Ian Swain II

  • My First Great Migration in Africa

    The Great Migration in Africa will give you goosebumps. Millions of animals moving clockwise, following the rain and the promise of food and water. The Great Migration is an ancient practice and to see it is to see the circle of life unfold right before your very eyes. In Kenya, that is precisely what I saw.

    The Great Migration Begins

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    I raised my camera when I saw them all begin to move toward the river. We had stood for hours in the back of open roofed truck observing the great herd, watching them wade through the oceans of Kenyan tallgrass. It was in those hours of anticipation of the Great Migration—and instinctual practice of these animals that was as old as time itself–that I developed a bond with the herd. And then the migration began. It happened all around us.

    Into the River

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The herd streamed past the vehicle and I felt wonder as I watched the primal practice play out before my very eyes. The wildebeest and zebra leapt into the river and water lapped across the banks in torrents. I trained my camera and snapped as many photos as I could. But my eye was drawn to something moving along the water’s edge on the other side of the river. Crocodiles were gathering, massive but quiet. Excitement faded to concern but they stayed still. This too was part of the Great Migration experience.

    The Circle of Life

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The Great Migration in Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    It was not until the tail end of the herd entered the river that the crocodiles slid into the murky water. The zebra and wildebeest at the rear—the weakest of the herd—struggled across the river. There was an eruption of muddy water and crocodile clamped its jaw shut on one of the herd and disappeared back below the water line with the animal struggling in its teeth. This was that great circle of life playing before me, one that was raw and without reservation. One that was undeniably brutal and beautiful at the same time. An experience entirely unique to Africa.

    The Great Migration is life at its most visceral and raw. This struggle for survival breeds violence and beauty that you can not only see but can feel. My first Great Migration was a humbling and life-affirming experience that allowed me to see something I will never forget. I look forward to my second migation soon.

    January 15, 2020 • Africa, Articles, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 2784

  • African Proposal: My Trip to Eastern Africa

    In Africa you can disconnect from the world at large and enjoy what is right in front of you. It is this quality of simply “being” that drew me to the continent. It is also why, on my most recent trip to the continent, that I decided to propose to my partner. Here is how my African proposal went.

    A Sobering Start to the African Proposal

    Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    The trip began with gorilla trekking in Rwanda at the gorgeous Volcanoes National Park. We hiked through a volcanic forest and then came upon a family of gorillas. I froze. First, the majestic creatures gazed at us and then, finally, they approached us. One of little ones actually reached out and touched me. It was a sobering experience. These creatures, facing the threat of extinction, are not that much different than us. Moreover, gorilla trekking is an activity that directly benefits the conservation of both the species and the natural habitat. And, to be able to share this life-affirming experience with my partner made it all the more special.

    The Great Migration

    Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    You never feel more alive than when you are reminded that life is always in question. In Kenya, the Great Migration is a testament to this question and to see it answered live gave me goosebumps. Every year, millions of zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle migrate across Tanzania and Kenya in search of food and water. The river crossings are treacherous, the water teeming with crocodiles and the banks patrolled by lions, and to see a crossing is to be reminded of the great circle of life. In the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, we sat transfixed by the sight. Loud, violent, intense, and transfixing to see, the experience served as a reminder that life is thrilling but unpredicable. A rollercoaster ride that we have little control over, I took solace in hoping that by the end of this African proposal trip that I would never again have to face it alone.

    The African Proposal

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    We ventured out to the bush to a small community of family homes. The families greeted us warmly and showed us the fences they tended to which kept out wildlife. After a nice dance off with some of the family members, our guide and driver took us on a “private tour.” This was part of the proposal that the guide and driver had helped me plan. I trusted them and they came through, picking out a gorgeous overlook that provided a perfect backdrop for the proposal. Champagne was set out on a table. All that remained was for me to take a knee and ask the question that had brought us to Africa. I asked and she said yes.

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    Kenya | Photo Credit: Ian Swain II

    My African proposal trip is one that I will never forget. While I was able to disconnect from the world at large, I was able to connect with my partner forever. For that, I will always be grateful to this continent where the next chapter of my life began.

    November 18, 2019 • Africa, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 1517

  • 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


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    May 29, 2015 • Articles, Asia, Destinations, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 9428

  • Uncovering Papua New Guinea – Part I

    Recently I embarked on an incredible life changing experience. Not too long ago I was fortunate enough to travel to one of the last unexplored corners of the Earth, Papua New Guinea. Before I set off on my journey I had only had second-hand knowledge of this fascinating country, however over the next week I would intimately get to know so much about this captivating land.

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    November 5, 2014 • Articles, Ian Swain II, Travels • Views: 5281

  • Saving Koalas with Janine Duffy from Echidna Walkabout

    I recently sat down with Janine Duffy from Echidna Walkabout in Victoria, Australia to chat about her unique research aimed at conserving Australia’s natural habit as well as saving Australia’s iconic koalas from extinction. After a full morning of bush exploration, and a cup of billy tea, we discussed the dangers wildlife faces as well as how easy it is to help the cause.

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    October 6, 2014 • Articles, Ian Swain II, Interviews • Views: 39894

  • Heaven at Whitehaven

    So there I was, strapped into a seaplane gearing up my camera as the engines began puttering to a start. Only minutes before we were all in the dark about what “surprise” our parents had planned for us.

    Now, It was just my family and I filling the charter as we all buckled up for the adventure. I was seated on the starboard side, right behind the co-pilots seat. Continue Reading

    September 12, 2013 • Australia, Ian Swain II • Views: 7134