Category Archives: Laos

Asia with Avanti Destinations

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This is the time to book travel to Southeast Asia, for travel in November to March as the dry and temperate season rolls in, and the Chinese New Year seems to awake everyone up out of their wintry reverie.

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We’re excited to be working with Avanti Destinations as one of our reputable tour guides in Asia. Avanti makes it simple to book hotel, transport and tour packages with local guides, and their customizable itineraries just shave off the hassle of travel planning.

Let Willamette Intl Travel design Asian itinerary for you and your travel companions, complete with flights and a personalized package. Whether you need an affordable hotel package, or would like to build in some unique culinary or outdoor escapades, Avanti offers a hassle-free way to build it into your existing Asian itinerary.

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Want to leave it to the professionals? Avanti can take care of you from the moment you step off the plane to your last spectacular evening in Asia.

Or perhaps you like planning hotels on your own, but need a fun tour of downtown Ho Chi Minh and not sure where to start looking. Not sure how to make friends in the rice terraces of Sapa? Avanti’s got you covered:

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Thailand: Discover the “Land of Smiles” on the bustling streets of Bangkok, to the famous temples of Chiang Mai, to the achingly gorgeous beaches of Phuket.

China: As part of an Asian cruise, spend 1-3 nights post-cruise in Hong Kong exploring Kowloon. Or build in a stop at the ancient port city of Shanghai, now one of the most technologically advanced cosmopolises in the world.

Myanmar: Looking to explore the blooming country of Myanmar? Go back in time to a simpler Asia with Avanti’s Myanmar Essentials: Yangon, Bagan and Manadalay.

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Singapore: Explore Singapore Highlights, such as Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Majestic Gardens and Little India, experiencing a one-of-a-kind after dark wildlife safari adventure–on your way to connect to Bali.

Taiwan: Uncover the sleeping, hidden gems of Taiwan, its ornate temples, beautiful lakes and stays in the countryside.

River Cruises: Enjoy ancient waterways with a Mekong River Cruise, Halong Bay Cruise or Yangtze Upstream Cruise.

And Many More Destinations: Japan, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, etc. 

Our Agents at Willamette Intl Travel can design your Asian adventure from start to finish. Call us 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Filed under Asia, Avanti, Cambodia, China, Europe, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam

“The Quiet American” and Other Classics of Southeast Asia

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By Wailana Kalama

Bangkok overtook London last year as the world’s second most popular travel destination!

If you’re joining fellow travelers and heading to Southeast Asia, you’ll need some reading for the plane. Step into these books and understand just a little bit more about what makes this region tick.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American. Travel writer Pico Iyer has long proclaimed a long affinity with Greene: “who, almost in spite of himself, taught me and so many others how to move around the world and even how to hazard trust.” Greene’s most famous novel centers around the relationship between the cynical Brit, Fowler, and the idealist American, Pyle. This book is a fictional essay on the moral ambiguity of love and war, and the impossibility of neutrality. My Favorite Quote: “Innocence is a kind of insanity.”

Aung San Suu Kyi & Alan Clements, The Voice of Hope. An icon of peace and optimism in a corrupted society, Kyi rose to headlines when her country Myanmar opened its borders in 2010. This biography takes the reader directly into the heart of Myanmar and Kyi’s struggle, her optimism, and unfailing commitment to her beliefs. My Favorite Quote: “Saints are sinners who go on trying.”

The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.

–Aung San Suu Kyi

George Orwell, Burmese Days. I always enjoy reading Orwell, ever-sensitive to the plights of common men. Drawing from his experience as a police officer in 1920s Burma, Orwell’s novel addresses bigotry, racism, and imperialism. My Favorite Quote: “There is nothing like an earthquake for drawing people together. One more tremor, or perhaps two, and they would have asked the butler to sit down at table with them.”

Marguerite Duras, The Lover. Believe it or not, but Duras’ The Lover was the subject of my bachelor’s thesis. A non-traditional spin on a time-honored story, this short book follows an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. It’s all about colonialism, feminine writing, marginalized people, and–if you believe my thesis abstract–a bit of Saïd’s Orientalism thrown in there as well. A chaotic, instinctual and dreamy read. My Favorite Quote: “Very early in my life it was too late.”

Read our earlier post on WIT Agent Nancy’s favorite books to take with you on a trip to Southeast Asia.

