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  • Japanese Quintessential

    Full of fantastic sights and cultural experiences, Japan overwhelms the visitor with its volume of offerings. With this in mind, I journeyed to the “The Land of the Rising Sun” to determine what constitutes a Japanese quintessential. Here are the must-sees and dos that I found.

    Kanazawa: Japanese Quintessential

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    From the moment I read about Kanazawa in college, I was fascinated by the historical samurai town. My day started on foot, touring the classic neighborhood of Nagamachi. I explored Nomura Samurai House, a home that belonged to a wealthy samurai family. The home featured traditional tatami rooms, a family shrine, and a full suit of armor on display. The yard out back was no different, housing both a beautiful garden and a koi pond. Afterward, I visited the  centerpiece of any trip to Kanazawa: Kenrokuen Garden. Spacious, classic, and secluded, the garden is one of the most beautiful in the country. The water features, bridges, teahouses, trees, flowers, and stones make the Garden a Japanese quintessential.

    Miyagawa Market and Shirakawago: Japanese Quintessential

    Miyagawa Market | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Miyagawa Market | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My next stop? Miyagawa morning market! Stocked with impressive wood sculptures and intricate pottery, Miyagawa is also an excellent place for snacks. The sesame crackers and taiyakai, a sweet cream-filled cake, were delicious. Once through, I walked the streets of Old Town and took in the charming old-style houses and sake breweries. A wealthy merchant district dating back to the 1600s, Old Town was traditional Japan at its most beautiful. Next, my journey continued to UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Shirakawago. Most famous for its Gassho-style farmhouses, Shirakawago homes are built without nails. The roofs, thatched and steeply sloped, look like hands at prayer.

    Forest of Wisdom: Japanese Quintessential

    The Forest Wisdom | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    The Forest Wisdom | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My first stop was the small, seven family town of Hiyou. I was there to see the Forest of Wisdom, a project that aims to preserve the cedar trees, moss, and natural resources of the area. Moss is a symbol of Japanese culture and it was magical to see them cultivating and growing endangered varieties of moss in the Forest. After a tasty lunch, I walked to the spectacular Kakusenkei Gorge and soaked in the views. Afterward, I grabbed a snack at teahouse perched alongside the river and then made my way back on the interesting bridges of the gorge. At each end of the gorge is a bridge, one traditional wooden bridge and one modern steel bridge which made for an intriguing visual of Japanese history and modernity working together. The Forest and the gorge were a respite from a few busy days of touring and a Japanese quintessential.

    Maiko Dinner and Show: My Favorite

    Maiko Dinner | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Maiko Dinner | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My favorite stop in Nara was Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Set in the forest, I felt a calm wash over me as soon as I entered the Shrine. Kasuga is most known for the hundreds of bronze lanterns that adorn temple buildings and the stone lanterns that line the pathways of temple hall. I could have spent hours looking at the lanterns. The older ones were covered in a shiny green moss while the brighter, new ones showed newly painted instructions. In Kyoto, I participated in my favorite experience on the trip: a Maiko Dinner and Show at Gion Hatanaka. While I enjoyed a traditional seven-course Kyoto Kaiseki dinner, both maiko and geiko (Kyoto dialect for Geisha) performed traditional songs and dances. During a brief break in the performances the ladies came to each table and answered diners’ questions. I ended my evening and trip with some fun party games.

    These sights and experiences represent the history, culture, and essence of Japan. In short, quintessential Japan, where every day is a new adventure and every interaction a learning experience.

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    November 18, 2019 • Asia, Donna Van Buren, Travels • Views: 40

  • The Sacred Journey

    I went on a sacred journey across Asia and visited some of the its oldest temples. Beyond bricks and mortar, what I experienced when I entered these incredible shrines was special. Let me explain why.

