The pancake is carefully rolled, with the ends tucked in, to hold the contents in place. The scallion’s green end protrudes from one end of the roll like a tail, to be eaten with the last bite of the roll. The roll is then dipped into a delicate, mildly spicy fish sauce garnished with a few paper-thin slices of chili pepper. Ordinarily, a fish sauce would make me say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Not in Vietnam. The fish sauce adds to the medley of delicate flavor, and the result is simply sumptuous.

What makes Vietnamese food even better is that it is very healthy and extremely low in fat. I came home having lost five pounds, despite eating at every opportunity. It consists of fish and meat in small quantities, plenty of vegetables, and fruit galore. And, while we here in the West love our freezers and microwave ovens, in Vietnam everything is fresh, fresh, fresh!

In the restaurants you’ll find the chef going to the market to buy herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits two, even three times a day. Herbs that were bought early in the morning are no longer considered fresh by 11 a.m. I have no doubt that the freshness of the ingredients adds to the amazing taste of the food.

One of my favorite spots to visit whenever I travel is a local market. I love to see the types of foods consumed by the locals, and I enjoy tasting when conditions permit. In Vietnam, a visit to a local market is an amazing treat.

First, they are incredibly clean, despite the fish, poultry, and meats on display. Then there are the colorful pyramids of exotic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. They say that anything you stick in the ground in Vietnam will grow, and a visit to a local market will prove the point.

Finally, you’ll discover that you can easily taste your way through the country by visiting these markets. Just stop for a snack or a meal at the small stalls, where vendors prepare some of the most delicious treats you can imagine.

There’s so much food to savor in Vietnam, and I’m not surprised at all that Tony Bourdain selected it as his favorite country for eating. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who is interested in a true cultural experience coupled with a gourmet holiday will be delighted by a visit to Vietnam.

If you get a chance, see what Tony’s experience was like. And if you want to taste some Vietnamese food, you can always book Friendly Planet’s Taste of Vietnam or Best of Vietnam tours.

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 on WNWR’s Dining and Destinations with Barry Reisman

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Barry Reisman of WNWR’s Dining and Destinations on Philadelphia’s AM-1540. On the weekly broadcast, Barry discusses "food, travel, and the good life." And of course, I was more than happy to talk to him about Friendly Planet Travel.

You can hear the full hour-long episode of Dining and Destinations by clicking play below. Barry covers all sorts of fascinating (and mouth-watering) topics, but if you don’t have time to listen to the entire show, and just want to tune in to the "destinations" portion of the program with my interview, scroll to minute 32:00.

I talk all about Friendly Planet Travel, my history in the travel business, the benefits of group travel, and more. We also cover a few of our featured Friendly Planet Tours, including the Taste of Vietnam. So have a listen!

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.
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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.

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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