Heading to Southeast Asia in 2017? Give us a call! We have the know-how and the connections to land you a trip of a lifetime! call us at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Filed under Asia, Cambodia, Europe, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam

Conscientious Traveler: Goway

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Welcome back to Conscientious Traveler—our monthly series in which we showcase one of our fantastic partners with projects that support the environment, wildlife and local communities. This month, we feature Goway

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Goway is one of our favorite trusted vendors specializing in fully customizable trips around the world. We have worked with them for years organizing trips for our clients to Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Japan and more.

Goway has supported many foundations over the years, donating to causes that benefit local communities, cultures, wildlife and the environment. Here are just a handful:

tourismcareslogoTourism Cares. Goway participates in Tourism Cares initiatives that preserve and enrich the travel experience of travelers worldwide through giving back and volunteering.


logo_top_enChildren’s Wish Foundation of Canada.
A nonprofit that helps Canadian children diagnosed with a life-threatening illness realize their favorite dreams. In 2015 & 2016, Goway received a Valued Partner Award for their efforts to support Children’s Wish, and last summer raised $10,000 for one child’s wish at their annual fundraiser.

canadianbloodservicesenglishlogofinalcolourrgbCanadian Blood Services. Goway had their first annual blood drive last month, during which staff donated blood to the clinic.

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Wildlands Conservation Trust. Goway has made two sizable donations to the Trust’s “Looking out for Rhino” campaign, supporting the latest tracking technology fitted for rhinos.

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So you can combine Travel with a Good Cause! Call your agent at Willamette Intl Travel and let us arrange a remarkable journey for you! Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Asia, Australia, Cambodia, Conscientious Traveler, Goway, Laos, News

Why Laos should be on your bucket list this year

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laos-foodConsidering Laos this traveling season? Southeast Asia is really opening up these past few years, with countries like Bhutan, Burma and Laos in full bloom. Discover Laos on a connecting flight from Thailand or Vietnam!

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll know that WIT Agent Wailana took a trip to Laos a while back. This country often gets overlooked with more popular neighbors like Thailand and Vietnam. But there’s a lot that Laos can offer the curious traveler.

Here are our top reasons to visit Laos in the next few months:

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The best lunch in Asia!

FOOD

Yes. The food is phenomenal, with fresh, tasty dishes with an optional spice kick. Steamed purple sticky rice, larb (marinated meat with herbs), uniquely spicy papaya salad, steamed fish in banana leaf, river weed (think seaweed except from the Mekong), and breaded pork wrapped around sugarcane. Plus let’s not forget the awesome food markets.

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Kuang Si Waterfalls

NATURE

Laos’ dense jungles and river remain largely unexplored, meaning that the air smells crystal clear. There’s something to be said about climbing a holy mountain above Luang Prabang, lush with trees and the heavy scent of flowers, and gazing over at the fog-smothered streets below.

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Temple and Market

RELAX

Laos is often described as more relaxing and peaceful than its bustling neighbors. Everything is unhurried here–the buses, the store hours–it’s a rural countryside with a laid-back vibe. Perfect for a tranquil getaway.

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Boats leaving for School

THE MEKONG

The life and blood of Laos. No trip to Laos is complete without a river cruise or at the very least a riverbank stroll along the Mekong. This is where people have fished, drawn water, and made their homes. Schoolchildren often head out from their villages on boats in the early morning for school.

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Popular Paintings on the Street

A Magical Home away from Home

And imagine this: end of the day, twilight, after a long day exploring the market and visiting waterfalls. The day’s heat is dimming. You duck into a little open-air cafe in Luang Prabang, next to fading French colonial buildings. The fans are spinning, you’ve a cool beer lao in hand, and your gaze reaches out over the calm and murky waters. The only sounds are the crickets and the rustlings of a few passerby. Take a breath, settle back, and linger.

Spiked your Interest? You can read more about Laos on our previous posts: Here, Here and Here

Our Agents love to share our travel knowledge with you. Call us at 503-224-0180 for more SE Asia info or email info@wittravel.com.

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Monastery Morning Ritual

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Agent Trip to Thailand/Laos: Part Five — Luang Prabang, Pt 2

Last month, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with our preferred vendor Vexplore Tours through Thailand and Laos. This month we are posting sections from her journal–read on for her insider tips!

In case you missed Part Four on the Mekong Cruise, click here to read it.

After the 3-night Mekong cruise, we disembarked at Luang Prabang for one final night in this charming town. Our hotel was the the Angsana Maison, a lovely, historic hotel just 20 minutes’ walk from the night market. This property had a soothing atmosphere. Its white walls and intimate spa contributes to a simple boutique charm.

