Category Archives: Thailand

Sail the Mekong with the Brand-New Emerald Waterways Harmony

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If you love Emerald Waterways, here’s your chance to join their brand-new river cruise ship on the Mekong River.

The 84-passenger Emerald Harmony, will sail the Mekong River in 2019.

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Emerald Harmony will have many of the features of the line’s European “star ships,” including:

  • Panorama Balcony suites with drop-down windows
  • Asian design touches
  • Horizon Bar & Lounge will be Asian-themed
  • the ship’s main dining venue, Reflections Restaurant, will serve a locally-inspired menu.

One standout feature of the ship is that it will be built to allow access to the center of Ho Chi Minh City, so passengers can embark there as opposed to a dock outside of the city. Emerald Waterways has been sailing on the Mekong since 2014, with a chartered vessel, Mekong Navigator.

Emerald Harmony will be the first time that the company has put a “star ship” style ship outside Europe.

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Itineraries

Beginning August 2019, Emerald Harmony will sail three itineraries in Vietnam and Cambodia:

a 13-Day Majestic Mekong River Cruise – cruise tour sailing between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, with time for Angkor Wat; 

Your journey begins in Siem Reap, where early mornings and ancient architecture promise to be the perfect combination. Angkor Wat is sure to fascinate, as is Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Then your journey along the majestic Mekong introduces Phnom Penh, invites you to a family-owned silk-producing factory and to attend a scarfweaving workshop in Long Khanh Island. Continue onwards before leaving your Star-Ship at the center of Ho Chi Minh City for a two-night stay in a 5-star colonial-style hotel.

a 17-Day Treasures & Temples of Vietnam & Cambodia: that adds stops at Hanoi and Halong Bay in the north;

Begin your adventure in Hanoi, where centuries-old architecture is a wonderful nod to the past and the Old Quarter strikes a fine contrast with its many temples. Cruise the emerald waters of Halong Bay in a traditional junk boat, learn of Ho Chi Minh City’s fascinating war history and embark on a once-in-a-lifetime river cruise along the Mekong. Enjoy tuk-tuk and ox cart tours in Phnom Penh and finish your adventure in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, where you’ll witness Angkor Wat and attend a circus performance.

and a 21-Day Grand Tour of Vietnam & Cambodia that encompasses all of the above, plus Hoi An and Hue.

Hanoi’s labyrinth of streets is filled with food stalls and markets. Journey to Halong Bay and embark on a traditional junk boat as you sail its ethereal waters, and drive through Da Nang before crossing the Pass of Ocean Clouds. Discover Ho Chi Minh City’s Cu Chi Tunnels, before meeting your Star-Ship and sailing the Mekong, stopping off in My Tho, Sa Dec and Phnom Penh. Conclude your trip with three nights in Siem Reap, attending the Phare Cambodian Circus and visiting the historic Angkor Wat.

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Inclusions

Fares for Emerald Harmony will have the same inclusions as other Emerald Waterways ships:
  • transfers,
  • port charges,
  • meals,
  • unlimited wine and beer with lunch and dinner,
  • bottled water in the cabins,
  • complimentary Wi-Fi,
  • at least one shore excursion in every port and
  • all onboard and excursion gratuities.
  • During the cruise tour portion of the trips, hotel, internal flights and transfers are also included.

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Filed under Asia, Cambodia, Cruises, emerald waterways, Thailand, Travel by Ship, Vietnam, Vietnam

Shopping in Thailand

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Thailand is many things—a beachfront resort, a major tourist attraction, the home of beautiful elephants—but one of the best sights its known for are its markets. The whole of southeast Asia is a great place to pick up quality souvenirs and tacky knick-knacks alike, but it’s Thailand—with its night markets, floating markets, outdoor malls and waterside shopping centers—where you can truly say you’re in a shopper’s paradise.

