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Thailand political protests update

This post has been updated here.

I just got off the phone with our representatives in Thailand. Here’s the latest update. I told you yesterday that supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatrain were going to start protesting today outside of government buildings in Bangkok. I’m happy to report that there is, indeed, very little to report.

Sites where protests were scheduled had very little attendance. There have been no major disruptions in the city of Bangkok. In fact, there was barely any traffic today. Most people either stayed home from work or did not drive their cars into the city. And the roads that we anticipated were going to close, did not.

But this is only day one of the planned protests. I understand that more supporters will be arriving over the weekend, culminating in a large gathering on Sunday. Our contingency plans that I discussed for Friendly Planet travelers are still in place.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation very closely, but my representatives in Thailand feel confident that these protests will pass peacefully and not disrupt tourism. Stay tuned to the blog for the latest information.

Update on the political situation in Thailand

This post has been updated here.

In the past I’ve told you about how we take care of our travelers when the unexpected arises. No sooner had I written that post did I get an opportunity to live up to it.

In my effort to keep you up to date with the political situation in Thailand, I wanted to let you know what is expected to happen this weekend. As I mentioned in my previous post, supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra were planning to hold a rally in mid March. Well, they made a public announcement that they plan to protest around Bangkok government buildings from March 12 – 14.

In anticipating these events, Friendly Planet is planning to reroute some itineraries for our travelers who are in Thailand. These protests could be large or they could be small. We don’t yet know. But either way, we’re taking steps to ensure that our travelers, no matter what, have a great time in Thailand, and are not affected by these demonstrations.

If the roads within Bangkok close due to the protests, travelers booked on tours to the Grand Palace, Wat Po, or Chinatown will be picked up at their hotels and taken to the nearest river pier. They will get to travel by boat to their destination, rather than drive through the city.

New tours will be offered to those who prefer to stay outside of Bangkok completely, at no additional charge. If travelers want to stay in their hotels and not tour, Friendly Planet will refund any of their prepaid tours.

All other tours in Thailand including Klong Tours, Ayuthaya Tours, and Amphawa Tours will operate as usual. As I’ve said before, we would never send our travelers into harm’s way. Safety and security are our prime concerns, and we’re taking these steps to make sure our travelers are well served and enjoy their trip.

If you have any questions or want more information, write to me directly.

Update: Is it safe to travel to Thailand?

This information has been updated here.

Last week there were numerous travel advisories telling people to be cautious when traveling to Bangkok, Thailand. In my previous post, I told you the advisories were issued because the Thai supreme court was announcing its decision regarding the seizure of assets from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Feb. 26. Diplomats were worried the decision would spark demonstrations.

I wanted to update you on what has happened since last week. It was ruled that Shinawatra did abuse his power as Prime Minister to enrich himself, and $1.4 billion of his frozen $2.3 billion fortune will be seized. There was plenty of reaction from Shinawatra’s supporters, but no demonstrations were held.

However, there are reports from his supporters about a mass rally taking place in Bangkok in mid March. With that said, if travel advisories are issued for Thailand around that time, Friendly Planet would take all of the measures I discussed in my earlier post.

There is no need to change any of your travel arrangements if you’re going to Thailand. I will keep you updated here and on our Facebook page if the situation does change. You can always e-mail me with any additional questions.

Is it safe to travel to Thailand?

This information has been updated here.

You might have heard about a travel advisory telling people “to consider safety matters when traveling to Bangkok, Thailand.” I was asked about it on our Facebook page and have received a couple of e-mails, so let me tell you what I know.

There has been an ongoing legal debate between the Thai government and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. On Feb. 26, the Thai supreme court announces its decision regarding the seizure of billions of Thai Bhat in Shinawatra’s assets.

If the court rules against him, his supporters originally announced they would demonstrate. This announcement caused various government agencies, namely Australian and British, to warn travelers to avoid Bangkok around the decision date.

Fortunately, the demonstration leaders announced that no demonstrations will take place. Travelers can set their worries aside. Go to Thailand and enjoy the splendid white sand beaches, exotic architecture, fascinating culture, and ancient ruins.

