Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for February, 2010

Friday’s Friendly Funny

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.

Customer testimonial: A wonderful Wildlife Safari

I opened my inbox the other day, and guess what I found? An e-mail from Barbara, one of our customers, about her Kenya Wildlife Safari.

But why should I tell you about it? I’ll let Barbara tell you herself. Here’s her e-mail, unedited.

“This was our 2nd Trip with Friendly Planet, and it was absolutely wonderful. The Safari Vehicle was clean and comfy and our guide Newton was a fountain of knowledge. The accommodations are great and we saw more animals then anyone could wish for. We hit the middle of migration and saw wildebeest as far as the eye could see. We saw all of the Africa Big 5 and have memories that will last us a lifetime. THANK YOU FRIENDLY PLANET FOR ANOTHER GREAT TRIP.” – Barbara Winbush, Harbor City, Calif.

Thanks for the kind words Barbara! I can’t wait to hear about your third trip with us. 😉 If you’re interested in taking the Kenya Wildlife Safari yourself, visit our Web site for all the details or write to me and ask me what you need to know.

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.

Hello everyone, I’m Mary, the newest Friendly Planet blogger

Me paddling in the Florida Keys

Greetings Friendly Planeteers! I’m Mary Burnham, travel writer, kayak guide, book author, and now, the newest Friendly Planet blogger.

I’ve written about travel topics and trends for all types of publications, and I’m very excited to get started and blog for Friendly Planet. I’ll share with you the hottest new travel destinations, the latest gadgets and gizmos, and tips for planning your next adventure.

For the last 15 years, my husband, Bill, and I have combined our love of travel, adventure, writing, and photography into a career. We write and travel, and write about our travels.

We specialize in hiking, paddling, and off-the-beaten-path travel, from kayaking the length of the Florida Keys, biking inn to inn over the Blue Ridge mountains, to hiking the Albanian Alps.

We’ve published eight books, including “Hiking Virginia” and “The Florida Keys Paddling Atlas,” both National Outdoor Book Award winners. Between writing, we guide kayak trips on the Eastern Shore of Virginia spring through fall, while winter finds us in the Florida Keys. Our personal favorite trip — the 100-mile paddle from Key Largo to Key West.

I want to thank Peggy Goldman for inviting me to become part of her fantastic organization, and more importantly, her wonderful blog. So let’s start our conversation. What would you like to know more about? Don’t hesitate to e-mail me and I won’t hesitate to tell you everything I know about traveling.

Valentine’s gift ideas for travelers you love, and travelers who love to travel

You can go traditional again (e.g., predictable!) with roses, wine, and chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Or you could put some imagination into making your loved one’s next trip even more special, more comfortable, and more memorable. Here are my 2010 suggestions for romantic travel gifts. Best of all, these fit any budget!

The Gift of Travel

Of course, no Valentine’s Day would be complete without a gift certificate for a Friendly Planet Travel exotic tour. Our Western Mediterranean Concordia Cruise will take your lover (and you) to the romantic ports of Marseilles, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Naples, Italy. It’s 10 heart-pounding days starting at a sweet $1,499 per person.

The Gift of Language
Learn a Romance language together in anticipation of your future romantic getaway. Speak French, Spanish, or Italian — the languages of love — on CDs that you can listen to in the car, or rip to your MP3 player. Macmillan’s Behind the Wheel series cost about $50, and includes a great companion book.

The Gift of Entertainment
Pick up two mini ear bud headphones and a splitter, so you can cozy up and watch a romantic movie on the laptop or portable DVD player together. This is perfect for those times when you’re counting off the hours in a noisy airport, the plane, or even in your hotel bed (blush). I like iblink’s $30 ear buds, with their multi-colored power lights. Get pink for her and blue for him. The splitter will set you back a mere $5. Throw in a romantic DVD and you’re set for cuddle time.

The Gift of Gab
Stay in touch with friends and family while traveling the globe together with a traveler’s webcam. Download and install a free Internet videophone service such as Skype, and when you check in, it will be almost like you’re in the next room. Microsoft’s LifeCam Pro couldn’t be any smaller or more portable, yet it packs a techno punch with a high-resolution video camera and high-fidelity microphone.

The Gift for Him: The Portable Humidor
OK, smoking is bad for you. But an occasional cigar won’t kill ya’ — especially if it’s a good cigar. And for the man who has everything, there’s the pocket Ci-Garage. It holds one cigar, comes with a stainless-steel cutter, a box of matches, and a portable ashtray. It’s about $25, and can even be monogrammed.

The Gift for Her: The Traveling Spa
This one’s a no-brainer. Put together her favorite scents in massage oil, bubble bath, and scented candles. Handmade soy candles in a variety of scents in tiny tins are available from the Travel Tin Company, starting at about $6.

That’s it for this year. So what are you waiting for? Warm up that credit card and start shopping. There’s only a few days left (which I know is enough time for the gentlemen out there, because I see you all lined up in the card aisle at the drug store on the 14th). 🙂

Customer testimonial: Peering into the Pyramids and Petra

I can tell you day in and day out about how wonderful our tours are, with our exotic destinations, superior accommodations, plentiful perks, and eye-popping low prices that I work so hard to bring you.

But I’d rather let the tours speak for themselves. To do that, you have to take one. Or you can experience the next-best thing: an actual testimonial from one of our travelers.

Last week I received the following unsolicited e-mail from Nikky Chahon, who just returned from our Pyramids and Petra tour. Here’s what Nikky wrote, in its entirety, corrected only for typos. And remember: This could be you!

“This was the BEST!!! I went on this tour in 2009 and it remains one of the highlights of my travel excursions! Not only is it affordable, our guide, Walid Ikram was so knowledgeable and approachable, I felt as though I was living in the spirit of Egyptians past! I continue to read any thing I can get my hands on and found an article that other antiquities were found in the exact places I had walked in Giza! Just inches under the sand. It was the most incredible sensation. I would/will do this travel again in the near future. It is well worth the time and the experience is unforgettable!” – Nikky Chahon, Sacramento, Calif.

Thanks for the note, Nikky.

Have a Friendly Planet travel experience to share? Send it to me. You might just see it here in a future post.

Weekly wrap up: Taj Mahal Express marveling travelers

Last week I told you about Friendly Planet’s hot new deal to India on the Taj Mahal Express tour for only $1,099. If you didn’t hear about it, I encourage you read the post to see all of the new features we added. Travel editors have been kind enough to feature the Taj Mahal Express in their publications and I want to say THANKS to them all. Go ahead and take a gander:

National Geographic: Daily Radar: 2.04.10

Frommer’s: The Band-Wagon to India Picks Up Speed, As Friendly Planet Offers Another Budget-Priced Marvel to Your Options

Vacation Agent: Friendly Planet Travel Offers Taj Mahal Express For $1,099

Travel Pulse: Friendly Planet Travel Offers Taj Mahal Express for $1,099