Kevin gets a little Seoul – To Seoul and Hong Kong with Asiana, and Thai in F and C (and a Lufty segment in Y).
(BHX-FRA, FRA-ICN, ICN-HKG, HKG-ICN-LHR)
Or “Burn Baby Burn… Miles Inferno!”
For previous trip reports, click here!
To quote Monty Python, “And now time for something completely different”. Regular GhettoIFE.com and Flyertalk Trip report readers often know of my exploits in the back of a plane in row 99Z on a United 7×7 with an iPhone mounted in a sick bag to provide entertainment to all. However – this report changes the picture completely.
Because I get round to using up the stash of BMI miles I’ve accumulated.
And to match the change, there’s going to be a major change in travel class – (proper) First Class for one leg and Business Class for the rest. Will it spoil me forever, or will I still be content to sit in Row 99Z on a clapped out United 777? Keep on reading and find out…
Will I still set up a GhettoIFE system though? That’s for me to know and for you to find out – alas, it involves reading …
Oh BMI. What has happened to thee? (Yes, It’s the introduction with more rambling than normal)
BMI (British Midland International – A Star Alliance Member). Oh what a state of an airline you’re in.
When the frequent flier programme becomes one of the major profit centres of an airline, it’s time to be concerned. When you cut your fleet back it’s time to really worry. When you’re cutting things so fine you’re turning into a skeleton of an airline – it’s time to cash out.
Even as this trip report is being written, the final chapters in Diamond Club’s life are being scribed, with the end transfer looming to Miles and More (which will mean a final mileage burning party before becoming part of Lufthansa).
And this is what this journey is about – the sad cashing out of BMI and Diamond Club (or making one hell of a dent in the remaining miles) whilst the travel for Gold still counts – for something.
In terms of destinations, I wanted to cleanly avoid the USA – least of all I’m in and out of there enough as it is , but most of all after the immigration experience last time has put me off the states for a bit. Australia whilst it would had been interesting was done last year (with thanks to BA). Therefore my mind turns East, and to the Far East.
China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam are few places I’ve wanted to visit (and indeed, I went in and out of Singapore last year for about 2 hours). So I looked at the ever confusing zones, and worked out that Seoul and Hong Kong were two interesting points that I have yet to spend any serious time in.
So with those destinations in mind, it was off to the ANA Award search engine. Whilst they’ve redesigned it, it’s still a confusion how they can code it so badly. Still, after a bit of pushing, results came through for Seoul. With a bit of fiddling, a bit of gold turned up against FRA-ICN – a First Class seat.
After further prodding, seats to Tokyo were not appearing (and revenue seats were overpriced for such a short segment), so I looked towards Hong Kong – and boom goes the dynamite. Lots of seats available in business class, including some interesting variations that the ANA engine gave up.
In the end, I plumped for a First Class seat from Frankfurt to Seoul (with Asiana), a Business class seat from Seoul to Hong Kong (with Thai as I fancied something a bit more different to the norm), and Business Class on the red-eye from Hong Kong to Seoul, and Seoul to London (as Air New Zealand had no seats spare).
So why no direct departure from the UK? Departing from Heathrow or another UK airport to make my connection directly would had imposed an insta-£100 gift to Her Majesties Revenue and Customs. That’s a gift I wanted to avoid, so I split the UK Departure to a 3rd party “Friendly” country that doesn’t want to rip a person off that much. I’d rather not pay that excess, and open myself up to the possibility of an F class flight to Seoul, so for the second time in a year, I’ve got a day in Frankfurt first before I travel.
Therefore FRA-ICN-HKG would be ticketed as one ticket (with Seoul being the stopover), the return leg was ticketed as HKG-ICN-LHR, and a positioning flight from BHX-FRA was obtained for the bargain price of £30.60 (another Lufthansa voucher disposing of the fare element – wonderful things they are).
