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#FriendlyFiles: Surprising Singapore!

Recently Danielle, a member of Friendly Planet’s Sales Team, set off on an adventure to Singapore. Our independent adventures to this amazing destination offer plenty of opportunity to explore at your own pace—so check out some of her favorite experiences before you book your own getaway to the Lion City!

Time and time again, I heard Singapore described as a “sterile city.” People who had never visited the Lion City told me to make sure I followed the rules – do not chew gum, do not jay walk, do not, do not. Instead of listening to naysayers, I like to push stereotypes aside when I travel, and to dig deep into the culture, the people, and the new adventures. I departed for my vacation with an open mind, and I came home with a fuller heart and a new-found appreciation for all of the surprises Singapore had to share!

An evening walk along Kampong Glam ©Erwin Soo/Flickr

The Many Sounds of Singapore

I believe a city can be measured by the music you hear in it, but I was surprised to learn that the music of Singapore is jazz! On any given night, music lovers can explore Kampong Glam and listen to the sultry singers inside and outside the various bars. If jazz is not your style, this hip neighborhood had everything from oldies to reggae. Kampong Glam is a destination in its own right in Singapore. The streets are lined with colorful art (and tourists lining up to get a selfie!) as well as small boutiques that are a shopper’s dream. It’s also a great place to grab a bite and watch the world go by! On one of my favorite nights in Kampong Glam, I found myself sitting outside a Turkish restaurant, people-watching and listening to the chatter of a multitude of languages around me as a soulful singer played a beautiful background soundtrack.


Through Your Eyes: a Kenya Safari Experience

One of our travelers, Deborah, recently went on our Kenya Safari Express small group tour. When she returned, she shared with us her incredible story–along with some awesome photos! Africa had been on her bucket list for decades and we are so humbled to play a small role in her unforgettable experience in this amazing country!

It’s 6 am three days before Thanksgiving, and my husband and I are sitting in a small airport café in Frankfurt, Germany sipping coffee while we wait for our next flight. While there, a couple from Texas sat down next to us to chat. As with any airport conversation, the ‘where are you going’ question popped up, and I excitedly said – Kenya on safari! After a split second of stunned silence, the woman said “I wasn’t expecting that”…to be quite frank, I wasn’t expecting it either.

Africa has been at the top of my bucket list for over 30 years. My master bedroom has an African theme, and I always watch NatGeo hoping to see another lion, cheetah, leopard — you name it, I want to see it. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with Africa, but I know one thing, I was not going to leave this life without stepping foot on the vast African savannah and seeing these incredible creatures with my own eyes. It was time to scratch this off my bucket list.


10 Temptingly Tasty Thai Dishes

The sound of bustling market places—fruit vendors, hawker stalls, chatty diners and shoppers interacting. The smell of sweet and spicy, lemongrass and lime, intermingling like a perfume on the air. The taste of a new dish, something you’ve never tried before, hitting your tastebuds for the first time. For travelers, food is always a part of experiencing someplace new and no where is it more intricately woven into the everyday experience than in Thailand. For those visiting the “Land of Smiles” here are 10 tempting Thai dishes that will have all five of your senses singing a culinary symphony!

Pad Thai ©Michael Saechang

Pad thai ©Michael Saechang/Flickr

1. ผัดไทย – Pad Thai – Thai Fried Noodles

Immensely popular well beyond the borders of Thailand, pad thai is probably the country’s most iconic dish. So popular in fact that in 2011 pad thai was ranked number 5 on CNN Go‘s World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods readers’ poll. And it’s no surprise why! This flavorful dish is a staple at casual dining joints and street vendors. At it’s core, this quick-to-cook dish is made of rice noodles stir-fried with eggs and firm tofu and seasoned with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, and served with lime wedges. It could also include fresh shrimp, chicken, squid or other proteins.


#FriendlyFiles: Hungry in Hong Kong

Recently Amanda, a member of Friendly Planet’s Marketing Team, traveled to Hong Kong to try some of the culinary wonders that the city has to offer.  Check out some of her favorite foods and dining experience below! 

A few months ago, I traveled to Hong Kong for the first time. It was interesting in that it was so familiar and so different at the same time. The high-rises and modernity of this world class city took me right back to when I visited Manhattan as a high school kid. The hurried crowds and bustling streets, the veritable maze of roads and alleys, the way the buildings soared overhead into the clouds—making you dizzy if you stared up too long! English is even widely spoken there because it’s a former British colony. But having never been to China, there was a cultural element buzzing beneath the light shows and skyscrapers that I wasn’t expecting. And nowhere did that perfect blend of ancient culture and today’s fast-paced world come to life more vividly than the food.