    Bali

    Nusa Penida, Bali | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Nusa Penida, Bali | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Beginning in Indonesia, my sacred journey led me first to the island province of Bali. World renowned for its beaches, Bali crackles with an energy reflective of its people. Its cuisine is no different. I took a cooking class and learned how to make traditional Indonesian curries, sambals, and other traditional dishes. Afterward, I set out to see some Bali’s fantastic sights. I explored Nusa Penida, an island community known for its world class diving locations and panoramas of the Badung Strait. Finally, I saw the spectacular Tanah Lot Temple. One of seven sea temples set off the Balinese coast, Tanah Lot is a breathtaking representation of historic Balinese culture.

    Komodo Island

    Komodo Island | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Komodo Island | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Named for its most famous inhabitants, Komodo Island is home to the Komodo Dragon. Weighing up to 200 pounds and measuring out at nearly eight and half feet in length, these lizards are modern day dinosaurs. Yet, the natural landscape of Komodo Island is just as striking as its residents. The island is 240 miles of lush greenery, rugged terrain, and picturesque beaches. Komodo Island also features a pink sand beach, one of only seven that exist in the entire world. After snapping some pictures with some new friends, I ate lunch on the pink beach and listened to the sea.

    Yogyakarta and Borobudur

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    After my adventure in Komodo Island, the sacred journey took me next to the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. I visited the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site Prambanan Temple, the largest Hindu temple in all of Indonesia. Next was the Taman Sari, a renowned water castle that was built in the mid-18th century. The next morning, I left the hotel at 4:30am to watch the sunrise at the Borobudur. Another UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, the Borobudur is a ninth-century Buddhist Temple that is also the world’s largest. Watching the sun rise over the spires and arches was magical and a sight that I will never forget.

    Singapore

    Gardens by the Bay, Singapore | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Gardens by the Bay, Singapore | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    The last stop of my sacred journey brought me to the beautiful country of Singapore. I went on the Heritage Foodalicious Tour, tasted some samples, and learned about a family-run soy sauce business. After, I visited the Gardens by the Bay, a stunning nature park that runs adjacent to the marina resevoir. I ended my trip and my night with a laser light show under the “trees” in the park. Colorful, electric, and beautiful, it was a fitting end to the trip.

    Southeast Asia evokes wonder because it is a world unto itself. From the sea temples of Bali to the Komodo Dragons of Komodo Island, Southeast Asia is a wonder land worth visiting more than once.

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    November 14, 2019 • Asia, Travels • Views: 390

  • Australian Fall: Cool, Colorful, and Unique

    Although Australia conjures summer images of sand and surf, there is no more unique time to visit than fall.

    Blue Mountains National Park | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    Blue Mountains National Park | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    March, April, May, and June offer many advantages and markedly fewer drawbacks when traveling to the Land Down Under. And, while the temperature does dip, fall ushers in a rendering of the country that few international travelers see. Here are some reasons why you should look to book a trip during Australian fall.

    Money and Availability

    Devil's Corner Cellar Door | Photo Credit: Tourism Tasmania

    Devil’s Corner Cellar Door | Photo Credit: Tourism Tasmania

    Busiest in its summer months, travel to Australia drops as soon as March rolls around. From a practical standpoint, this means a respite from the crowds of tourists that can be overwhelming at times. For instance, making the sacred journey to view one of our planet’s natural wonders, Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), is all the more inspiring without the crowds of the busy season. The same is true of Kangaroo Island, where you can see wildlife in their most natural state, including nesting penguins. Australian fall also affords you to visit while staying at the mindfully appointed Longitude 131 at a fraction of the busy season’s cost. It’s also much easier to get to taste world-class, locally sourced cuisine at one of Australia’s Chef-hat rated restaurants such as Joy in Brisbane and Quay in Sydney. Fall also represents the best time to explore Tasmania, an eclectic region teeming with fascinating wildlife and beautiful vineyards. Throw on some waders and delight in the freshness of Tassie’s oysters that the cold water brings or cuddle up with a warm blanket and a loved one as you taste your way around Australia’s most southerly wine region.