Surprisingly, for a BMI redemption and some of the horror stories about, all flights were ticketed within the day of booking, which then lead to the annoying task of assigning seats. With Thai, it wasn’t possible to do on-line (which resulted in a phone call, a quick assignment and the phone being disconnected violently), and Asiana’s seat assignment engine (even though it was coded in Flash) would only work with Windows – and on 2/3rds of the segments were assignable – although a lovely Korean lady told me that the map was locked and wasn’t being unlocked for some time (with all the other seats confirmed as made on-line). Even the F Segment was laughable – 1 seat was assignable (thankfully a window seat – or else there would had been a major paddy on my part)
I’d thought I’d never say this.. but United.bomb seat assignment engine far is better than this
In regards to hotels, a happy coincidence occurred when I started looking at this trip in depth – and that was Accor was running a mad 50% off sale – cutting the costs of this trip dramatically. For Seoul I selected the Grand Ambassador Hotel (Which was a Sofitel and a Pullman, now an Associated Pullman – I think this hotel has an identity crisis if anything), at a grand total of £250 for 4 nights, (a reasonable £70 a night) and for Hong Kong, a couple of nights in the Novotel in Kowloon for £150 (again – about £75 a night). As much as I love Hyatt and Hilton, the prices just weren’t working out in the end to make them worth while.
Of course as a recently minted A-Club Gold (and a card issued thanks the little Belfast diversion I had), there might be some minor benefits (least of all, a late checkout in Hong Kong)- but then again, who ISN’T an A-Club Gold these days?
In addition, I’ve been using cash-back engines (Quidco for those remotely interested) where possible to try to minimise the costs. This has resulted in the best part of £80 coming back in post trip, making this trip extremely cheap. Which when you’re tight with money like me is a good thing.
In terms of payment of the trip, I decided to pay with “All miles” and not the normally good logic “cash and miles”. Why you’re wondering? As I’ve stated earlier, I have next to little to no confidence left in BMI at all (and considering the news that was made after I made this booking, my thoughts were well rewarded). Through the various disaster and the joy of the Indian Call Centre which is near enough downright near negligence some days it’s laughable, combined with BMI’s death spiral motivation. However, booking on my BMI Credit card has netted an unexpected pile of points. Which is nice.
So here’s the map once and the full breakdown –
Map (of course) www.gcmap.com
– BHX-FRA (LH, Y, in Pink),
– FRA-ICN (OZ F in Green),
– ICN-HKG (TG C in Blue – look for the outline),
– HKG-ICN-LHR (OZ, in Yellow),
with two new airlines for me (Asiana and Thai) and obviously – two new cities (Seoul and Hong Kong)
Well enough of the preamble, let’s get on with it!
The day before the main event…
08:20 on a Sunday Morning… what masochist gets up to assigned seats at this time of day? Ah. That would be me.
I’m sad – I love to be one of the first to OLIC if it’s near enough a requirement. And at 8:30 precisely, OLCI opened. A few clicks later, and my boarding pass and seats near the back of the plane assigned – Planes from BHX routinely end up being bussed at FRA – and therefore a seat at the back of the plane makes a tiny bit of sense for once.
At 8:35 once the pass was issued, I went back to sleep. It was Sunday after all..
Off to BHX
Monday rolls round, and of course, in the United Kingdom, it’s a Bank Holiday Monday I’ve chosen to depart on. So there’s a choice – pony up for a taxi, or catch the train and pony up for a taxi.
My luggage waiting. It’s light at the moment.. but it will get heavier..
With the cabbie wanting £20 for the privilege of driving to the airport, I went for the cheap option of a cab to the station, and jumped the 5:50 to London. Although the cabbie was in full crazy taxi mood (hitting the best part of 50mph down the local link road in a 30 zone…) . After being dropped off outside New Street I made my way to a machine and pressed some buttons with a ticket coming out at the end of it. Soon enough, a train arrived and it time to begin.
Virgin Pendolino Class 390 Birmingham New Street – Birmingham International
Price paid £2.30 single.
