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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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Art in London: The Great Museums and Collections

May 17-23, 2014

Join Portland-based art historian Amy Osaki on her new art tour to London. Begin with the history and architecture of London reveling in the monuments that are a feast for the eyes—the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Delve into the extraordinary richness of London’s museums including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Academy of the Arts, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern. Refuel at small private collections including Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Courtauld Gallery. Experience the joy of art in situ at St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the church at St Martins in the Fields. Free evenings invite you to add your own theater experiences or concerts.

Sign up now to reserve a spot on this extraordinary journey! This trip is a guaranteed departure. When you join Amy Boyce Osaki on one of her art-focused trips you walk softly into the world of art, history and architecture. Immerse yourself in a rich diversity of museums, and explore art “in situ” for a deeper insight into its role within a living culture. These carefully crafted “art feasts” occur only once or twice a year.

Amy Boyce Osaki studied art at the Louvre Museum in Paris, holds a master’s degree from Winterthur Museum, and worked as a museum professional for over a decade including six years at the Portland Art Museum. She has led art trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Barcelona, Budapest, Krakow, Florence, Peru, Japan, China and Russia for the past sixteen years. Many of the trips were offered for graduate credit from Portland State University. As a travel professional, Amy has led at least seventy-eight trips to seventeen countries on four continents. She is fluent in French and speaks Spanish, as well. Her photographs have been exhibited in juried exhibitions, group exhibitions, and can also be found in private collections. Amy is a Certified Travel Counselor, a level of professional certification that is the travel industry’s highest.

Trip Price: $4295 per person, based on double occupancy
Single room: $1090 supplement

Contact your Willamette agent and reserve a spot on the London Art Tour with your $400 per person deposit today! 503-224-0180 or info@wittravel.com. Ask us for pre and post tour travel suggestions and arrangements.

Want a preview of London before your trip? Check out the National Theatre Live program, which broadcasts productions at the World Trade Center in Portland each month. Portland’s own theatre company Third Rail is hosting NT Live’s “live-captured” performances shortly after the original performances. This spring season you can see “The Habit of Art,” “Hamlet,” “Coriolanus,” “War Horse,” and “King Lear” with world-class London actors right in downtown Portland! Buy tickets here: http://www.thirdrailrep.org/ntlive.php

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Mosaïculture in Montreal

 

preparing for the summer sculpture festival

By Wailana

On my recent trip to Montreal in May, I stumbled on the budding treasures of the Mosaiculture exhibition in the Parc Olympique. The exhibit, set to debut in July, was still in its growth patterns. The sprouting ivies and perannuals had barely begun to coil over the black metal frames.

Since 2000, Montreal has hosted the Mosaicultures Internationales every 3 years, and this year 20 countries are competing under a theme of “Land of Hope.” The garden expands over 185 acres and displays nearly 50 sculptures. The Grand Honorary Award and People’s Choice Award will be announced in September.

“Mosaïculture,” writes the competition’s website, “is a refined horticultural art that involves creating and mounting living artworks made primarily from plants with colourful foliage (generally annuals, and occasionally perennials).” The sculptures showcase our planet’s biodiversity in flocks of storks, frogs and toads, rams, dogs, deer and old shepherds.

A 2-day adult admission costs about $28. Visitors can also purchase tickets to the nearby Insectarium or the Botanical Garden.

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May in Montreal

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May may be past, but our memories of it aren’t!

Last week WIT Agent Wailana took a trip to Montreal — she did her sleuthing and checked out the gorgeous parks, funky neighborhoods, and unique cuisine of this laid-back and loveable city. Long dubbed the “Europe of North America,” Montreal has a plethora of foods, sights and activities fit for every type of tourist. Whether you are traveling to Quebec or adding the city to a cruise or rail itinerary, Montreal is a perfect multiday stop of culture and excitement!

Check out her photos in the Gallery.

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Top Montreal Activities Wailana recommends:

– checking out the gorgeous Parc Mont Royal and enjoying the Tam Tam drums on Sundays

– window shopping around the picturesque boutiques in Vieux-Montreal

– catching dinner at O’Noir, where the waiters are blind and you are served a “mystery menu” in pitch darkness

– taking part in one of Montreal’s incredible summer festivals, especially the world-famous Jazz Festival

– taking a walking or biking tour, a terrific introduction into the daily life and hidden gems of the city

– vintage clothes shopping on the Plateau

drinking sangria and munching on crepes

– enjoying the Botanical Gardens on a lazy Saturday

– taking a snack-tour on Saint Laurent and sampling Hungarian sausage, smoked meat sandwiches, and poutine

– gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian? Montreal is a pioneer in innovative food menus, available in their many alternative groceries and eco-friendly restaurants

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While there, Wailana had an opportunity to check out firsthand Fitz & Follwell, an incredible tour operator based in a bike shop just off of Saint Urbain on the Plateau. Since it’s establishment four years ago by bike enthusiast Shea Mayer, F&F has grown rapidly and sets itself above the norm in tour quality and passion. They have a range of affordable tours, from family-friendly bike tours around the highlights of the city, to walking tours that explore Montreal’s history through food. Their tour guides are highly skilled and attentive, and you’ll be in safe hands cruising through the streets with a local historian or professional food blogger. Winter tours are also available. Call Wailana at Wittravel to find more info on this terrific company and to discover which tours are available during your stay in Montreal!

bike tour in Parc Mont Royal

For more about Montreal or traveling to Canada, call us at 800.821.0401 or email info@wittravel.com. Seeking a long trip on the amazing Via Rail? We’ve booked several of our clients on trips from Vancouver to Nova Scotia. As a certified expert on Canadian rail, Wailana can answer all your questions and book a fantastic rail getaway for you and yours!