However, I wanted to take this opportunity to explain how Friendly Planet handles these situations. We’ve been in business for 30 years, and over that long span, we’ve experienced many travel advisories and warnings for points around the globe.

If the demonstrations in Bangkok had been held as originally announced, we would have rerouted our travelers already in the country to avoid any areas where the demonstrations were taking place.

For customers who were about to depart for Thailand, we would have carefully assessed the situation and made a decision whether or not to operate the tour. If the U.S. Department of State did issue a travel warning, we would have postponed our tour. But, our travelers wouldn’t incur any penalties.

We would never send our travelers into harm’s way. I want you to know that our travelers’ safety and security are our prime concerns. The determining factor behind any of our actions is always for your safety.

I spoke to our representatives on the ground in Thailand, and they told me that the streets of Bangkok are calm, and it’s business as usual. Our Taste of Thailand and Treasures of Thailand tours are happening as planned.

If the situation in Thailand does change, we will let you know about it on our blog and our Facebook page as soon as possible. If you have questions or would like more information, please send them directly to me.

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.

Get a “Taste of Thailand” before it sells out!

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Since we featured the Taste of Thailand tour on the blog last July, it’s become one of our most popular destinations. Many travelers have been enjoying our tour guides showcasing its fascinating culture, exotic beaches, and islands.

Departure dates are filling up quickly, so if you want to experience the bustling capital city of Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya, and the historic River Kwai this spring — all for an amazingly affordable price, you need to act now!

You can book this tour  for $999 by Feb. 10. It includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, accommodations at superior first-class hotels, daily breakfast, sightseeing tours, English-speaking tour guides, optional extensions to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Phuket Island, and more.

As I’ve told you before, Thailand has emerged as one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan destinations in the world. Travelers will explore Bangkok’s waterways on a canal boat ride, enjoy a traditional Thai Set dinner at Supatra River House Restaurant, visit the most visually stunning temples in the world, and so much more.

The nine-day tour will give you a deep appreciation for the old and new that gives the country its remarkable appeal. Read my previous post about the Taste of Thailand tour to get all the details about this magnificent country.

For travelers who want more time in Thailand, check out the Treasures of Thailand tour for 12 days. For more information on either of our Thailand tours, take a look at our Web site.

Customer testimonial from a certified globetrotter

I’m sure by now you’re all aware of how much I enjoy getting feedback from our customers, and how important that feedback is in making Friendly Planet Travel the best company we can in terms of service, value, and overall experiences for our customers.

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All feeback is important, but it’s especially gratifying when an experienced traveler gives us the stamp of approval. That’s why the following testimonial, from Jim Villalpando of Taylorsville, Utah, meant so much to us here at the office. Jim and his wife Gloria have gone on numerous Friendly Planet Travel tours, including Egypt, Israel, Petra, Thailand, and Cambodia, as well as tours throughout Europe.

"What can be said that has not been said? Price, value, your tours are an exceptional value. We have been on five friendly planet tours to date and wil be going on our sixth trip to India, Nepal next month. What ever you’re doing, don’t change the formula until we’ve finshed the seven wonders of the world thru friendly planet tours. Great value on all the tours we’ve taken thus far.
 – Jim & Gloria Villalpando Taylorsville Utah"

 

 

 

 

