• Kyoto Basics

    Throughout our trip to Japan, which included visits to Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, we found ourselves saying “if only we had another day here” as we left each city. This was most true of Kyoto; home to many famous historic landmarks in the country, it is a must-see destination when traveling to Japan.

    The Machiya

    We decided to forego staying in a hotel while in Kyoto and elected to stay at a machiya – a traditional Kyoto townhouse. We wanted to make sure we spent time in a traditional Japanese home. When entering the house, there is a small room where you remove your shoes before entering the main house. Once your shoes are off, you slide open the wooden door to reveal a simple, warm space. The walls are plain yet detailed, the floors are covered with tatami mats and the furniture is all designed for use while kneeling or sitting on the ground.

    Michiya Table | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Michiya Table | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The space was so inviting that we felt as if we had just walked into our home. While there were two normal beds in one room, the second bedroom was much more traditional with two futons available to complete the machiya experience. The bathroom had a regular shower only with a wooden soaking tub that allowed you to relax and look out into the small garden at the back of the property. Staying in the machiya felt as if it was integral to our experience in Kyoto. We quite enjoyed our time relaxing and taking in the experience of simply being in the house.

    Authentic Ramen

    We knew we wanted ramen for dinner the first night in Kyoto. One restaurant that offers a unique take on the dish is Menbakaichidai Ramen. Here, traditional Japanese ramen is served with one big twist: fire! Commonly referred to as “Fire Ramen,” this small restaurant serves up ramen that is literally set on fire right in front of you. The fire ignites when the chef pours a small amount of hot oil onto a healthy amount of green onion that is piled on top of the bowl. This ignites a flame that reaches several feet in the air and lasts for about a second.

    Fire Ramen | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Fire Ramen | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The process releases a unique flavor into the dish unlike any ramen you have ever had. Depending on which set you order, you can add sides of fried rice, gyoza and karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) to your meal. A spectacle that is every bit as entertaining as it is delicious, combined with extremely friendly staff, makes this a definite stop for any ramen fan.

    The Highlights of Kyoto

    At the recommendation of the staff at Fire Ramen, we made our way over to the nearby Nijo Castle. While this site is generally closed in the evening, in the fall season it is sometimes open to the public after dark. We not only got to explore the grounds but also took a walk through the palace which was beautifully lit.

    Nijo Castle | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Nijo Castle | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The next morning was Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of Kyoto’s most famous shrines, and rightfully so. The shrine is located at the base of Inari Mountain. Two and a half miles of trails take you up and down the mountain. The most unique aspect of Fushimi Inari is the seemingly endless number of torii gates that line the trails. Walking the trail and passing under these beautiful gates is an extremely relaxing experience. This journey can take anywhere from two to three hours to complete. Those who take the time to explore the trails will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Kyoto. Be sure to get there early in the morning to avoid large crowds!

    Fushimi Inari Tori Gates | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Fushimi Inari Tori Gates | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    We then made our way to Kiyomizu-dera, another beautiful Kyoto landmark. This Buddhist temple is located on a hillside near the edge of the city. Venture here for stunning traditional architecture, spectacular views of the surrounding areas and a rich historical experience.

    Arashiyama District

    Finally, we decided to make a trip to the Arashiyama District. Arashiyama offers visitors a great variety of historic temples and shrines, a plentiful amount of small shops and restaurants and of course, the famous Bamboo Grove. Much quieter than central Kyoto, this area feels like a small getaway within the city.

    Bamboo Grove | Photo Credit: Japan Tourism

    Bamboo Grove | Photo Credit: Japan Tourism

    Kyoto is an amazing city with a rich history that keeps anyone who visits captivated. While we did see quite a bit of Kyoto, we only scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. This, of course, just makes the build-up to the next trip to Japan that much more enticing.

