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  • Southern Ocean Lodge – Kangaroo Island

    Kangaroo Island in South Australia is brimming with native wildlife and natural beauty. While being Australia’s third largest island, roughly the size of Long Island, it only has a population of 4,000 people. Tucked in a corner of the island, on a rugged cliff facing the wild Southern Ocean, lies Southern Ocean Lodge.

    Kangaroos | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    Kangaroos | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    Getting There

    The drive from the airport to the lodge is about an hour long. Look out for wallabies, kangaroos, and koalas along the way because there are over 800,000 combined, so wildlife encounters are guaranteed. Then, out of nowhere, the polished iron gates of Southern Ocean Lodge appear. The whole property eludes a sense of exclusivity.  After passing through the secured gateway, it’s another 10 minutes up a bumpy road until you reach the lodge. It all feels very remote. The property is completely off the grid; it relies on solar power and rainwater. It doesn’t even have an exact address!

    With panoramic views of the bush and aqua sea, the great room at Southern Ocean Lodge invites the landscape inside. Coastal colors and recycled woods create a comfortable and relaxed environment. The young, international staff are friendly and welcoming.

    SOL Great Room | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    SOL Great Room | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    SOL Balcony | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    SOL Balcony | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    Exceptional Food & Wine

    The food and beverages at Southern Ocean Lodge are exceptional because the chef is proud to focus fully on South Australian cuisine. First, start the day with either a hot or cold breakfast, whether a warm bircher muesli to avocado toast with tomatoes. Then for dinner, enjoy the catch of the day, ranging from king fish, abalone, and octopus. Finally, there’s many desserts which utilizes native herbs and sweeteners, like local blue gum honey. The lodge also has a classic menu for picky eaters, which is nice if you’re not as adventurous. In addition, you can whip up a cocktail of your choice from the stocked open bar, or pour a refreshing glass of South Australian wine at any time of day.

    South Australian Cuisine | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    South Australian Cuisine | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    Cuisine from SOL | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    Cuisine from SOL | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    SOL Cuisine | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    SOL Cuisine | Photo Credit: Exceptional Kangaroo Island

    The Interior

    21 glass-fronted suites curve along the coastline. The wall-to-wall windows allow an unobstructed view of the dreamlike scenery. The bathrooms are spotless, and the view from the shower is particularly memorable. Aligned with the lodge’s local focus, the artwork in all suites is commissioned from Kangaroo Island artisans. Each suite is sophisticated, yet comfortable.

    Exterior | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    Exterior | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    Suite | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    Suite | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    Bathroom | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    Bathroom | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    SOL Exterior | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    SOL Exterior | Photo Credit: Southern Ocean Lodge

    Activities Outside the Lodge

    As for the experience outside of the lodge, there’s many opportunities to get immersed in the island’s natural attractions. Small group guided excursions are offered daily. Ranging from coastal walks to barbeques, the tours allow guests to encounter the wildlife with exclusive access and a touch of luxury.

    Lodge Features:

    • 21 luxurious suites with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows
    • Restaurant with local fare, indoor and outdoor seating, and ocean views
    • Spa incorporating local traditions
    • Wine cellar featuring South Australian vintages
    • Plunge pool
    • Lounge with fireplace and panoramic views
    • Boutique with unique gifts and island mementos
    • Reference library stocked with books, DVDs, and CDs
    • Wifi throughout the lodge
    Though I was born and raised in Philadelphia, a city that values tradition, my path of life has been not so standard. I’ve lived on the East and West coasts of the United States, and have ventured over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, studying food and wine in Italy, and working in the travel industry in Australia. Travelling across the globe has allowed me to recognize my true passion: helping others experience this beautiful, yet varied world that we live in. I have a wandering soul that continually urges me to visit new countries, meet new people, and learn new things; I love to adventure to faraway destinations, discovering unfamiliar cultures, and tasting their local cuisine.
  • Silky Oaks Lodge in Daintree Rainforest

    Queensland, also known as Australia’s “sunshine state,” is home to a 110-million-year-old rainforest—Daintree National Park. The park is a World Heritage-listed site and nestled on the edge is Silky Oaks Lodge. This lodge blends casual and contemporary design, amongst the most tranquil surrounds.