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Patagonia

Patagonia—the name sounds mythical, Argentina’s El Dorado or Shambala. South America boasts some of the most dramatic mountain ranges on Earth, and none as impressive as Patagonia. Named for a legendary race of giants, the region has long captivated the hearts and minds of adventurers and travelers.

Willamette International Travel can arrange trips that take you to the center of this gorgeous, natural world. Whether you’re a hardcore adventurer or lover of luxury, we’ll make sure you find your niche. With such a vast expansive of territory and bases to choose from, there’s something for every type of traveler.

Here are just some of sample itineraries available to clients:

Trek the full W Circuit: 12 Days, Santiago to Puerto Natales. Built for physically active travelers (not mountaineers), this trip will take you through the magnificent Torres del Paine. Head out with specially trained leaders and camp out in the wild heart of Argentina. Visit the the French Valley and Grey Glacier around the famed W Circuit.

photo by Phil Whitehouse

Chilean Adventure: 8 Days, Santiago to Buenos Aires. Combine rich wineries of Santiago and the pristine beauty of Patagonia on this amazing tour. Hike through Chile’s Lake District, cleanse your palate at a winery tour, embark on a trek to Osorno Volcano and Petrohue Falls—all against the backdrop of the incredible Patagonia range. This trip balances wilderness and comfort, with full transfers, private van, short flights, and an experienced guide.

photo by pclw

The Best of Patagonia: 11 Days, Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires. Capture the best of Patagonia with this comfortable and exciting tour. See Patagonia at its most wild and untamed, while enjoying the comforts of a planned itinerary, comfortable hotels, and a small group experience. Day hike through Glacier National Park, and view the frozen cascades of Perito Moreno Glacier. Admire the gorgeous views of Laguna de los Tres and Monte Fitz Roy.

photo by Grace Courbis

Puerto Natales in Luxury: 4 Days, Puerto Natales. Want to enjoy the vistas without too much activity? Book a trip to Puerto Natales, gateway to the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. Just three hours from Puna Arenas, this town has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978. Stay at a hacienda-inspired countryside hotel and admire the natural beauty of the Balmaceda Glacier, Ultima Esperanza Bay, and the Paine mountain range. Venture out from your lodge and horseback ride through valleys, ride a boat up to the nose of glaicers, or day hike up into the world.

Our agents would love to share their expertise in travel and South America with you. Call us at 800-821-0401 or email info@wittravel.com for more information.

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Top Experiences in: Brazil

Explore the Capital. Rio de Janeiro is famous for Ipanema beach, the Christ the Redeemer statue, samba and caipirinha cocktails. Wander old cobblestone streets and enjoy the gorgeous, sophisticated atmosphere. Attend a colorful samba show, take a cable car to Sugar Loaf Mountain, and tour to the churches, squares, palaces and monasteries that define Brazilian heritage.

photo by Leandro Ciuffo

Attend Carnaval in Rio. The wildest festival in the world is held forty-six days before Easter. Join the throngs of dancers and performers, enjoy the parades of costumed delights, and attend the fairy-tale Copacabana Palace Ball.

Watch a Soccer Game at Maracanã Stadium. With the 2014 World Cup arriving in Rio, now’s the perfect time to get into the sport all Brazilians love with a passion! Catch a game at the biggest stadium in the world, and feel the game spirit in 78,000 of your neighbors.

photo by photos Gov/Ba

Wander Around Pelourinho. The charming, historic center of Salvador is home to delicately-crafted baroque churches and colonial architecture. Reflect on the solemn history of the city center, once the central plaza where African slaves once received punishment and discipline. Now you can walk around the district and enjoy fantastic cafes, live music, restaurants, gift shops and nightlife.

Kayak the Amazon. Join the thousands of naturalists and enthusiasts who have journeyed into the depths of the world’s largest rainforest. Speak with a knowledgeable guide, travel at your leisure, and prepare local meals of delicious freshwater fish. Rest away the hours of midday heat in a hammock, meet native tribes, and spy the forest’s wildlife treasures—monkeys, pigs, birds, macaws, and thousands more.

photo by Danielle Pereira

Admire the Sunset over the Lençóis Marahenses. The beauty of snow-white dunes interlaced with turquoise lagoons is incomparable. Travel to this national park of roughly 1500 square kilometers and marvel at the area’s natural, stark loveliness.

Salvador Bahia: The “Capital of Happiness,” Salvador is a popular carnival and party destination. Famed for easygoing inhabitants, vibrant music scene and colorful streets, it’s a fun and terrific stop on any tourist’s itinerary.

Spot Incredible Birds in the Pantanal. The Pantanal tropical wetland is famous for its avian diversity. The area sprawls over somewhere between a massive 54,000 and 75,000 square miles. Wander through the marshes on horseback and spot macaws, toucans, caimans, river otters, marsh deer, tapirs, red-footed tortoises, solitary eagles and capybaras. If you’re lucky, you may even spy the elusive jaguar and giant anteater.

photo by ana_ge

Trek around the Iguaçu Falls. We mentioned the Falls in a previous post, but it definitely deserves multiple mentions. One of the world’s natural wonders, the waterfalls at Iguaçuspan three countries and consists of 275 cascades. Enjoy a number of activities such as helicopter flights, river-rafting, rappelling, or forest hikes.

Our agents have traveled to Brazil and arranged tours and flights for clients for years. Enjoy the country before the crowds of FIFA and the Olympics swarm to Rio! Call us at 800.821.0401 or email info@wittravel.com for more information.

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