    December 28, 2018 • Asia, Travels • Views: 619

  • My Birthday in Cambodia and Thailand

    First Stop: Cambodia

    Queen's Palace - Siem Reap

    Queen’s Palace – Siem Reap

    My family set off and flew to Cambodia! Upon arrival we connected to Siem Reap where we had arrived in time for my birthday. My plan was to have something special most days. The night of my birthday – we are staying at Amansara – they assisted in creating a memorable night. The night began with us hosting a giant shadow puppet show to the small children of a village close by. It was great to be surrounded by such happiness as this was the first time they had seen this show. Then we went to one of the ancient temples, where hundreds of candles lined the path to guide us through the maze to a dinner set up with rugs, great food and wine and a fortune teller. Looking at the stars in this 1000-year-old temple was magic.



    On to Thailand

    We then moved to Chiang Rai and the Four Seasons Tented Camp. Here, the general manager at the time, Jason, helped with a special dinner in the elephant camp. What a thrill to be there after dark with these massive animals! They had surprised me by releasing 51 Kongmings (sky lanterns) in my honor.  What a thrill to see these candles helping me celebrate for the next 50 years in the sky.

    A private cooking lesson at the Lanna Cooking School in Four Seasons Chiang Mai followed where we all enjoyed learning more about Thai Cooking.

    Food in Thailand

    Food in Thailand

    We finished our trip in Bangkok and took small boats along the canals. We visited the grand palace and temples, and dined amongst the stars at Sirocco.

    Thailand and Cambodia are such special places with wonderful resorts to stay in and enjoy the culture in luxury.

    Chiang Mai Temples

    Chiang Mai Temples

    November 19, 2018 • Asia, Ian Swain Sr, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 548

  • Amankila: A Balinese Paradise

    Over an hour away from the bustling parts of Bali, Amankila is a remote hideaway up a winding hill on the East Coast. This property is tucked within a lush mountainside overlooking the Lombok Strait. Amankila means “peaceful hill” and it truly exudes a sense of tranquility. It’s perfect for discerning travelers seeking an exclusive escape in paradise.

    Arriving at Amankila

    Bali, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Bali, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Upon arriving in the open-air lobby, guests are first greeted by smiling staff members and panoramic cliff side outlooks. Mesmerizing views continue as you are escorted past the iconic three-tiered infinity pool towards the standalone suites. A ginger and passion fruit frozen sorbet awaits on your terrace. Amankila makes your check-in a breeze, so you can quickly soak up the blissful setting.

    Balinese Offering | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Balinese Offering | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Concrete stilts support the elevated walkways which link the 34 suites to the main complex. Mango, coconut and frangipani trees line the paths, and their fragrances fill the air. All suites have authentic alang alang thatched roofs, spacious marble bathrooms, and coconut wood, rattan and bamboo décor. Tan and cream tones create a warm, sensual ambiance. Also, there are private decks with a daybed and dining table, ideal for relaxing and eating at any time day or night.

    Activities at Amankila

    Resort facilities include two restaurants and a bar, spa services, well-equipped beach club and an expansive pool area. Set above the pools, the primary alfresco dining venue offers Balinese and International cuisine. Executive Chef Shane Lewis highlights the regions bounties utilizing native Indonesian cooking methods. Afternoon tea, served by the library, features handmade Balinese cakes, “Kopi Bali” coffee and ginger and honey tea. You’ll also have the opportunity to chat with locals from the village and watch them create ornate offerings.

    Alfresco Dining | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Alfresco Dining | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Reserve a few hours to relax by the breathtaking three-tiered pool. Lounge chairs are plentiful, and the pool staff treat you like royalty. They’ll happily deliver whatever you desire – from magazines to freshly caught lobster. The staff anticipate your needs and provide you with what you want before you get the chance to voice it, like a refill on ice water and a cold towel slightly scented with jasmine. Stylish pool-side cabanas provide respite from the sun and are a comfortable way to soak up the heavenly atmosphere.

    View from Amankila | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    View from Amankila | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Signature experiences include visits to ancient palaces and lush gardens, cooking classes, village encounters, trekking and cycling adventures. You may also partake in romantic hilltop picnics and bonfire beach dinners. If you’re into snorkeling or scuba diving, charter the Aman XII – a 50-foot traditional outrigger equipped with a plush cushioned top deck. You can also cruise around Amuk Bay and enjoy a sumptuous champagne breakfast or light lunch after swimming beside an array of sea life.