    Silky Oaks Suite | Photo Credit: Jessa Rachael Photography

    Silky Oaks Suite | Photo Credit: Jessa Rachael Photography

    Getting There

    Located 90 minutes north of Cairns and just 20 minutes from Port Douglas, Silky Oaks Lodge is in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest.  The drive is easy and beautiful, as Captain Cook highway leads the way up the coast.  Set on the Mossman River, this lodge provides an immersive rainforest experience while still pampering you with the finest luxury amenities.  Upon arrival, my partner and I were greeted with welcome cocktails at a table for two. While overlooking the Mossman River, we went over our itinerary for the next two days.  We enjoyed our welcome cocktails while our treehouse was being prepared.  Chilled wine, a handwritten note, lit candles, and soft music greeted us as we walked in, and a sense of peace immediately flooded us.  Each treehouse has a large outdoor porch with a hammock, and all the amenities you could wish for.

    Silky Oaks Lodge | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Silky Oaks Lodge | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Suite | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Suite | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Jungle Perch | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Jungle Perch | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Activities Outside the Lodge

    We spent nearly all of our time outside, taking advantage of every recreational activity the lodge had to offer.  First, we got a picnic backpack from the kitchens and hiked a gorgeous trail that ended at a huge flat rock with a rope swing into the river. Then we kayaked and swam in the natural-looking outdoor heated stone pool. We also went on a sunset bike ride through the corn fields outside of the rainforest.  You name it, Silky Oaks has it.  After the end of an active day, we made our way back to the main lodge for dinner.

    Billabong | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Billabong | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Pool | Photo Credit: Jessa Rachael Photography

    Pool | Photo Credit: Jessa Rachael Photography

    Unforgettable Dining Experience

    The Treehouse Restaurant – one of Northern Queensland’s premier dining experiences, is a unique open-sided restaurant that features unobstructed rainforest and river views set above the trees.  The food was exceptional, focusing on seafood given its close proximity to the ocean.  The menu showcases the freshest local produce and Australian wines.  There are a-la-carte options, or you can pre-book your dinner for a two or three course option.  I highly recommend booking at least the two course option, as you’ll want to take advantage of the world-class food the lodge has to offer.  After dinner, it was time to turn-in for the night, falling asleep to the sounds of the rainforest and flowing river.

    Treehouse Lobby | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Treehouse Lobby | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Jungle Perch Dining | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Jungle Perch Dining | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Treehouse Restaurant | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Treehouse Restaurant | Photo Credit: Silky Oaks Lodge

    Lodge Features:

    • 50 treehouses and riverhouses with a balcony and hammock, outdoor table and chairs
    • Restaurant with sensational rainforest and river views
    • Spa offering rejuvenation through healing waters
    • Outdoor, natural-looking, heated stone pool
    • Jungle Perch positioned over the Mossman River, providing views of the Daintree Rainforest
    • Air conditioning, ceiling fans, fully stocked mini bar and a turn-down service every night
    As a graduate of Eastern University with a degree in Anthropology, I have always valued the experiences one can find in other cultures. I’ve spent time in Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Kenya, and backpacked across Western Europe seeing 12 countries there. I have lived in Sydney and used it as a base for travels across the country. I’ve also spent time in New Zealand; and my latest trip back was a luxury lodge tour across both islands, seeing first hand some of the most breathtaking accommodations and properties that New Zealand has to offer. With the passion and longing for every individual to experience at least one other culture in their lifetime, I have found myself at Swain; with the opportunity to bring this passion to life.
  • My First New Year’s Eve in Sydney

    As soon as I landed in Sydney, I felt the energy of the city all around me. As I looked out of the plane window, I saw the Iconic Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the suburbs fringing the water. It gave me a strong sense of belonging. And knowing I would soon be climbing the bridge, and sailing under it, let alone seeing the world’s most spectacular fireworks display, had my adrenaline surging. It was my first New Year’s Eve in Sydney!

    Sydney Harbour | Photo Credit: Destination NSW/Ethan Rohloff

    Sydney Harbour | Photo Credit: Destination NSW/Ethan Rohloff

    Exploring Sydney

    A short drive brought me to my city hotel, and a friendly “G’day” from the doorman and reception staff made me feel at home. Right away, I wanted to get out and explore. I walked to Circular Quay, watched the ferries, and viewed the myriad of people from all over the planet enjoying the sunshine and warm weather. The outdoor cafés beckoned me in for a traditional Aussie beverage and a delicious meat pie.

    I couldn’t help but stare at the Opera House, and to my left at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was so lucky to be spending New Year’s Eve in Sydney. The world’s greatest fireworks display was only several hours away, but now there was time to discover the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens just a few hundred yards away. I was also able to take a leisurely walk through the historic rocks area. This is the place where the first English settlement landed over 200 years ago!