That day we drove in a passenger van out to the Kuang Si waterfalls, about 45 minutes to 1 hour from the city. As it had stormed violently the night before, the waterfalls had erupted into an impressive flood. During drier months (early Spring), people can usually swim or wade in the small pools at the base of the falls.

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One of the highlights from the Lao trip I haven’t mentioned yet is the monk walk. Every morning, monks from the local temple line up and collect rice from villagers. They walk around a few blocks with their baskets, stopping for just a second for kneeling townsfolk to scoop out their morning rice. I bought a little sitting map and a large wooden tub of rice and waited for each monk—the older ones to the front, the younglings at the back. The line advances pretty speedily, so you have to move fast to scoop your rice into their tubs!

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If you visit Luang Prabang, don’t forget to hop on a tuk tuk. These are different than Thai tuk tuk cars—in Lao they are quite colorful, blue trucks slathered in strips of bright yellow and red and green. We drove out on one of these to the food market—a delicious collection of Lao goodies you won’t find anywhere else in the world: juicy bacon, marinated meat, lemongrass, buffalo jerky, strong coffee—even wasp eggs!

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That evening after a delicious dinner by the river (steamed fish in banana leaf!), we drove out to a house in the residential district to attend a Baci ceremony. The Baci is a traditional ritual used to celebrate important events. Most Lao people are animists who believe in indigenous gods (phi) and thirty-two khwan, or spirits who inhabit the body. The Khwan bestow health and prosperity onto a person, and their absence directly correlates to illness or harm. The main purpose of the Baci is to call back your spirits, and it is often performed to welcome guests and travelers.

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A band of fifteen elders and a priest greeted us with a tower of bright orange flowers, strings, bananas and sweets. The ritual was brief but beautiful, and involved several dances from five 13- to 16-year-old girls in costume. We each had our wrists bound in simple ropes, which we could keep on for 3 days for full spiritual potency.

WIT Agents have all traveled extensively throughout SE Asia and regularly book clients around the region. Call 503-224-0180 to speak with one of our agents about a trip that’s right for you.

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Filed under Asia, Laos, Our Travel Agents, Vendors, Vexplore, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Agent Trip to Thailand/Laos: Part Four — Mekong Cruise

Last month, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with our preferred vendor Vexplore Tours through Thailand and Laos. This month we are posting sections from her journal–read on for her insider tips!

In case you missed Part Three on Luang Prabang, click here to read it.

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Mekong Sun

The next morning we embarked and sailed north of Luang Prabang on the Mekong River. This river cruise was truly a unique experience.

Our ship, the Mekong Sun, was a midsize riverboat with 16 crew and 14 cabins. The Sun typically sails 3, 6, or 8 days from Luang Prabang, though there is the impressive 10-day to Chiang Saen or 12-day to Vientiane cruises.

The ship moves at a leisurely pace, so that you might hardly notice the current at all. Like all water traffic on the Mekong, the Sun does not travel during the night due to riparian flotsam and jetsam. Breakfast is Western, lunch is Western/Asian mix buffet, Asian set meals for dinner with some limited choices for drinks. If you’re brave, try lao lao—distilled Lao moonshine served in shot glasses—or any of the delicious South American or French wines.

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lao lao jars

While I was onboard, passengers were a mix of Germans, Austrians, Swiss, Americans, Thai, and one journalist from Hong Kong. There’s ample space onboard—you never feel too crowded with an open-air sun deck and a shaded dining area—however, there’s no A/C anywhere except in the cabins, so travelers during the humid months (summertime) be aware!

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Pak Ou Caves

Three days on the Mekong is a good amount of time—the first night is docked at Luang Prabang, followed by a morning food market visit and afternoon sail up to the Pak Ou Caves. On the third day, passengers can visit a few villages along the riverside and top it all off with a splendid BBQ dinner on a sandy beach.

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Kids at play between school

The marvelous cruise director Ben leads the shore excursions to the villages and serves as a facilitator between the crew and the passengers. He even shares meals with the guests and one evening on the cruise he does an hour presentation on Lao culture and history.

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off to school in the morning

I think the ship would have benefitted with a bit more on-ship activities in the lazy afternoons—tai chi or yoga for example. One afternoon the chef did hold a cooking demonstration on Lao cuisine.

