• New Zealand, Every Day A Different Journey

    New Zealand can feel like an epic, once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. But in fact, it’s the type of place worth returning to repeatedly—and one where even during a single visit, each day is intriguingly different from the last.

    How, you wonder? Well, your week in New Zealand may go something like this…

    Monday: Giving it your best shot at Over the Top Golf—what a view! Gotta be the world’s most remarkable par-three hole.

    Wednesday: Navigating the Dart River in a Funyak inflatable canoe. Around the next bend? A film location used for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton movies.

    Friday: Waking up to a scenic helicopter ride that whisks you away to a secluded alpine setting for a gourmet picnic paired with fantastic views.

    Saturday: Experiencing Maori culture, starting with the traditional greeting known as hangi. Done with a pressing of the noses, hangi means we are considered family.

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    The film location used for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton movies. | Photo Credit: Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tour

    Such thrilling activities are just one aspect of the New Zealand journey; the range of accommodations also comes into play. Take your pick among award-winning luxury lodges, intimate B&B’s, and architecturally stunning private homes. What they have in common are welcoming hosts who really know how to deliver outstanding service and experiences. On the North Island, Wharekauhau Lodge, which is also a working sheep station, provides insight into a livelihood that still exists today.

    Wharekahau Photo Grant Sheehan (7)

    Wharekauhau Lodge | Photo Credit: Wharekauhau Lodge

    New Zealand’s lodges are also a fantastic jumping-off point for embracing the outdoors, with hiking trials and wildlife encounters just beyond the doorsteps. A great example is Blanket Bay, located in Glenorchy on the South Island. From here, you can indulge in activities including fly-fishing, heli-skiing, and horse riding. If you prefer to meet the local wildlife, head to the North Island’s The Farm at Cape Kidnappers for a Kiwi Discover Walk, which brings you up close to the farm’s native bird population.

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    Cape Kidnappers coastline | Photo credit: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

    Your Kiwi experience starts, however, even before you check into your room. It starts when you board your flight with Air New Zealand. You are encouraged to ask the flight attendants about their favorite breakfast spots or an out-of-the-way hiking trail. Moreover, you can expect a warm, informed response from proud locals happy to share their insider knowledge. It comes straight from the heart, from an airline that is constantly renewing and reinventing itself. Air New Zealand now serves five North American getaways (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Honolulu, and Vancouver), connecting to a network of 50-plus cities in 15 countries.

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    Over The Top helicopter tour of Milford Sound | Photo credit: Over The Top

    The final ingredient is enlisting the service of experts who can put together your ideal New Zealand experience. Swain Destinations creates tailored, independent vacation packages, and our dedicated staff shares a unified passion and commitment to providing exceptional service to every traveler.

    Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply looking to go on a one-of-a-kind vacation, Swain Destinations will personalize your journey from start to finish —in New Zealand and beyond.

    June 25, 2016 • Articles, Destinations, New Zealand, Travels • Views: 1477

  • New Zealand, Every Day a Different Journey

    Let us take you, let us show you around. This place, where wonder grows. Let shores of gold greet you and islands that lead to lakes. Where spirits of the land tell you tales. Let us take you by the hand and lead you to secrets hidden beneath green hills. Where fruits of the land thrive and your next ride, is always close by. We will hoist you up high, carry you like a feather in the sky, to somewhere like nowhere you’ve ever seen. Our land will whisper your name, and tell you stories from ancestors long ago. So let it take you, let it wake you from inside, and show that your dreams are here, waiting.

    Experience a journey through New Zealand and let us guide you to something new around every corner. 100% Pure New Zealand.

    June 9, 2016 • Videos • Views: 1564

  • All in Auckland

    The North Island of New Zealand’s epitome of diversity; Auckland shines with a laid-back atmosphere, incredible natural wonders and a healthy dose of history. Aptly nicknamed “The City of Sails” for its vibrant maritime culture, the delightful city of Auckland is home to one-third of New Zealand’s population and is the country’s main gateway. With a unique undertone of Maori influence, this waterfront city is a cultural and architectural gem, filled with bustling markets, world-class restaurants, and locals who are well known for their welcoming and relaxed lifestyle.

    June 9, 2016 • Videos • Views: 1270

  • 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.

    March 29, 2016 • Bela Banker, Bloggers, India • Views: 1543

  • 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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    May 29, 2015 • Articles, Asia, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 5726

  • 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: 3384