Category Archives: VOTM

Holiday Recipes from the Middle East: Baba Ganuj

Happy Holidays from Caravan-Serai Tours and Willamette Intl Travel!

Each holiday season our friends over at Caravan-Serai offer an assortment of our favorite recipes from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus. Be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates!

Today’s recipe: Baba Ganuj or Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ganuj


2lbs (1kg) eggplants

1 large tomato

1 green pepper

1 medium onion

2 garlic cloves

1 Tbs salt

1 Tbs mint

2 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs lemon juice

2 Tbs pomegranate molasses


  • Roast the eggplant s on a baking dish in medium oven approximately one hour, or until the skin darkens and begins to split, remove from oven to cool
  • When eggplants are cool enough handle, break open and scoop out the insides
  • Mash the pulp with a fork until a smooth puree
  • Add olive oil and lemon juice and set aside
  • Finely chop tomato, pepper and onion, add them to eggplant puree and stir
  • Crush garlic in a pestle with salt and stir into juice and olive oil
  • Add liquid to vegetable mixture and mix well
  • Stir in the mint
  • Serve in a shallow bowl with garnish of tomatoes or parsley sprigs and pita bread

A variation on this recipe is to cook the eggplant on a BBQ, it will enhance the smokey flavor! Enjoy!

Call Willamette Intl Travel at 503-224-0180 to discuss options for travel in and around the Middle East.

To read what a Sample 5 Day Emirates Desert Adventure with Caravan-Serai would look like, click here.

Caravan Serai is a Seattle-based company that specializes in small-group escorted tours to destinations in the Middle East and North Africa such as Jordan, Turkey and Morocco. Expert guides escort guests through fun-filled and tasty itineraries, valuing comfort and safety all the while trekking across ancient paths and historical ruins.

To read more about Caravan-Serai, click here.

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Filed under Africa, Egypt, Middle East, Morocco, Travel by Taste, Turkey, UAE, VOTM

12 Days of Holiday Cooking


Welcome to the 2014 12 Days of Holiday Cooking from Caravan-Serai Tours!

Each holiday season our friends over at Caravan-Serai offer an assortment of our favorite recipes from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus. Be sure to subscribe to our blog for updates!


Lentil Soup ~ Shourbat Abas

1 Cup brown lentils
6 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 up olive oil or ghee
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
a dash of pepper
croutons for garnish

  • Rinse lentils and drain
  • Place in a saucepan with the water over medium heat and bring to a boil
  • Reduce heat and simmer for half an hour
  • Remove from heat; strain/mash lentil and water mixture through a vegetable strainer
  • Return pureed lentil mixture to pot and cook over medium heat and stir in cumin, salt, and pepper
  • Brown the chopped onion in oil or ghee, then add to the lentil mixture
  • Cook the lentils and onion over medium heat for 5 minutes
  • Sprinkle the soup with chopped parsley and croutons

This makes a great first course, is easy, and requires very few ingredients! It’s also great on a cold winter day. Enjoy!

Call Willamette Intl Travel at 503-224-0180 to discuss options for travel in and around the Middle East.

To read what a Sample 9-Day Tour of Jordan with Caravan-Serai would look like, click here.

Caravan Serai is a Seattle-based company that specializes in small-group escorted tours to destinations in the Middle East and North Africa such as Jordan, Turkey and Morocco. Expert guides escort guests through fun-filled and tasty itineraries, valuing comfort and safety all the while trekking across ancient paths and historical ruins.

To read more about Caravan-Serai, click here.

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Filed under Caravan Serai, Middle East, North America, Travel by Taste, Vendors, VOTM

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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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?

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?

Early Booking Discount with Viking River Cruises in 2015!

Give yourself or your family the gift of a lifetime! Viking River Cruises for 2015 are OPEN for booking with an Early Booking Discount! Get 2-for-1 cruise pricing plus air discounts where applicable! Offer expires December 18, 2013.

Call Willamette Intl Travel at 503-224-0180 to inquire for more info or check availability on any one of these amazing river cruises:

Rhine Getaway – 8 days, Amsterdam to Basel
Danube Waltz – 8 days, Passau to Budapest
Romantic Danube – 8 days, Budapest to Nuremberg
Paris & the Heart of Normandy – 8 days – Paris to Rouen to Paris
Portraits of Southern France – 8 days, Avignon to Chalon-sur-Saône
Grand European Tour – 15 days – Amsterdam to Budapest

A $500 per person deposit is required by December 18, 2013, balance due in full by May 31, 2014.


Did you know Viking Cruises sail worldwide, through China and Southeast Asia? Willamette Intl Travel agents have cruised all over the world with Viking Cruises. Call us for more info or email

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Filed under Cruises, Europe, SALES, Travel by Ship, Viking Cruises, VOTM

Vendor of the Month: Icelandair

Vendor of the Month: Icelandair

This month’s VOTM is Icelandair, Iceland’s main airline. Iceland is emerging as a major tourist destination—in 2010, 500,000 tourists visited Iceland, and that number is expected to increase exponentially in the next year. Hop over for your unforgettable vacation in the timeless land of glaciers and geysers!

Why choose Icelandair?