First train – amazingly on-time
For the first train of the day, it departed on schedule , and it arrived on scheduled. There was even enough time for the train manager to crimp all the tickets. Which is nice.
I’ve set myself a personal record – 3 times through this airport this year. I really don’t want to make it 4 unless I have to? Why? It’s the delusions this airport has about its importance, when it’s sandwiched from the south by Heathrow, and from the north by Manchester. That and the postage stamp they call a runway means reasonable long haul services are a dream out of this place.
Then it was the first check in of the day . After making sure on the OLCI machine that my part of the row was free still, I printed my boarding pass and checked the rucksack in – only to pay yet another visit to oversize luggage. Which brings me onto a beef – how come in the UK every time I have to check a rucksack, it has to go in the oversized check area?
Boarding pass in hand – Sequence 1
Still BHX security was quiet today unlike the last time I went through here and it was virtual war with 1 mile long queues.
Security was it’s usual self, with the scanners pulling my bag for the camera equipment. My film was scanned without question however – which is always nice considering some airports don’t get the point of manually scanning film. But it’s early, and I need a vodka and orange. Off to the lounge.
ServisAir Lounge, Birmingham Airport
Sigh. I’ll talk about this “lounge”. For United Red Carpet Club users imagine a small room. Got that image? Now add some alcoholic beverages… and an awful view. And it gets worse as they’ve “remodelled it”. How much worse can it get? See below.
I couldn’t believe they could make a lounge worse. Colour me completely wrong – they’ve done it with style. Apart from changing the size of it, it looks like someone tried to clear a space and dump a bar and lots of chairs with little organisation in the middle of of it. Anyhoo, I got bored quickly and made my exit – but not before a vodka and orange juice had made it to me and it was coming up to the filight.
With the drink down, I made my way over to the gate 55, where I saw the 737-500 of the day – and after a short while boarding commenced via the ground and airstairs.
My 737-500 of the morning.
LH4907 Birmingham International – Frankfurt Am Main International Airport
Lufthansa AG, Boeing 737-500, Seat 20A, Economy Class
477 Miles flown, 125 Miles and more Miles, £0.36 cash-back
I was welcomed aboard, and made my way to the back of the plane and got comfy. Whilst it’s not a long flight the seat pitch is adequate for a short hop like this. As we boarded after pushback time, I was fulling expecting to be late.
Soon enough the classic “Boarding Complete” was announced and we sat on the tarmac and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Eventually the captain came out of the front office and gave fluent announcements in German and English, explaining the slot control delay and we’d be on the on the ground for another 45 minutes. The captain with the crew then proceeded to perform a ground drinks service of water, orange juice and apple juice.
Eventually we were cleared and the crew presented their “safety tips” as we begun to trundle over to the runway for take off.
The climb out over Birmingham was quite long, but eventually we broke through the clouds and up into the clear sky. After the seat-belt sign had pinged, I needed to visit the small room. And those small rooms on those 737-500’s are indeed small.
Climb out over Birmingham
Inflight service begun quickly with a red Leicester cheese roll, a coke and a coffee. Again, not a lot – but appreciated.
Service was completed over the channel with a tidy up run or two and the crew went and hid for the remainder of the journey.
Over the Channel
Soon enough we came in over the Main, and as usual, Frankfurt was bumpy on approach. But the plane made it to the ground safely, and we had a quick taxi over to the A Gates, where a bus with two sets of airstairs was waiting for us.
landing video – a bit long!
On the bus at FRA
Overall: A nice short Eurohop that wasn’t overpriced and dread the thought – some Lufty miles in my Miles and More account. Dread the thought it’s the beginning of a collection there…
A Day in Frankfurt and the joy of SEN lounges.
Of course, this is Frankfurt. This can mean only it’s time for buses to Immigration. And this being Frankfurt of course, it’s a 10 minute bus ride to immigration, and then the absolute uselessness that is Frankfurt Immigration. Even for EU Nationals, queues were abound, and booths were being closed randomly. Eventually I cleared immigration and the first round of customs, and headed to the secure luggage area where the bag was waiting on the belt. It was then through the second set of customs and then over to the luggage holding company, where for a measly €4, I deposited my big rucksack so I could wander around Frankfurt without 15kg on my back.