Get a nine-day “Taste of Thailand” for just $899

It’s hard to determine what’s most alluring about Thailand. The splendid white sand beaches, exotic architecture, fascinating culture, and ancient ruins all leave travelers breathless. The country’s diversity attracts world travelers of every kind — from the frugal backpacker to the sophisticated beachcomber.
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But the almost 9,000-mile distance from the U.S. to Thailand, coupled with the high cost of long distance international travel, has made this golden land of Asia accessible to only a fortunate few of the many who would love to take the trip.
Not anymore. We just unveiled a breakthrough low price on a group tour to Thailand. Taste of Thailand starts at an astounding $899, and takes travelers to three of Thailand’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring cities: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi.
We’re very excited about this new tour. Taste of Thailand offers the chance to experience some of the country’s best places. And it’s at a price we haven’t seen in years, without sacrificing quality and comfort.
Thailand has emerged as one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan destinations in the world. At the same time, it remains deeply traditional in many ways. It’s this juxtaposition of old and new that gives the country its remarkable appeal.
The Taste of Thailand tour, conducted by English-speaking and licensed guides, immerses vacationers in the country’s intense beauty and rich culture, starting with Bangkok, Thailand’s sprawling capital city, also known as “Venice of the East.” In Bangkok, even the most frugal shopper can find treasures at unbeatable prices.
But to truly understand the country, travelers must experience the fabric that binds together the national identity that is Thailand: its temples. Vacationers will visit some of the country’s most important temple sites in Bangkok itself, including Wat Trimitr, where they’ll find the 700-year-old, five-ton Golden Buddha, the largest in the world.
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After touring in Bangkok, travelers continue to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site best known for its archaeological ruins from the King U-Thong kingdom in 1350, when the Ayutthaya was declared the capital of the country. It is this place that is referred to when the ancient name for Thailand, Siam, is used.
Then it’s on to Kanchanaburi, where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai Rivers converge into the Mae Klong River. It’s also where, in 1942 under Japanese control, the famous Bridge on the River Kwai was built by prisoners of war (POWs). Remember the movie? Travelers will view the bridge and also have an optional opportunity to ride an elephant through the lush jungle and enjoy a bamboo raft ride down the gently flowing River Kwai.
Travelers can take advantage of their already-included international airfare with a three-night visit to Phuket Island, known as “the Pearl of the Andaman Sea.” This optional extension includes a relaxing stay at the beautiful Novotel Resort, situated on eight acres of breathtaking tropical gardens overlooking the pristine waters of Kalim Bay.
There’s also an optional tour to Angkor Wat in Cambodia for travelers looking to explore one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in the world. For those who can’t decide between the two options, it’s possible to have them both.
And for travelers with more time, there’s also a 12-day Treasures of Thailand trip for the low price of $1,499, with optional extensions to Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Phuket Island. The 12-day, fully escorted tour takes tourists from north to south — with stops in Chiang Mai, Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai, and Bangkok. The trip includes a savings of up to $600 per couple if reserved by Aug. 14.
For more information on either of our Thailand tours, have a look at our Web site, or feel free to contact us.

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.
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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.

Customer Testimonial: True love on Treasures of Thailand

Our Treasures of Thailand vacation includes 12 days of beautiful beaches and islands, exotic architecture, fascinating culture, and ancient ruins. And, as many of our travelers have attested, the country provides the perfect backdrop for an absolutely unforgettable honeymoon experience.
I was combing through our customer testimonials recently, when I came across two that particularly struck me because they were from happy Friendly Planeteers who had just returned from their honeymoons with us. At first thought, people might not consider a group tour the ideal way to spend a honeymoon, but if you’re looking for the perfect combination of fun, culture, nightlife, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, a knowledgeable guide is the perfect person to show you the way. Plus, there is still ample time for couples to explore on their own and spend time with only each other.
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Have a look at what these two couples thought.
“We booked this trip instead of going to Hawaii for our honeymoon. It was less expensive to fly half way around the world and stay for 3 extra days than what it would have cost to go to Hawaii. As for the trip, it was by far the best trip of my life. Lek, our guide, is a wonderful person; very accommodating, friendly and seemed to genuinely care about making our experience enjoyable. Thailand is an amazing country that combines beautiful scenery, a unique culture, friendly people, a good nightlife, and is very inexpensive. What more could you ask for? We are looking to book our next trip (Africa) and are definitely looking at Friendly Planet.
– Wade Honeyfield, Denver, CO”

“Thank you for a wonderful honeymoon experience! The Treasures of Thailand tour was very well organized. Our tour guide Matthew was a delight. He was very knowledgeable and enthusiastically helpful. We had a wonderful time getting to know our fellow tour participants. We’re definitely very happy we chose the Friendly Planet Tours as our honeymoon vacation. And as you can see from the pictures, we had quite an adventurous time! P.S. Thank you, Friendly Planet, for the extra-special treatment, for us honeymooners, at all of the beautiful hotels we stayed at.
– Kunal & Leena Bhojawala, Jersey City, NJ”

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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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