    Weather and Environment

    South Australia | Photo Credit: South Australia Tourism Commission

    South Australia | Photo Credit: South Australia Tourism Commission

    While chilly temperatures are common in Australia March through June, that is not the case for the entire country. Comfortable temperatures in places like Queensland and the Northern Territory mean that nothing is off the table in terms of excursions. An Australian fall night spent stargazing in Northern Territory’s Red Centre is an awe-inspiring experience. The sky is pitch black and without light pollution. The stars are bright and infinite and seemingly belong to just you and a handful of others. It will change your perception of the night sky. Autumn in Queensland provides experiences that are similarly extraordinary. Whale watching season is in full swing and the waters over the Great Barrier Reef are clearer. Stay at Lizard Island, the secluded and northern most luxury lodge on the Great Barrier Reef. The lodge provides the perfect launch point to explore this natural wonder.

    Events

    Vivid Sydney | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    Vivid Sydney | Photo Credit: Destination New South Wales

    From March to June, Australia is brimming with seasonal events that offer engaging experiences to travelers and locals alike. Adventure into Sydney during the annual light festival, Vivid Sydney. The entire city is lit up during this  celebration of “Light, Music and Ideas.” Art exhibits and three dimensional projections turn many of Sydney’s iconic sights into a citywide, light-art gallery. Meanwhile, in Victoria autumn brings the opportunity to see the top of the Aurora Australis, the indelible natural wonder better known as the Southern Lights. And, in South Australia it’s wine harvest season. Seppeltsfield offers visitors an opportunity to taste wine from their birth years and at McLaren Vale you can create your very own wine blend!

    While not the most popular time to travel to Australia, March through June may very well be the best time. It’s more affordable, less crowded, alive with the splendor of fall and full of events that are uniquely Australian. See it for yourself!

    October 9, 2019 • Australia, Travels • Views: 371

  • The Jackalope in Mornington Peninsula

    We traveled to the Jackalope in the rolling hills of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria to see if the hotel lived up to its mythical namesake. We were not disappointed.
    Jackalope Vineyard | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Jackalope Vineyard | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Jackalope Hotel

    Appropriately, a large sculpture of the part-hare, part-deer mythical creature greeted my wife Linda and I when we arrived at the Jackalope Hotel. The property, set amid a lush vineyard and green hills, is where such a creature would thrive. The views from the pool and bar are breathtaking. Linda and I lingered there, enjoying bar service and watching the sunset. We headed back to our room where the views were just as remarkable. Be sure to book one of the rooms overlooking the vineyard or consider one their larger “Lair” suites.

    Rare Hare | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Rare Hare | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    There are are two outstanding restaurants to choose from; the Doot, Doot, Doot and the Rare Hare. The Doot, Doot, Doot, which means a herd of Jackalopes, offers a 5 course tasting menu featuring local produce and wines. The Rare Hare provides casual fare in a relaxed atmosphere. We chose Doot, Doot, Doot for our first night and sipped on some cocktails at the elaborately decked out bar.
    Mornington Peninsula | Photo Credit: Visit Victoria

    Mornington Peninsula | Photo Credit: Visit Victoria

    Mornington Peninsula

    The next morning, we left with our guide from Melbourne Private Tours to enjoy a Foodies Journey through the Mornington Peninsula. Starting at the Green Olive, we met with the chef/owners Greg and Sue. They walked us around the property as we picked the ingredients for our lunch. And then it was back to the kitchen to find a bottle of wine from local labels the Old Apple Shed and Ten Minutes by Tractor. We rolled out dough and made some fantastic pizzas that were absolutely delicious. After, we hit the road for two more wine tastings and some dramatic views of Port Phillip Bay.

    We concluded our stay at the Jackalope with a meal at the Rare Hare the following night. Large communal benches comprise the seating at the Rare Hare which makes conversation easy. We enjoyed our small, casual dishes and chatted with some new acquaintances. In the end, we were sad to bid farewell to our friendly Jackalope before we headed into town.

    Jackalope | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Jackalope | Photo Credit: Jackalope

    Want to experience the Jackalope for yourself? Check out these itineraries featuring the hotel.

    October 3, 2019 • Australia, Ian Swain Sr, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 543

  • The Splendor of Victoria Falls

    When is the best time to visit Victoria Falls? Is it better to view the falls on the Zambia or Zimbabwe side?