After being defrocked of €9.35 (danke RMV – worse than King Boris’s system now) I took the S-Bahn to the Hbf, and then a tram to the Romer, to while away a few hours (least of all I didn’t need to be back at the airport until 3pm at the earliest and more importantly – German Haribo Gummibärchen quite frankly taste a heck of a lot more different than the ones you get at home, and I needed a few packs (Regular readers will know of my love of Oreos and how the ones in the UK don’t taste the same – same concept here kids.)
Sunny at the Rhomer
Thankfully, there is a Lidl off the Ziel that fits this bill nicely – it also fits the bill for lunch as well! Add to that a couple of Pretzels, behold – a simple lunch!
Eye of the Ziel
But will someone kindly explain: A Maggi Store?
However, the weather decided to play its part with it spitting and raining. And I honestly couldn’t be bothered to walk around Frankfurt in the rain. So I trundled back to the Haptbahnhoff, and found a Regional Express heading to the airport, and jumped it (yes, I could had jumped another grotty S-Bahn train, but they are getting very grotty the ones they use for the Airport link service).
At the Haptbahnoff – ICE pulling away
Soon enough, I was deposited at the Regiobahnhoff and went on my merry way to left luggage pickup where I paid my €4 and got the rucksack back,
Back to FRA
After repacking a mountain of Gummibärchen away and sorting things appropriately, I went upstairs to play “hunt the check in area”.
Call me old fashioned, but I love the old clapperboard style….
Eventually, I won, and saw the states of the queues. Even before the 3 hour point, Travel (Economy) class had filled out all the switchbacks, Business had a small queue and First had one person. But that person was cleared within a minute.
I presented my passport and was asked if I was happy with my seat. Now 2K whilst nice – is in the second row. So being cheeky, I asked if 1A/K was open.
And 1A was assigned to me (yes, I know it’s a small thing, but if I’m going to do this right, I might as well do it properly).
With the rucksack checked in (can you hear that BAA/BHX? No of course not), it was then off to the joy of security. And for the second time today, the bag as pulled aside for a full check, as well as a full pat down.
Grr. Eventually, the magical explosive wipe indicated I was clean, and I was allowed to proceed.
After that, it was clearing German customs, and into the terminal. Knowing that the FCL was out of bounds (thank you Lufthansa), I was relegated to the SEN Lounge near the B18 gates.
Lounge Stop: Lufthansa Senator Lounge
Bowls of noodles consumed 1
Turkey Wursts: a number
The longer I stayed there… the wurst it got.
Why did I put a number of vodkas? Simple. It’s one of the most boring places on the planet.
Noodles from the Asian Bar
Grey, navy, grey. Very. Yes. Finding power was a challenge too, and not a good one. And to cap it off – chargeable wifi.
Come on people – there are simple things, And with today’s business traveller and geek needing to be more connected than ever, this is completely unacceptable. Hell, even the crappy lounge at BHX had free WiFi.
So sorry Lufthansa – the only term I have for your lounges is “must try a lot harder” – if your outsourced lounges and even little BMI’s “The Great British Lounge” can do this – I can’t see why your can’t. Lacking in every way. Whilst better in the food department than a United Red Carpet Club, it is totally lacking in everything else. That and the kids in the lounge were not to my liking (including members of the buggy brigade).
Or in short – they suck. Not a good start for a “Premium” experience (although with LH denying other airlines to the FCL, it’s making the best of a bad situation I suppose…).