Hong Kong's neon skyline

Hong Kong’s neon skyline (Photo by Hong Kong Tourism)

And let’s be honest: I LOVED the food. Each dish masterfully blended thousands of years of Chinese history with the modern setting it was being served in. Food that had comforted diners and impressed royalty for centuries was served daily—from food carts amid bustling night markets and in 5-Star restaurants overlooking the postcard perfect Victoria Harbor. We ate so much that it would be impossible to narrow it down to a single favorite. So here are five delicious things I indulged in—and that you shouldn’t skip!—when visiting Hong Kong.


Etiquette in Japan: don’t freak out!

From groundbreaking technological innovation to stunning natural vistas to traditional Shinto shrines and Zen rock gardens, Japan has intrigued generations of visitors who come from near and far to experience the island-nation. While some aspects of Japanese culture have made dramatic and lasting breakthroughs into our global consciousness (think sushi, anime, video games, and movies), some things remain a mystery to those hailing from the west. And nothing can be more confusing than navigating Japan’s centuries-old tradition of social etiquette, which is both complicated and important.

But don’t let that scare you away! Like most places you visit on your travels, making an attempt to understand and take part in their traditions and culture is more than enough of a signal that you are trying to be a good guest in their country. But if you’re still worried, don’t be! We’re here to shed some light on the dos & don’ts before you take your next trip to the “Land of the Rising Sun.”

Women dressed in traditional attire greet one another with a bow.

Women dressed in traditional attire greet one another with a bow.

Take a bow.

Probably the most iconic Japanese custom, bowing is also one of the easiest to be unsure about! This greeting takes a lot of different forms, but generally speaking, it is divided into three categories: informal, formal, and very formal. The formality of the bow is determined by the relationship between the two individuals that are greeting one another. Young people bow longer and deeper when greeting elders and employees do the same when greeting the CEO. As a foreigner, a bow of the head is probably all you need to do as most Japanese don’t expect visitors to know all the rules!


#FriendlyFiles: Scenes of a Dubai Landscape

Recently Danielle, a member of Friendly Planet’s Sales Team, traveled to Dubai on our Dazzling Dubai package! Check out her 5 favorite experiences!

What does Dubai look like? Now that’s a tough question to answer. It’s a remote desert and a field of flowers, an incredible sunset and a metal jungle, a shopkeeper peddling his traditional wares, a delicious meal influenced by five different cultures, and the tallest building in the world. Dubai is often described as a city of paradoxes. Walk a few blocks and you’ll understand why. You will hear about twenty languages in a span of several minutes. You will see business workers in suits, a curious tourist staring up in awe, and locals dressed in traditional white robes all in one city block. But the multitude of cultures, foods and experiences coalesce into a fascinating array of different scenes forming one incredible city. Paradox or not, there were 5 experiences that stood out to me, and here they are.

Spice Markets (by Elroy Serrao/Flickr), Trinket Souk (by Sirah Quyyom/Flickr), Gold Market (by Binder Donedat/Flickr)

1. Gold and Spices
The Gold and Spice Souks are the most visible link to the past of the United Arab Emirates, and they are a shopper’s dream (as long as you aren’t afraid to haggle). Shopkeepers line the corridors presenting their wares, like cashmere scarfs, purses, gold jewelry, gilded-everything and colorful barrels of spices. It’s the perfect place to aimlessly wander and imagine you are in another time in the Middle East. It’s also the perfect place to buy souvenirs!

If you’re nervous about haggling, or just looking for a more modern market of sort, Dubai’s multitude of malls will not disappoint. The ultra-modern Dubai Mall has every store imaginable, and is a tourist destination in its own right, and if you haven’t had your fill of jewelry shopping at the souks, there are certainly enough gemstones to go around.


The 20 Best Places to Travel in 2018

It’s that time of year again! Every travel publication is putting out their Top List of “must see” and “trending destinations” for next year’s globetrotters. We don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when you look from list to list, it seems like the whole world has made the cut! So we decided to do the dirty work for you. We took a look at all the most popular lists, from Travel+Leisure to Pinterest (and everything in between), and aggregated and tallied up all the trending destinations to give you the true Top 20 Destinations for 2018. You can see the full list below. Then click on the links or scroll down to learn more about select destinations that we visit on some of our tours.