    Victoria Falls | Photo Credit: Tourism Zambia

    Victoria Falls | Photo Credit: Tourism Zambia

    Victoria Falls

    As a consultant, these are two questions I am always asked. The first one is an easy answer. The best time to view Victoria Falls is February to May. This is when you can witness the largest waterfall in the world at its fullest. My answer to the second question was the Zambia side as I was born in Livingstone, Zambia. However, that answer changed after my trip to Zimbabwe in May 2019. Let me tell you why.

    Elephants | Photo Credit: Smruti Smith

    Elephants | Photo Credit: Smruti Smith

    Herds of elephants greeted us along the banks, there was the familiar smell of the mighty Zambezi River in the air, and in the distance, we saw the spray of Victoria Falls.

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    Victoria Falls River Lodge

    Victoria Falls River Lodge is set on the banks of the Zambezi River within the Zambezi National Park (Zimbabwe).  After we arrived, staff greeted us and whisked us into the main area. A refreshing welcome drink waited for us, along with cool, lavender scented towels. After, a brief orientation of the property followed and then we were treated to an amazing lunch.

    We were fortunate to stay one night in the Luxury Tented Suites and one night in the Island Treehouse Suites. The thatched, Beautiful Luxury Tented suites have air conditioning and a private deck. Your personal plunge pool looks out to the Zambezi River. In the mornings, you can sit on the your private deck, sipping on tea and watching the sun rise. You can hear the river and the roaming wildlife as well. Also, included in your stay are all meals and local beverages.

    Leopard | Photo Credit: Smruti Smith

    Leopard | Photo Credit: Smruti Smith

    Lodge Activities

    We took advantage of the spa on our first afternoon. I have been to many spas in the USA, but the massage by these young ladies was by far the best that I have ever had. The gorgeous scenery and complete realxation probably had something to do with it. I highly recommend getting a spa treatment during your stay. And, the activities included during your stay at Victoria Falls River Lodge are fantastic. You cannot go wrong with either the Tour of Victoria Falls or Bird Watching. There are also two additional game activities – a choice of either a morning or afternoon game drive in the Zambezi National Park, and a sunrise or sunset river cruise.

    We spent our last night at the Island Treehouse suites and it was special. The lodge lies in a secluded area along the banks of the Zambezi River. There are four exclusive Treehouse Suites and two double story tree house suites with a private deck and plunge pool nestled among the treetops on a private island. The island has its own dining-area so guests have personalized service along with fine dining.  The lodge manager Peter and his staff work around the clock to ensure your stay is relaxing, enjoyable, and unforgettable. If you have an opportunity to sit down with Peter for a drink, you absolutely should. He has lots of interesting stories.

    Zambezi River Cruise | Photo Credit: Smruti Smith

    Zambezi River Cruise | Photo Credit: Smruti Smith

    Zambezi River Cruise

    As the saying goes, “there is no sunset like an African sunset.” Our sunset cruise on the Zambezi River was proof. We enjoyed the sights of other sunset boats, sipped on a gin and tonic at sundown, and got that chilling feeling you get after you see 10 Hippos frolicking in the river close to your boat.

    Conclusion

    Zimbabwe casts a spell on you. With its ample wildlife, stunning lodges, and gorgeous river sunsets, the country draws you in, making it impossible to not feel affected by what you’ve seen. From February to May, the epicenter of this magic is Victoria Falls. Having seen the falls from Zambia my whole life, I did not think it could look any more powerful and awe-inspiring. But then I saw it from Zimbabwe. At full roar, I knew that I was witnessing a natural wonder that was unmatched. Just like the rest of Zimbabwe.

    October 1, 2019 • Africa, Smruti Smith, Travels • Views: 679

  • Japan: A Journey Through Time

    Past and present mingle in Japan, producing a culture that is vibrant and eclectic.