    The Beach Club

    A steep five-minute walk or on-demand buggy ride transports you down to sea level to the Beach Club. A coconut grove fitted with hammocks, swings, fitness equipment and a soccer field await you. Wispy trees create ever-changing reflections in the 135-foot-long lap pool. On the other side of the pool lies an enchanting black sand beach. Made of volcanic minerals and lava from Mount Agung, the sand is surprisingly soft, and the specks of black and silver glisten in the sun. Take advantage of the waterfront activities, such as paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing and boogie boarding.

    The Beach Club

    The Beach Club | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    As with all Aman properties, you can expect attentive, unobtrusive service. Over three-fourths of the employees have been there since the resort’s inception over 25 years ago, and their genuine happiness radiates. Along with the welcoming staff, the sprawling and secluded grounds make it feel like a home away from home. Amankila will leave you inspired and rejuvenated and is an idyllic haven to end a Balinese vacation.

    October 18, 2018 • Asia, Kathryn Fischer, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 663

  • 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.


    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.



    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.



    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.


    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


    Ian 2












































    May 29, 2015 • Articles, Asia, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 8146

  • Why Travel to India?


    A few years ago, when I started planning travel journeys for Swain Destinations to my home country – India, I came across a local friend of mine-who wanted to challenge herself, to open her heart and travel to the unknown. She wanted to do something significant to mark a transition in her life. She craved for adventure, something that would make her feel alive! So the place to have that experience is India. Why India? One has to be ready for India, mentally, culturally, spiritually and romantically.

    It is like no other country.

    It is so colorful. You will get mesmerized by the vibrant display of flower garlands everywhere that are offered to the Hindu gods.  The saris and comfortable ‘salwar- khameez”  – Punjabi dress – tunic that they wear over baggy pants with a matching dupatta or a scarf draped around their neck are beautiful.

    India is slow travel. In order to immerse in its’ culture – you need to travel at a slower pace.  Everything takes time. You need to see and feel each place that you visit.

    The greatest thing about traveling in India, especially coming from the west – is that you will be constantly surprised by what you see every day.  Like a cow standing on a sandy beach. It may be strange sight for you for the first time, but it will soon become normal after you see a few of those unusual sights.

    The food is fresh and full of flavor. There is a wide variety for people who can stand the spice, and those who cannot.

    The sunsets in India are stunning. No two are alike. Be it in the city or at a beach, the colors of the sky merge from hues of orange, reds and maroons.

    I have visited the Taj Mahal three times, and every time I have been blown away.  The story of Taj is a touching love story. I have to pinch myself to really believe that something so beautiful exists in this world.

    India is a great place to shop. Colorful linen tops, carpets, brass items, gems and more.

    Mumbai’s film industry, Bollywood, is the world’s largest – bigger than Hollywood. These movies provide a fascinating insight into Indian pop culture.

    Harvard, Stanford and all the top business schools make it their business for all their students to spend time in India. It is one of the fastest growing economies and is making an impact globally.

    Some of the Palace hotels are magical! Like the Umaid Bhavan in Jodhpur and the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur.  Kerala’s backwater cruise is incredible.

    Ladakh in the Himalayas is perfect place to travel from June to October and from October to March the rest of India.

    A trip to India is life – changing, it is a trip good for your spirit and soul.

    Let me plan your trip to India!

    Happy Travels,


    February 13, 2015 • Articles, Asia, Bela Banker, Destinations, Travels • Views: 4705

  • A Foodie Adventure in Taiwan

    My week in Taiwan was a whirlwind adventure. From the incredible sights we saw to the luxurious accommodations, we packed a lot of action into our seven night trip. To give a little background, Taiwan is a small island nation located in the South China Sea. A warm climate, friendly people and an ever-growing economy fuel this country. From lush tea fields to rugged coastlines boasting turquoise waters, Taiwan is a country packed with diversity. The one thing however, that stood out thoroughly in mind is the incredible food that seems to take over the culture of Taiwan. Continue Reading

    February 3, 2015 • Articles, Asia, Danielle Dranoff • Views: 5520