Our agents can organize an unforgettable trip for you and your friends or family to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the country’s two main shopping hubs. Follow one of our guides to the JJ Market (aka Chatuchak Weekend Market), a gigantic bazaar that covers 35 acres! Here you can pick up some gorgeous Thai silk, Celadon ceramics, teak wooden crafts—or fun, eclectic items like vinyl records or suits of armor. At Asiatique Night Bazaar, a waterside trade port-turned-outdoor-mall, you can browse over 1500 different boutiques while you snack on ice cream. Wander an after-dark mall like Rot Fai or one of the famous floating markets like Taling Chan, just 12 km from downtown Bangkok.

One of our clients, Dave H., lived in Thailand for 4 years and says that if you’re ever in the country, to check out these places:

Venus Thailand, Bangkok

Jewelry store that is honest and fairly priced. They’ve catered to expat and embassy staff for years and strive to do their best and keep their excellent reputation.

Sop Moei Arts, Bangkok and Chiang Mai

A 30-year-old nonprofit where you’ll find excellent silks, woven baskets and other crafts.

Mengrai Kilns, Chiang Mai

Famed for its fair-priced celadon, with colors of blue, green, turquoise and rare purple.

We at Willamette Intl Travel have a few knowledgeable vendors in Southeast Asia who organize trips, guided and independent, for our travelers. Whether you’re into traditional cooking or overnight hiking or just splurging on shopping, we can point you in the right direction! Call our travel experts to plan your trip today!

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Explore China with Wild China

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Wild China is an exceptional travel company that offers amazing trips of a lifetime in China and southeast Asia. Over the years, Wild China has received numerous awards, including NatGeo’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime and Travel + Leisure’s Trips of a Lifetime. It has also been named one of NatGeo’s Best Adventure Travel Companies (On Earth).

Wild China was conceived by founder and Yunnan local Mei Zhang during a 56km pilgrimage in the Himalayas. During her grueling hike, she had no guide, lodgings or transport. Her challenges inspired her to pioneer a service for other travelers to enjoy China’s stunning cultural and natural landmarks with expertise and comfort.

For those exploring China for the first time, their escorted itineraries take guests to Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and other familiar marks on the map. Experience China with an experience team of travel professionals, with just your family or in a small group of 12 like-minded individuals.

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For seasoned travelers, Wild China offers personalized adventures in unique locations, such as the rugged Xinjiang Province or the Tibetan Plateau. Their team of expert adventurers will take you on unforgettable journey through the rich landscape that is East Asia.

Trips are offered as private tours (fully flexible) or small group tours (with scheduled departures). They also lead education tours designed to empower young people to make a difference in local communities.

Upcoming Trips Include: 

4-Day Beijing’s Past & Future

5-Day Escape to Lhasa

10-Day Ancient Tea and Horse Road with adventurer Jeff Fuchs

13-Day Gastronomic Tour of China with food writer Fuchsia Dunlop

and many more!

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Call your agent at Wittravel to learn more about these awesome trips—503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Asia, Bhutan, China, India, Thailand, Tibet

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?

Agent Trip to Thailand/Laos: Part Two — Ayutthaya

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Earlier this September, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with our preferred vendor Vexplore Tours through Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai in Thailand, and Luang Prabang and the Mekong River in Laos!

She came back with a lot of useful firsthand knowledge of her destinations, plus some insider tips. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting sections of her feedback. Read on for details!

 

In case you missed Part One on the Mekhala Cruise, click here to read it.

After a refreshing breakfast aboard the Mekhala ship, I disembarked on the banks just outside of Ayutthaya. We were driven via our trusty bus into town, stopping for a local treat on the way: Roti Saimai, or cotton candy wrapped in a sweet green-colored crepe.

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Ayutthaya is a small city north of Bangkok that is famous for its ancient temples. As a previous political capital of Siam and a major trading city in Asia for centuries, Ayutthaya is a worthwhile stop for any art lover or historian. In 1700 it became the largest city in the world with a total of 1 million inhabitants, and courted international merchants from as far as the Arab world and Europe. This all came to an end when the Burmese invaded the city in 1767 and almost burnt the city completely down to the ground.