Eventually I got bored enough to get my backside moving, and went to the gate where there was a FTL Lounge but to be honest, with 5 minutes to go, I wasn’t exactly hell bent to switch to another lounge. 30 minutes on the dot boarding commenced, I and was beeped aboard. And besides, it gave time to do one of my favourite activities – people watch. However, 5 minutes passed, and boarding commenced. I lined, and headed through, and then had my pass scanned and headed down the jetbridge labelled “First and Business Class”
OZ541 Frankfurt Am Main International – Seoul Inchon International Airport
Asiana Airlines, Boeing 777-200, Seat 1A, First Class
5323 Miles flown, 82,500 Miles Spent, 424 BMI destination miles earned
I was warmly greeted aboard and escorted to my seat (or my half of First class as it turned out in the end with 2 people in total in F – one of which was the reserve pilot)
A welcome drink was offered (non alcoholic) , and the full battle kit of pyjamas slippers, amenity kit, the works were offered in very polite tones.
It’s amazing how much space that fills…
In addition (which will please a certain lucky9876coins) they also had… Hot Nuts! Premium loading was completed quickly, and refills on a nuts were offered. I had no language issues with the crew as well.
Just for lucky9876coins
Soon enough everything was collected in preparation for take off.
My Jetbridge detached – I believe the Travel class was still loading
Of course, the crew bowed in greeting politely, and with my smiling I had the assistant purser in giggles. The load meanwhile was 2/8 – so it was going to be individualised service – with the other being a the reserve pilot– so, by some strange means, I was the revenue passenger .
The safety video. Whilst nothing special, it was… a bit quiet in F. However, the two “Beautiful Manners” videos were amusing enough . Eventually we lined up, and we were off into Europe and beyond.
I don’t think for the first 6 hours of flight the seatbelt sign was off. Sadly with turbulence over central Europe being a pain, it wasn’t the smoothest of flights with announcements to return to seats often for the first period before meal service.
Regular BMI forum members might notice newish trousers – alas thanks to a seriously messed up foot things are actually worse than normal. Lets say my next trip to the USA will be to stock up on Advil mainly.
The evening sky
Drinks were offered. And this being First class what do you think I had?
Bubbles of course!
But now onto the highlight of any F Class experience – the food. I was given the menu (Which I had to photo before it was taken back after a while).
The laid table
and to the main event at last….
By the time I finished my BiBimBap – that was it. Asiana defeated me on the food front, so I settled for a black coffee.
I have to admit the catering, presentation and thought was excellent, I thought the service was well paced and even the little mistakes were covered. Now if only I had grabbed a pair of steel chopsticks….
At this point I tried to make the seat got into the bed mode, and it wasn’t playing ball. But with the space I had – it wasn’t an issue (considering how messed up my back is by sleeping on the sofa at home) – So I curled up in to a ball and drifted away to the Brit Awards, before waking up and switching to Oasis.. and drifting off again. In the end I counted the best part of 4 hours in the air asleep. Pretty good by my going in a plane.
Eventually Oasis finished and I woke up. I was offered more drinks – but was fine as there was a bottle of water kindly placed by my console. Even during the dead part of the flight I counted the flight attendants going through the cabin every 20 minutes or so making sure things were ok in her cabin.
Headphones – reasonable, but not noise cancelling
Which brings me onto their IFE. Whilst the content range is reasonable, there is room for improvement. And no, before you ask, I didn’t rig the iPhone up as a GIFE device – I decided to think lateral instead.
To Boldly Go… – bear in mind in the back of the can I hardly have room to type – let alone watch….
Meanwhile, the F cabin, was empty.
For one passenger only.
So what’s in the toilets – yes I know I don’t do toilet photoing, because some of it is down right creepy.. But in the name of science I’ll find out (GLaDOS would note it is a huge success)
Apart from having room to swing a cat in (which was impossible to do on that grotty 737-500 this morning) the amenities are well stocked with Evian special face demister things, L’Octaine stuff – again – all premium stuff with Toothbrushes, little towels, combs – all the things you used to see many moons ago, but have been dispensed with – or just offered badly with other airlines.
Soon enough, it was time for more food, with a breakfast service.
Table laid again
Fruit to start
And alas, like all good things, the flight had to come to an end. I was presented with a gift from Asiana – a lovely smelling candle.