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children reading the side of a temple

The Mekong Sun – Just the Facts, Sir

  • Built in Laos in 2006
    • 2 decks with 11 classic cabins on the main deck (12 m²/129 sq ft), all facing out onto the water and with wide sliding windows with a French balcony providing a fantastic view of the passing landscapes
    • 3 superior cabins, one in the bow of the main deck (16 m²/172 sq ft), two on the upper deck (18 m²/194 sq ft). The two cabins on the upper deck have their own small private balcony; the one in the bow has a superb panoramic view to the front
    • All cabins with en-suite shower/WC and air-conditioning
    • Large sun deck with bar service and restaurant/bar area
    • All guided offshore excursions and meals are included
  • Catamaran, two steel hulls, two decks, with teak and mahogany superstructure
    • Weight: approx. 100 tons
    • Length: 40 m
    • Width: 7,5 m (at its widest part)
    • Depth: approx. 0,9 m
    • Two diesel motors with 550 hp each
    • Fire alarm
    • Crew: 16
    • Construction completed in 2006

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Filed under Asia, Cruises, Laos, Thailand, Travel by Ship, Vendors, VOTM, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Agent Trip to Laos: Part Three — Luang Prabang

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Tree on Phou-Si Hill

This past September, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with our preferred vendor Vexplore Tours through Thailand and Laos. Read on for her report on Luang Prabang, the artistic center of Laos!

In case you missed Part Two on Ayutthaya, click here to read it.

I flew from Bangkok to Luang Prabang on Thai Airways, a petite but quite comfortable hopper with perhaps 40-50 seats. Please do remember that Laos requires a full page in your passport for the visa, plus USD $37 visa fee (at time of writing), so bring cash. The airport is about 30 minutes’ drive from Luang Prabang.

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Street in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the artistic and cultural capital of Laos. At first sight I fell deeply in love with this small, nostalgic city, with its intimate cafes, French architecture and boutique antique shops. Travelers should situate themselves near the Mekong river, within walking distance to the best restaurants and the night market.

Our first stop was the Japanese-owned Sonphao Restaurant, where we partook on a refreshing set menu of Lao fare. The food is typically light and revitalizing, with flavors of sweet lemongrass, tender pork and chicken, flavorful mushrooms and delicate fish sauces. One of the most tasty discoveries for me was kaipen-khay, or river weed. This is an algae that grows on underwater rocks in the Mekong river, eaten in dry sheets similar to Japanese nori. A local speciality of Luang Prabang is dry khai with sesame, eaten in strips as a side dish. I ordered a Beer Lao, which was a light, decent lager that came with its own story. A few decades ago, Lao students were sent on exchanges to universities in the Soviet Union and East Germany, and one came back with a recipe for beer!

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Lunch at Sonphao, one of the best meals of the writer’s life

One of the major highlights of the city is Phou-Si Hill. A large Buddhist complex is spread all over the hillside in a gigantic and gorgeous maze of curving stairs, eye-popping flora, small spirit houses, Buddha footprints and statues of each Buddha. The view from the top of the valley and river is absolutely stunning. One warning—there are a lot of steps! At the very top, vendors sell frogs and birds in little cages, meant for you to release for good luck—however it’s not recommend to buy these as many frogs and birds die during capture.

At the food of Phou-Si Hill is an amazing Hmong night market, a mile-long string of colorful tents where vendors sell handicrafts, silks and handmade paper gifts. Haggling is a major part of the Laotian culture—but bring your Lao Kip, because only a few vendors take Thai Baht and almost none USD or euros.

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View from Phou-Si Hill

Next to the market is the Royal Palace, home to the monarchy until 1975, when the royal family was banished out of the country by the communist party. You can wander from room to room, no photography and no shoes allowed (but there are lockers to put your stuff in). Old furniture, paintings, art, ceramics, gifts, musicians, even a chariot and a collection of cars and dragonboats are on display. Most impressive was the gift room, a series of glass chests that displayed various gifts given from presidents, kings, etc. all over the world to the Lao royal family. There is even a piece of the moon from the USA!

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Night Market

Next Up: Mekong Cruise!

For more photos from Wailana’s trip to Laos, check out the gallery: https://wittravel.wordpress.com/gallery/laos/

WIT Agents have all traveled extensively throughout SE Asia and we continue booking clients regularly around the region, to top destinations and off-the-beaten-path alike. Whether you’re traveling on your honeymoon or with a larger family, Thailand is a great choice for first-time and experienced travelers alike. Call 503-224-0180 to speak with one of our agents about a trip that’s right for you.

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Filed under Asia, Laos, Thailand, Top Experiences In..., Travel by Taste, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?