    Sydney Harbour Bridge | Photo Credit: Destination Tourism Australia

    Sydney Harbour Bridge | Photo Credit: Tourism Australia

    The New Year’s Eve in Sydney Celebration

    It was finally time to prepare for the night ahead, casual clothes were the instructions. Then I met my fellow revelers for a short coach ride to the dock, where the 100-foot luxury motor yacht awaited.

    With a glass of champagne waiting on the boat, I eagerly walked the gangway. Ben the Skipper, renowned for knowing the best spot to be on the harbor for the fireworks display, greeted us with a warm Aussie welcome.

    The DJ had the music going, champagne was flowing and everyone checked out the fly bridge, aft saloon, the bow and the main saloon. We were all trying to decide where to be at 9 pm for the first round of fireworks. The appetizers served by the crew were scrumptious! After two hours of cruising the Sydney Harbour and glimpsing the high-priced houses with the amazing views, we settled into where Ben felt the best viewing would be. He was correct! We were right in the center, surrounded by hundreds of other vessels, all shrieking with delight as the fireworks started. The entire boat was taking selfies, but mostly just watching in awe.

    Sydney Opera House | Photo Credit: Tourism Australia

    Sydney Opera House | Photo Credit: Tourism Australia

    Gearing Up for the Main Event

    Right after this spectacle ended, dinner was served downstairs in the main saloon. There were several delightful beef and chicken dishes, fresh vegetables, salads and an array of ways to prepare sandwiches. There was also a fantastic seafood selection with fresh fish and Sydney Rock Oysters. This made for a beautifully prepared and truly well-enjoyed meal.

    Ben, in the meantime, had been cruising and edging his way to the front of the pack so we would have a splendid view of the Harbour Lights Parade. As the 20 or so decorated boats made their way around, we were right in the front of the other viewing boats. We had an unobstructed view of the main event, the fireworks at midnight.

    Like the earlier fireworks display, they were fantastic! The second round lasted much longer and the finale could not be put into words. New Year’s Eve in Sydney exceeded my expectations.

    Remembering these wonderful times makes me extend my hand to you. Come and join me this New Year’s Eve, and experience this for yourself. It will be one of those events you will remember for a lifetime.

    Sydney Harbour | Photo Credit: Destination NSW

    Sydney Harbour | Photo Credit: Destination NSW

     

    July 25, 2017 • Articles, Australia, Destinations, Ian Swain Sr • Views: 644

  • Explore Hampi

    A few weeks ago, I was in Hampi in Karnataka, South India, which is a World Heritage Site. I arrived at Toranagallu by overnight train from Bangalore. After a wash and change at the Hyatt Place, my guide and I headed towards Hampi. The first impression is of the magnificent large landscape with huge boulder rocks.

    Boulder Landscape

    Boulder Landscape | Photo Credit: Bela Banker/Swain Destinations

    There were intricately carved temples all over the place. We then took a wonderful coracle ride on the Tungabhadra River.

    Coracle Ride

    Coracle Ride | Photo Credit: Bela Banker/Swain Destinations

    The ruins of the 14th century Hampi, and seat to the Vijayanagara kings, covers an area of 10 miles. Hampi sprawls across a spectacular barren and boulder strewn landscape. The remains of palaces and baths and audience hall tells a tale of a kingdom that was grand and of fabulous wealth. There is an awe inspiring image of Hindu God Lord Vishnu which is carved from a single boulder and is the incarnation of half man and half lion. Watching the sun go down between the boulders, captures a moment in your heart that will stay with you.

    Ruins of the 14th century Hampi

    Ruins of the 14th century Hampi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker/Swain Destinations

    The Boulder Resort, where I stayed offers a stunning view of the rocky terrain. The luxurious cottages at the resort fit perfectly with hiking trails , organic gardens and delicious food.

    I was born in Bombay (now called Mumbai), and have lived in the USA for more than 30 years. I have a passion for travel, for exploring, learning new cultures and being in new places. I love India and like to introduce all our clients to the colors, sounds, scents, traditions and food found throughout India. I customize all India trips and take our clients off the beaten path, where they can touch the heart and soul of the country. Other than travel, I love to read, cook, hike and spend time with my four boys.

    March 29, 2016 • Bela Banker, Bloggers, India • Views: 1550

  • Three Days in Bangkok

    This was my second time in Bangkok. I was 16 during my first visit. I was young with different priorities. Remembering the tiny and beautiful details of the sights, services, smells, tastes and experiences were unfortunately not high on my list. I was in the mind-set now of a first-time visitor.