Slowly, we made our way through the cloud and into the haze that was Inchon, before finally landing and docking at the gate.
I thanked the crew for their excellent service, and was first off the plane.
Summary. Consider my seriously at completely WOW’d. Whilst there were some niggles in the experience (mainly seat 1A alas) – considering I had the entire half of a cabin to myself it wasn’t an issue – I suspect there might had been if things weren’t behaving. The crew were charming throughout, helpful and kind. I know these things are expected, but remember, I’m Mr Row 99Z who is used to United’s “best”. Whilst some may say SQ has the best all round product, or United first is the bees knee’s – I urge you to try Asiana.
Whilst some of their product needs minor refinement – It’s an excellent product that deserves investigation on the few routes that have F.
At ICN – Immigration and the joy of Limousine Buses.
In a way I was not looking forward to immigration – perhaps too many experiences with America’s finest Customs and Border Patrol has soured the thought. But in the case of Inchon Airport, it was a case of take passport, read immigration card, stamp passport and on my way. A quick walk to the baggage belt and my bag was waiting for me, and it was through customs, and out
Grand total from gate to exit 10 minutes FLAT for a foreigner. I challenge Chicago or Washington Dulles to beat that.
However the next point of fun was to find the Limousine bus desk – after abusing the free WiFi (again – are you listening Heathrow/Frankfurt/Other annoying airports? Of course not…) After reading the list of buses and being confused, I remembered this hotel was also known as the Sofitel – which the staff knew. Thankfully a bus was due within 5 minutes, and I stepped into the heat and humidity of Korea.
The Numbered Tower blocks – they confuse me..
The limousine bus was a “Luxury” one (and at 15,000 won it had better be!) in a 2 – 1 seating format, and Korea Air’s in flight magazine in the pocket.
60 minutes later the bus had gone through the heart of Seoul, around Namsan Mountain and finally to the last stop of the bus – the Grand Ambassador.
Hotel: The Grand Ambassador Hotel (associated Pullman, Ex Sofitel)
Price paid £250.10, Cash-back, £40.01, Net £210.09, 503 base points, 377 bonus points earned.
With my luggage taken from me, I checked in and was upgraded to a deluxe room on the 14th floor, with a lovely view of the Seoul Tower. After arriving, my luggage arrived and I was given a tour of my room and the features and how much extras things costed (such as the minibar).
So lets examine the room. It’s reasonably large for a hotel room, with a lovely bed, a big screen, and one hell of a view of the Seoul Tower. These are good things. Even better is the discovery of a Nespresso machine (my first time with one of these wonderthings). The staff were constantly friendly and helpful, pointing out things and ideas.
Minibar area with Nespresso Machine….
And of course…
A scary toilet
The hotel itself is on the Tour bus route, and also a stones throw away from Line 3 of the Seoul Metro – which is very helpful when you’re a cheap person like me.
Overall: A lovely hotel – and worth the discounted price I paid. The upgrade to the Deluxe room was appreciated and given without asking. In a way I was very glad I didn’t select the Hyatt as it would had required lots of trips on buses or taxis and the such.
Special Extra trip report – Pamajonom.
Now, normally I don’t write about places I go (I let the Photoblog do a lot of the talking), but for once I will. And it’s one of the places of the world that has always had my mind open. I am of course, talking about the DMZ and the JSA. As I was growing up, I visited Berlin, and have more than a passing interest in this sort of history (oh, dearest father, if you’re reading, wave to the crowd… thank you…) , so I thought this would be an interesting thing to do, to see the places people talk, and learn a bit of the conflict that you can only do by actually going their to visit the place.
So in the tradition of a certain airline I am granting an One Time Exception and I’m going to do TR this bit. And no you can’t have any discount vouchers.