    Bullet Train Through Japan

    In Japan, I found that there is no better representation of the country than the bullet train. Clean, orderly, and prompt—the bullet train is a marvel. The three-and-half-hour journey from Tokyo to Fukuyama was smooth as silk. Before entering or exiting the train car, an attendant would bow, a sign of respect and thanks for joining them on this journey. Needless to say, that my first impression of the country was one of humble respect. Tattoos are covered and shoes are removed before entering rooms. It is a country that prizes its culture and history-both of which I was able to experience firsthand.

    Guntu Cruise

    What the bullet trains are to contemporary Japanese culture, the Guntu Cruise is to the country’s storied past. Guntu is named after the blue crabs that inhabit the waters around the Seto Inland Sea. This luxury floating Ryokan houses 16 beautiful cabins. All meals were included as well as a seating at the sushi bar which itself was a two-hour raw fish journey. And the view through the window behind the bar displays the gorgeous natural setting of the Inland Sea. Clad in a kimono, I also participated in a traditional tea ceremony before returning to my room—a Terrace Suite complete with my own personal balcony. The next day I took an excursion into the town of Miyajima with its shrine and Torii Gate.

    The cruise concluded the next day and I was back on a bullet train aimed toward Tokyo. It was clear that while Guntu and the bullet train were from different eras, they were both imbued with tradition that came from the Japanese people themselves. Tradition is glue that binds culture and history together to form the rich collage that is a country. In Japan that collage is humble, respectful, and majestic.
    Cory on the Guntu | Photo Credit: Cory Payton

    Cory on the Guntu | Photo Credit: Cory Payton

    Want to experience Japan for yourself? Check out our Japan itineraries!

    July 3, 2019 • Asia, Cory Payton, Cruises, Travels • Views: 551

  • A Travel Insider’s Tasmania Adventure

    Where does someone who has been everywhere want to go? That is a question that Damian McCabe, founder and CEO of McCabe World Travel, faced when attempting to craft a personal trip for her family. In a life that has seen her travel to all seven continents and experience far flung corners of the globe, Damian settled on Tasmania. She articulates her reasons below.

    What drew you to Tasmania as a destination to visit?

    “Tasmania has always been on my bucket list. It seems so remote and I’d seen pictures of the windswept beauty of the island. Plus I really wanted to see those Tasmanian Devils!”

    What were your initial expectations of Tasmania, without having been there before?

    “Tasmania was really much as I expected, except perhaps for the city of Hobart. It was much smaller and more quaint than I expected. Great museums! I think the roads were much less busy than I thought they would be. We rented a car on the island and self-drive was quite easy.”

    What what was your favorite place you visited in Tasmania?

    “Saffire Freycinet, a luxury lodge in the Freycinet National Park was by far my most favorite place. Gorgeous views, beautiful accommodations and wonderful food. The only thing wrong with it is that it’s only 20 rooms!”

    What would you think travelers would find most surprising about Tasmania?

    “Travelers like to be surprised and delighted, and Tasmania really delivers. From beautiful hikes overlooking Wineglass Bay, home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, to superb oysters, to finding an extraordinary Aboriginal Art Gallery in the capital town of Hobart, there are so many things to do and learn about that would be new to most travelers. Tasmania has a long seafaring history, too, for museum buffs. All in all, Tassie is a great addition to any trip down under.”

    What activity did you do that should be on everyone’s bucket list?

    “A visit to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, just outside Hobart, should be on everyone’s bucket list when visiting Tassie. It is home to all the Australian species who might need special care – the ones we’ve heard of like kangaroos, wallabys and koalas, but they also care for Tasmanian Devils and lots of indigenous species most North Americans have never heard of like wombats, eastern quolls, sugar gliders and echidna!”

    What was your most memorable moment from your trip?

    “Our most memorable moment was holding a 10 week old wombat at Bonorong. I’m a huge animal lover and this little baby was darling.”

    What was something special Swain Destinations provided to you, before, during or after your trip?

    “I loved everything Swain Destinations did for my daughter and me in Tasmania; it was a great trip, but I think arranging for a private night tour at Bonorong was the highlight. So many Aussie animals are nocturnal, and to have the place all to ourselves was magic!”