  1. Mexico
  2. Canada
  3. Portugal
  4. Australia
  5. Chile
  1. Italy
  2. Malta
  3. Morocco
  4. Spain
  5. Argentina
  1. Croatia
  2. England
  3. France
  4. Greece
  5. Scotland
  1. South Korea
  2. Thailand
  3. UAE
  4. Vietnam
  5. Ireland


 LISBON, PORTUGAL | Lisbon Sky ©Deensel / FlickrPortugal

The Friendly Planet Take: Watch Portuguese water dogs help fishermen bring in their nets, then dine on their fresh catch at an outdoor cafe. Explore countryside castles proudly bearing Roman and Moorish heritage. Shop by foot or funicular in the stunning and sophisticated capital of Lisbon. Algarve’s southern beaches beckon, while Porto lures the aficionado of port wine with its ancient traditions and cave cellar tours. We recently released our brand new 11 day Best of Portugal small group tour because we knew how popular the country would be in 2018. Or, you might prefer our classic Douro River Valley Cruise.

What the trendsetters are saying:

  • “Heightening Portugal’s appeal are its incredible affordability and its natural wonders: in 2016, more than 300 beaches earned the coveted Blue Flag rating and two new biosphere reserves were named. It’s no surprise everyone is talking about this small, seafaring nation.” -Lonely Planet
  • “This coastal Portuguese city has all the elements of a world-class travel destination: a striking shoreline, charming architecture and historic sites, plus a one-of-a-kind export – port wine.” -U.S. News & World Report


10 films to see before heading to Japan

For a relatively small island-nation, Japan’s impact on the world is impressively oversized. Sushi and sake are popular staples in cities across the globe. Japanese innovation in technology informs the way we communicate, travel, shop, and even chart the stars. And from a cultural standpoint, Japanese influence can be found from fashion to film, and everything in between! Before you head out on your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, check out these ten films that will not only whet your appetite, but also expand your understanding of this fascinating culture.

<i>Spirited Away</i>

Spirited Away (2001)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli

You’ve probably heard of the Academy Award-winning animated film Spirited Away, but did you know that when the film was theatrically released in 2001 it became the most successful film in Japanese history? Anime (Japanese animation) is so prominent in the country that hundreds of thousands of people gather each year for festivals surrounding the characters, art, and stories.

Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a young girl who wanders into a magical world ruled by witches and spirits, and where humans obsessed with worldly greed are transformed into beasts. The film is infused with a variety charming lessons steeped in traditional Japanese folklore. More importantly, Studio Ghibli films are well-known for depicting daily life in Japan in great detail—especially the often overlooked, quiet moments such as pouring tea, making offerings, or lighting incense. In one such moment, Chihiro sheds tears of relief having found joy in a gift of rice balls from a new friend.

If you’re in Tokyo, consider stopping by the Studio Ghibli Museum during some down time to get an insider look at all of the wonderful films made by this award-winning animation studio!


Through Your Eyes: a tribute in South Africa

Recently, one of our travelers, Carol, shared this heartwarming personal account of an experience she had in South Africa. Memories like this stay with us forever and illustrate the transformative impact that traveling the world can have on each and every one of us. Here at Friendly Planet we are humbled to play a small role Carol’s experience!Krugersdorp South Africa @Meraj Chhaya- Flickr

My Dad was an animal lover. He was a banker in real life, but his true passion was animals and making things. He trained homing pigeons during the Second World War. He milked rattlesnakes for their venom to make vaccines. He raised parakeets, nursed and brought back to life numerous wild creatures over the years. He was always coming home with some critters that he found like the tiny barred owl that fell out of its nest, a beautiful greyhound dog named Tala that was abandoned after the dog races were over, and an injured and very anxious seagull that was hit by a car–left on the side of the road. Then there was the good-sized painted turtle he found walking across the road while on a trip in Williamsburg, Virginia. There was just a never-ending parade of animals always seeming to be processing through our home. My Mother supported all of this animal love, which was pretty amazing considering she was a nurse and liked everything clean and tidy.


5 reasons Portugal is trending with travelers

Due to its physical geography and its long history of influence from conquered and conquering societies, Portugal has developed its own unique art, architecture, food and culture that can’t be found anywhere else in Europe. From its fortified wines to its fortified cities, its melancholic music to its traditional tile work, it’s no wonder American tourism to Portugal has increased 17% over the past year. The country is trending in travel in 2017; and here are five reasons why!

1. Feasts of food & wine

Calem Port Wine ©Reflected Serendipity /Flickr

Port Wine. Perhaps Portugal’s most potent contribution to the world is its port wine, named for the city where the wine is made, Porto. In fact, a “port” cannot be called a “port” unless the grapes were grown in Portugal’s Douro Valley and the juice was stored and aged in one of Porto’s wine lodges. Locally referred to as port caves, the most tourist-friendly and accessible concentration of lodges in Porto are located along the river in the Vila Nova da Gaia part of town. Just look for the huge 50s-era signs with English names on them proclaiming the past and present British owners of some of these port-producing lodges. You can do a tasting, and if you’re lucky, even tour the “caves” carved underground where the wine is stored in wooden barrels.


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