    Hourly wake-ups defined my first morning. I ultimately rose from bed towards the floor-to-ceiling windows. I knew the sun would eventually rise – I would be there to great it. I have read watching the sunrise corrects your internal clock while abroad. I am no scientist, but I did read it on the internet – so it is more than likely true.

    Our suite had a wall panel that displayed the outdoor temperature and humidity. That morning it was showing a temperature of 94 degrees and a humidity reading of 100%. I did not know this was possible. I learned that day that I was ill prepared for that level of public, personal sweat containment.  Lesson learned.

    Our first day was flat out. The Grand Palace, River and Canals and a heap of temples filled out the day, with Thai boxing closing out the evening. Mindy met us in the lobby that morning. Energetic, fluent in English and our insider for the next three days. She went through the do’s and don’ts, cultural etiquette and some other key points to keep me out of trouble.

     

    Day 2: The Grand Palace and Temples

    Waves of tourists flooded these ancient palaces. I was told this is always the case. At 6’ 1,” I had a height advantage. I peered over a vast sea of trendy travel visors, plotting my perfect course through the herd. Though crowded, these sacred places are worth the visit. You’ll feel amazement while walking into the golden draped temples with ancient relics of Buddhist culture. The spirituality almost overwhelms with each step. We knelt before a monk who wrapped string around our wrists. He blessed us with sacred water and a Buddhist chant. All I could think about was how to make a joke about being literally “hashtag blessed.” What has social media done to me.

    The palaces are spectacular. The detail to the outer walls is nothing short of incredible. I would describe it as gorgeous, tedious and precise. I barely have enough patience to complete a paint by numbers, let alone to hand-plaster gold leaf on inch thick scales on a building with “Grand” in the name.

    I did feel the use of gold is a touch excessive. Like, OK, we get it.

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    Cruising the Canals

    We set off onboard our water chariot, clad with Pepsi promotional banners and adorned with sacred flower offerings to Budha – for a safe voyage. A wonderfully unusual blend of the times. Our captain coolly sat on a stool towards the stern, effortlessly steering the large converted pick-up truck motor across the busy Bangkok canal. Everything about him was calm and casual. Barefoot, with aviator shades and a salmon t-shirt. No fear, no distraction, just life. We were in good hands.

    Along the way, we were told tales of the canals and the early developing Bangkok. Years ago, these canals were the heart of the city. Home to floating markets, temples of worship and travel routes. As the Kings changed, so did the city. The river was expanded and canals were built connecting different regions. The city began to grow outward with residential districts growing rapidly. The markets moved further outside the city.  Now, Bangkok is a bustling metropolis.

     

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    Thai Boxing

    The full-day adventure did us in. We returned to our hotel to freshen up. A quick 10-minute rest turned into a 3-hour afternoon nap. Jet lag was a bitter mistress and returned swiftly with a punch in the face. Regardless, it was time for Thai boxing. A few slaps in the face, a splash of cold-water and then downstairs to join Mindy for a bit of organized violence.

    I’m happy I was able to attend a Thai boxing match. Our event was no premier match-up. The ring was mostly empty. The Thai boxers battled in front of fellow foreigners sitting ringside with us while local gamblers shouted their coaching from the stands – hoping they made the right bet. With a nice cold Singah Beer, we sat back and watched one of the more aggressive shows of my life. After each match, bloodied and bruised, each fighter smiled and congratulated the other as if they were best friends. Love and violence, an embodiment of our current world, eh.

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    Day 3: Floating Markets

    Our 2nd The Floating Markets, my favorite.  We set off at 8AM on an hour’s drive outside of Bangkok. We briefly stopped at a Thai Salt Plantation and a Coconut Farm. Both stops were engaging and educational. I ate so many coconut candies and drank the freshest coconut juice. I have an unnatural coconut obsession, and on a coconut farm – I was in paradise.

    We journeyed onwards before arriving at one of the many entrances to the canal system. Kristen and I boarded a little jet canoe – much smaller than the one from the previous day. It was just us. Mindy and the captain.

    Leaning back and the wind in our hair, we glided across the canals. The canal was lined with local homes, small shops and at-home shrines for worship. Large temples could be seen in the distance. Many homes were donned with beautiful flowers and shrubbery. Other homes had not recovered from the large flood a few years past.

    We cruised for a half-hour before literally arriving into the floating markets. It was a bit overwhelming at first. These markets are still used heavily by locals, and now a popular location for travelers. I was most excited to eat strange foods. A mix of tourist shops and local markets line the interior. On the canal front, boats with grills served up rice bowls with meats and fish. Fruits were available everywhere.