    What was your favorite aspect about staying at Saffire?

    “Saffire offered amazing activities.  Loved the oyster farming morning. We put on waders at the oyster farm and walked out to see the nursery beds in the shallows. Then of course we foraged for our own full-grown oysters and enjoyed them with champagne right there in the water.”

    Damian McCabe - Why Tasmania?

    June 20, 2019 • Australia, Destinations, Interviews, Travels • Views: 983

  • Singapore: The Lion City

    Singapore offers night life, innovative cuisine, impeccable cleanliness and iconic Marina Bay Sands. I quickly realized there was so much more this country had to offer with hidden secrets nestled throughout.

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    Singapore Airlines

    I began my solo traveling experience by flying with one of the world’s most luxurious leading carriers, Singapore Airlines. All the flight attendants and cabin crew treated the passengers with grace, ease and white glove service. If this was to be my first introduction to this region, I was more than excited to have this long-haul flight set such a positive tone. Twenty-three hours and a connection later, I arrived. The cleanliness and the hospitable nature of the people were immediately evident.

    Touring the City

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    After settling in, I couldn’t wait to explore. The top of the observation wheel known as the Singapore Flyer offers 360-degree views of the city. To enhance the experience, I was able to indulge in a delicious dinner from a private premium sky dining cart. On a one-hour trip around the Flyer, I was able to capture the breathtaking views. The Botanic Gardens were next on my list as these are the first and only tropical botanic gardens on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. I was able to weave around incredible floral displays, a forest environment and even healing gardens before I realized I had spent hours in awe of the beauty.

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    Singapore Sling

    Of course, no stop would be complete without indulging in a Singapore Sling drink! This beautiful pink gin-mixed beverage is famous all throughout the city and comes highly recommended. The drink is yet another way that Singapore distinguishes itself from other countries with its eclectic culture and hospitable people.

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    April 22, 2019 • Asia, Jacqui McDonald, Travels • Views: 1244

  • The Ultimate Safari Guide

    Safari Gear | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Safari Gear | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Figuring out what to wear on safari may seem daunting. Many travelers assume that technical gear is required, but your favorite baseball cap, broken-in boots and comfy tees are perfectly sufficient. Absolutely browse your closet before splurging on a new wardrobe. Though if you decide that you need some updates, invest in everyday basics that you’ll wear again.

    Layers are key. Most game drives start before the sun is up, so you’ll want a jacket and pants for the brisk mornings. By midday, you’ll be comfortable lounging around camp in a t-shirt and shorts. As dusk approaches, the temperature begins to drop again.

    Start off with a tank top or t-shirt, add a second layer such as a lightweight sweater or linen long sleeve shirt and top it off with a jacket or vest. Long pants are the best option. A scarf is handy to protect you from the wind and dust. It also adds an extra layer of warmth for those chilly mornings and evenings. Luxury camps even offer blankets and hot water bottles to keep you cozy.

    On Safari | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    On Safari | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    The Essentials

    Aim for minimalist, versatile pieces. Dark colors attract heat so it’s best to stick with neutrals. Plus, it makes it even easier to mix and match. Tan, cream, gray, pastel and green fabrics are best.

    Basics for Layering

    • Tank tops & t-shirts – lightweight, sweat-wicking fabrics are ideal
    • Long sleeve shirts – linen shirts, button downs, light sweaters, athletic quarter zip shirts, etc.
    • Jacket – you won’t want to take your eyes off the landscape, so you’ll want certain items to be within reach. A jacket with pockets for necessities such as lip balm, tissues and your cell phone is helpful
    • Vest – a vest that you can stow in your backpack is a great investment
    • Breathable pants – linen trousers, synthetic joggers, light sweatpants, convertible pants, etc. A little stretch in the fabric is always nice
    • Loose shorts – wear them while lounging at camp during the day
    Elephant Encounter | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Elephant Encounter | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Handy Accessories

    • Comfortable boots or sneakers – it’s nice to have your ankles covered if they’re susceptible to  bug bites, so boots or high-top sneakers are useful
    • Hat – bring a wide brim safari style hat or a fitted baseball cap. You’ll want a hat that’s tight enough that it won’t fly off your head during the game drives
    • Scarf – a pashmina scarf is perfect to wrap around your shoulders for added warmth and protection
    • Backpack – pack sunglasses, sunscreen, extra water, binoculars, camera gear, chargers, bug spray and wet wipes
    Swain Destinations Safari | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Swain Destinations Safari | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Ultimately, wear what you are most comfortable in!