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Ayutthaya historical park covers the ruins of the old city and contains more than ten Wats, or temples. No one has time to see them all—but definitely stop by the incredible Wat Chai Watthanaraman and Wat Mahathat. At the latter you can see the partially concealed head of Buddha, nestled in the tangled branches of a Bodhi Tree.

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We arrived at a bike shop just across from one of the temples, rented used bicycles with IMAG1121low seats and with a guide went on our merry way. Warning: driving in Thailand is not for the faint-hearted, even if only on a bike! You can easily bike from one Wat to the other, and for a longer drive, even out to the rice paddies in the countryside.

 

After the bike ride and temple visits we were greeted by an air-conditioned van full of mangosteen and coconuts, a special treat in such September heat!

 

Next Up: Laos!

For more photos from Wailana’s trip to Ayutthaya, check out the gallery: https://wittravel.wordpress.com/gallery/thailand-with-vexplore/

WIT Agents have all traveled extensively throughout Thailand and we continue booking clients regularly to this country’s top destinations, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Koh Samui, Krabi and Phuket! 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, Thailand, Vexplore

Wailana’s Trip to Thailand/Laos: Part One — Mekhala Cruise on the Chao Praya

This past September, WIT Agent Wailana traveled with one of our preferred vendors in SE Asia, Vexplore Tours. With their escort, she ventured through Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai in Thailand, and Luang Prabang and the Mekong River in Laos!

She came back with a lot of useful firsthand knowledge of her destinations, plus some insider tips. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting sections of her feedback. Read on for details!

We arrived into Bangkok at around 11pm, well after rush hour, and transferred via air-conditioned car and driver to our hotel. Vexplore had booked us at the lovely Banyan Tree, a modern property around 10 minutes’ walk of the Chao Praya River on the east bank. The décor is dark and contemporary, with linear lines and traditional flavor that gave it a professional and cozy atmosphere. One of my favorite details in most of the hotels were the use of granite or marble sink bowls in the bathroom, instead of the embedded sinks more common worldwide.

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Wat Pho

The next morning (after a quick detour to Wat Pho to see its impressive reclining Buddha statue) we hopped on the riverboat Mekhala, for an overnight cruise on the Chao Praya up to Ayutthaya. This is a pleasant and relaxing option on the first day away from the fun hustle and bustle of Bangkok; I was able to experience and admire the surroundings while still recovering from jet lag. We took the boat north to the old temples and stupas and the next day drove south via the bus.

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The Mekhala

The Mekhala riverboat is an elegantly restored rice barge constructed mostly of teak, and like most boats is of course economical with its space. Each cabin had two sleeping areas: a very narrow single on the low side and a large double on the other end, which may be quite snug for a party of two and requires some climbing up onto shelves to reach. Bring your sea legs and sense of adventure! The service was impeccable, though the crew of 5 was rather shy and didn’t mingle much. Dinner was traditional Bangkok fare but breakfast was Western.

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View of Bangkok Riverbank

The boat ride up the Chao Phraya is very calm and steady, the scenery always changing. The river is full of large water plants and the water is very brown and murky. Interesting diversity of houses along the way, from wealthy teak houses to shacks that are falling apart. There’s also a gigantic gold Buddha and copper priest on the way. In the early morning, a longboat sped up and down selling fresh crabs to the houses lining the river.

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Dawn on the River

We stopped at the Mon minority village, and enjoyed a refreshing walk through the village while admiring the exquisite yet humble architecture. The Mon emigrated here from Burma a century or so ago. We also stopped briefly at the night food market of Pathum Thani to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner. Overnight the boat docked at the harbor beside Wat Kai Tia, a simple temple overlooking the river.

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Wat Kai Tia

Next Up: Ayutthaya and its Temples

For more photos from Wailana’s trip to Thailand, check out the gallery.

WIT Agents have all traveled extensively throughout Thailand and we continue booking clients regularly to this country’s top destinations, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Koh Samui, Krabi and Phuket! Whether you’re traveling on your honeymoon or with a bigger 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 Accommodation, Asia, Our Travel Agents, Thailand, Travel by Ship, Vendors, Vexplore, VOTM, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?