    While wandering, I was approached by an older women in a plaid shirt and wide-brimmed straw hat. She had oils or lotions. Before I could react, she began applying these unknown lotions to my face, arms and neck. She pointed to parts of my body and spoke in Thai. I could only gather that each lotion was used to treat different ailments or promote good health. For five minutes, I was being massaged in the middle markets by a stranger with foreign lotions. Kristen sat idly by, laughing behind the camera snapping a few pictures (below) of this intimate encounter. When my immersive experience was over, she placed jars in my hands and started naming prices. This would not be her day for a sale, but I did thank her for the free massage.

    We found a man selling Coconut ice cream. He would take a machete, half the coconut and scrape the interior. Coconut ice cream was placed inside along with sticky rice and some jellies. It was as close to godliness in a food item that I had come across. We sat canal-side sharing our coconut ice cream and watching the vendors float by.

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    Patpong Night Market

    That evening we met with a colleague of ours for dinner at a restaurant called Hemingway’s. Owned by an Englishman and housing an Aussie Chef, this is the place you go to find ex-pats if you’re feeling a little homesick. Drinks and stories took over the evening before immersing our self back into Bangkok.

    Patpong Night Market, we had arrived. The whispered notorious phrase, “ping pong” echoed along the night market. Neon signs illuminated the scene as sporadic sound bursts of house music clashed together. Within moments, I knew the legends were true. The streets were lined with tourist nick-knacks and men holding up strip club menus. Couples, backpackers, families and confused or concerned traveled walked up and down the wide avenue. The diversity of the scene was unmatched to any life experience I’ve had yet.

    We were linking up with a colleague of mine of travels to Bangkok regularly. We quickly met up at a moderate bar as he was entertaining a great bunch from the travel industry. Not one to turn down a free drink in a strange foreign place, we joined the bunch.

    At 12AM, we found ourselves in the company of an old man sitting in a dark corner receiving a foot message from  Thai strippers – sex undetermined. It’s these moments that you question the choices you’ve made that led you to this moment.

    Do check out Patpong Night Market. Probably don’t get a lap dance. Unless, you know, that is your thing – then do get a lap dance.

     

    Wrap it Up

    Bangkok was a blast. The locals were friendly and welcoming – cultural brims throughout the entire city. Mix touring and solo-adventure. A guide will ensure you see the must-see things the right way, and help you weave your way through entrances and crowds. Do make sure you spend time adventuring on your own. Talk to the locals and engage some uncomfortable scenarios. You can do it in three nights. I would recommend at least four nights. Start the touring or adventuring during the afternoon of your first real day there.

    Where I Stayed: The Peninsula Bangkok exudes classical old world charm. It seems quite grand as you walk in. The hospitality and service made everything so comfortable and easy. Lock in a river view to enjoy watching boats and barges cruise around each morning. We stayed in one of the Deluxe Suites, very spacious with multiple views overlooking the river.

    My Favorite Meal: Coconut Ice Cream with Sticky Rice at the Damneon Floating Markets. Your life will change.

    My Favorite Moment: Wandering through the Damneon Floating Markets and engaging with the locals selling their fruits and meals. This half-day is definitely a must for any traveler to Bangkok.

    How I got there: Qatar Airways PHL – DOH – BKK

    • Philadelphia to Doha on Qatar Airways – 12 hours
    • Airport Time – 2 hours
    • Doha to Bangkok on Qatar Airways – 7 hours

    Cheers,

    Ian 2

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    Most claim that this captivating young adventurer made his first appearance in the travel industry at the tender age of five, working diligently to become the most efficient brochure boxer this side of the Atlantic, all the while running up and down the office halls in-between projects. Always following his father around the office throughout the years, Ian began to learn the ropes and become more engaged with the company and travel industry. As Ian grew older, his knowledge and skill set were outpaced only by his passion for travel and desire to see the world, venturing to destinations across the globe from Australia to Africa,. After four years of study, and a few years working within the hotel industry, Ian began his official career much like it started, with a wide-eyed enthusiasm and tireless work.

    May 29, 2015 • Articles, Asia, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 5742

  • Experiencing Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses

    As I flew into Blenheim from Auckland over the small islands that start the South Island of New Zealand, the lush green countryside began to unfold amongst the crystal clear water, separating the finger-like peninsulas jutting out. Budget had my car ready and off I drove for the 70 mile journey to Kaikoura. It is amazing how this coastline is almost as untouched as it was when the Maoris first came here; a real treat. As I approached, the Treehouses and Lodge at Hapuku Lodge came into sight. Continue Reading

    April 9, 2015 • Bloggers, Destinations, Ian Swain Sr, New Zealand • Views: 3393