    Luggage restrictions for smaller charter flights are typically around 33 pounds inclusive of hand luggage, but don’t be too concerned! The complimentary laundry service at most camps have a quick turnaround so you may rock the same outfits day after day.

    Visit the Swain Destinations Online Travel Store to find the items you may need for your upcoming adventure!

    April 4, 2019 • Africa, Kathryn Fischer, Travels • Views: 1546

  • Christmas in Vietnam and Cambodia

    Vietnam

    My boys and I arrived in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi after a long flight from JFK. After a restful night, we awoke early and walked to the Hoan Kiem Lake, which was but a stone’s throw away from our hotel. At the lake, morning music blared while both the young and the old practiced Tai Chi. We watched the graceful art at first before attempting it with mixed results for ourselves.

    Colorful Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Colorful Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The tranquil morning spent at the lake stood in stark contrast to the day spent in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. The Old Quarter has the charm and energy of a vibrant young city despite its vast number of traditional shop houses. It is also home to the Temple of Confucious — additionally known as the Temple of Literature — which was founded in the 11th century as the site of Vietnam’s first university. Next, we visited Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where we saw the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh. We then explored the Old Quarter by foot, discovering narrow alleys, with a stop at Street Food cafe and the famous Vietnamese coffee.

    Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hanoi to Hoi An

    From Hanoi to Danang, we flew Vietnam Air before transferring to Hoi An. Our hotel was located close to the Hoi An Ancient town and Hoi An market — a charming area with night markets, lanterns and great cafes. The next day, we took a Vietnamese cooking class which provided us with one of the more memorable experiences of our trip. During the class, we rode our bicycles to the market to pick up all the ingredients and then we visited the vegetable fields where we soaked in the flavor of the local farm life before cooking a delicious meal. We spent the next few days exploring Hoi An, gorging on local food and taking in the striking views that looked out over the sea.

    Hoi An Market | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hoi An Market | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hoi An Lanterns | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hoi An Lanterns | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Ho Chi Minh City

    We flew from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City — still known as Saigon to many. Upon arrival, we were struck by the energy of the city. Our guide told us that there are more than eight million motorcycles in the city of twelve million people! The constant buzz of the engines seemed to be an appropriate soundtrack for a city as fast-paced and dynamic as Ho Chi Minh City.

    Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The next day, we drove to the outskirts of the city to Ben Tre. We rode bikes on small roads, immersing fully in the local culture of the Mekong Delta and the rustic countryside. We passed secluded areas of lush orchards, green rice paddy fields and coconut trees. Lunch was delightful at a traditional Mekong restaurant, and afterward we stopped for “Keo dua” (coconut candy).

    Cambodia

    Siem Reap — the cultural capital of Cambodia — was the last stop on our trip. Our hotel was centrally located, allowing us an easy walk to the market, cafes and souvenir shops. We participated in a quad bike excursion that took us through the countryside backroads of Siem Reap, weaving along rice paddy fields and beautiful scenery.

    Siem Reap Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Siem Reap Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Bela & her sons | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Bela & her sons | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The next day, we rose early to see the magnificent Angkor Wat at sunrise. It took almost 37 years to build this Hindu temple which later became the center of worship for Buddhism. It was stunning at sunrise to see the play of light on the stones.

    Angkor Wat | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Angkor Wat | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    We capped our trip by walking through Siem Reap’s local market and enjoying the local food and culture. It was a perfect trip for my boys and I for Christmas.

    March 20, 2019 • Asia, Bela Banker, Travels • Views: 2054

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