Icelandair offers three classes of service: economy, economy comfort, and SAGA class. In 2008, the entire fleet received an interior cabin upgrade and refurnishing. They also offer loyal clients the opportunity to earn miles. Their main hub, Keflavik Airport, is a small airport with Schengen immigration clearance to Europe. So you only have to pass customs once before entering other Schengen countries. Russian passengers can also transit without a visa through Keflavik, provided they are departing on the same day.

Icelandair airplanes are equipped with inflight entertainment system, complimentary soft drinks, and magazines. Economy comfort and saga class passengers can enjoy Keflavik’s exclusive lounges, and share those with partner airlines—for example, Icelandair’s Seattle lounge is the British Airways business class lounge. Willamette Intl Travel has contract fares in business and coach with Icelandair, call us for details.

Beginning October 2013, Icelandair will launch scheduled service from Newark Airport (EWR). This service will operate four times per week. This counts as the 11th Icelandair gateway in North America and the 36th gateway worldwide. For our readers living in the Pacific Northwest, one of the prime USA gateways is Seattle!

With over 75 years in operation, Icelandair offers service to Iceland from Boston, New York-JFK, Seattle, Denver and Toronto with seasonal service from Washington, D.C., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando Sanford, Halifax, and Anchorage (starting May 15, 2013). Connections through Icelandair’s hub at Keflavik International Airport are available to more than 20 destinations in Scandinavia, the U.K. and Continental Europe.

New in 2013: Flights to Zurich and St. Petersburg. Beginning June 1, Icelandair will fly nonstop to St. Petersburg 2x a week through September 17. Head to St. Petersburg from June to September, the best season to visit, where the warm summer months and the legendary “White Nights” (June-July) are alive with festivities. St. Petersburg is a city bursting with incredible architecture, open air museums, historical sites and of course the Hermitage, where some of the world’s greatest treasures have been housed for centuries. The overwhelming beauty and opulence that was once the former capital of Russia is again a vibrant, walkable, friendly city that offers a hearty welcome to all. For US citizens, visas are required and may take up to six weeks to obtain.

Did You Know? Only Icelandair allows passengers to stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare. Stay up to 7 nights in Iceland and try out special stopover rates and packages! On your way to Europe? Have two vacations for the price of one!

What’s there to see/do in Iceland? There’s a plethora to see and do in Iceland, especially for lovers of the outdoors. See the Northern Lights, take an hour to unwind in the Blue Lagoon. Go horseback riding, puffin watching, snowmobiling, whitewater rafting, walk on glaciers and kayak in the sea. Depending on the time and season you go, there may be various options available.

If Iceland is not in your plans till 2014, WIT Agent Wailana is traveling in October to explore Iceland and its magnificent glaciers, geysers, and landscape, and would love to share her firsthand knowledge with you on her return Who knows—she may even spot a mountain troll or a dwarf! 

Tune in next week for more on the destination of Iceland!

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Filed under Airlines, Europe, Iceland, Icelandair, VOTM

Vendor of the Month: ATJ

Asian Transpacific Journeys (ATJ) has been a leading tour company in Asia/Pacific for 25 years. Willamette Intl Travel is proud to partner with such a prestigious tour company. ATJ prides itself on its creativity and in connecting their clients with the locals for an authentic experience.

Their highly efficient team is based in Boulder, Colorado. Each and every employee has lived and worked in their specialized area extensively, and each has traveled to an average of 24 countries. ATJ’s remarkable tour leaders possess a wealth of firsthand knowledge about Asia and the Pacific. Their experts are well-versed in art, culture, anthropology, linguistics, and that elusive (but extremely important) skill: human interaction. The team is committed wholeheartedly to facilitating genuine connections and true cultural immersion among their guests. Their compassion, intimate knowledge and enthusiasm will make your trip come alive.


courtesy of Asia Transpacific Tours

ATJ has sent clients to the madrassas and mosques on the Silk Road, on private cruises on the Ganges to witness a Hindu cremation ceremony, and to dazzling fall and spring festivals in the remote country of Bhutan.

Willamette Intl Travel can help organize your trip with ATJ, book your airfare, and customize your pre- and post-travel arrangements. We can also advise you on the trip that’s right for you! Call us at Wittravel for more details of how ATJ can add that unique spark to your travels!

Here are just some of the unique ways ATJ stands out:

–         75% of their business comes from repeat and referral customers

–         Though they do provide set itineraries, ATJ’s personal consultants are flexible to design the perfect itinerary for their clients

–         Fully bilingual and formally educated tour leaders


courtesy of Asia Transpacific Journeys

They have partnered with tops institutions such as:

–         Nature Conservancy

–         National Wildlife Federation

–         World Wildlife Fund

–         Harvard Museum of Natural History

–         UCLA, Brown, Princeton, Yale, Harvard and MIT alumni associations

–         San Diego Zoo

–         World Affairs Council

Check out a Sample Itinerary for Bhutan here. WIT Agent and Co-Owner Christina has been to Bhutan!

“Traveling with Asia Transpacific Journeys made every difference in the world.” – Patricia Schultz, Author, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. All of WIT Agents have traveled extensively in and throughout Asia. Call us for more details! 800.821.0401 or email

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Filed under Asia, News, Oceania, VOTM