After marvelling at the that are T-Money mini charms and the multi operator air conditioned wonder that is the Seoul Subway, I was dumped outside the Lotte Hotel (which quite frankly the Lotte Group makes Tesco in the UK look like a small time player). After checking in and presenting my passport (the first time of three today) I wasted ½ an hour walking around the Lotte hotel before being reporting back, and like a school group being taken downstairs to the bus.
Everyone had been assigned a seat number and from the looks of it, the bus was going to be full today. I was assigned the right side of the bus – a blessing I found out later.
However, the tour was split into two groups – a Japanese group, and an “English” group. Alas, it seems the Japanese group had the lions share of the commentary. After a bit of background, we were taken to a monument park where we were shown the monuments to some who were lost, and the lost journalists.
After that it was lunchtime, so it was off to a village for Beef Steamboat
few pictures of the village before we head off to Imjingak park where we met our first bridge of the day – the Freedom Bridge
Entering the DMZ
At this point, pictures are limited due to the rules and regulations – so a lot less coverage than normal. That and the guards were looking mean. So I wasn’t even going to attempt sneak photography with the cameraphone.
After driving in to the DMZ, and taking the second bridge of the day – the “Cow” bridge, the coach was taken into Camp Bonifas, where we were given a history talk of why the DMZ exists and where the border is, with the fortifications and the JSA area. After changing buses we were taken to the Peace Pavilion and then into the border area where the North Korean Guards had their binoculars out keeping an eye on us pesky visitors.
Keeping an eye on the visitors….
From the South…
… and the North
And then lead into the conference rooms where I stepped into the North. Alas we only had few minutes or so here, with some tourists dominating the areas – not art all pleasant really – but the conference rooms are too small as they are.
It was then to the Freedom House Pavilion, where we could take pictures of the north and the Panmun-guk pavilion.
After that, it was back on the bus, and we drove past the security huts slowly, before heading onto the site of The Axe Murder Incident
And finally onto the 3rd bridge – The Bridge of no return where another photo stop was allowed.
We were taken back to Camp Bonfias, and to the gift shop.
This picture of course does not exist.
After spending another 30 minutes here, it was the long trek back into Seoul with the guide keeping her quiet for most of the remainder of the journey.
Soon enough we passed into Seoul, and into the traffic jam of the city – and finally to the Lotte Hotel where I made my way back to the hotel and crashed for the night – it had been a long day.
Overall – an Interesting trip and perspective given in the tour. Obviously, I’d like to try a North Korean tour, but with the travel restrictions that exist and the limitations on movement, I’m not too hot on the idea.
More Seoul coverage and pictures will be loading onto the Photoblog over the next few weeks – I don’t do Flickr and I restrict Picasa use due to some of the terms and conditions that are on the those sites. Besides the volume of photos is… embarrassing (150GB for the whole trip)
Part 6 – To Hong Kong with Thai. Or Where the F**K is my Passport???
6am arrives again, and it’s time for the check out. After signing off the bill, and buying another bus ticket, it was a very very very slow trundle around Seoul (for what seemed like most of the journey, until the bus passed the Best Western) when we hit the Freedom highway, and the road to Inchon Airport.
Eventually, the bus deposited me at the Departures level, and I made my way to the mess that was Zone J – the Thai check-in zone. The economy queue was long over a lot of switchbacks, and the Business queue wasn’t hot either, taking around 15 minutes to be seen to.
My bag was tagged and sent through (see Heathrow/Birmingham – it is possible) and boarding pass and lounge pass were issued to me. I then went through the politest security I’ve been through in ages, with not invasive checks of the bags, and the camera film scanned manually. After that to immigration where I was stamped out of the country. After wandering to the shuttle train, I was in the “non Korean” airline concourse, and I made my way to my lounge stop – The Asiana Lounge.
Lounge Stop – Asiana Airlines Lounge
Noodles consumed: Many.
I was welcomed into the lounge and directed to the business class side of it. The room was well appointed, with lots of seats, cinema style armchairs and a food area. Given that I didn’t have breakfast, I made a beeline for the food.
And for breakfast … well ….
Cup noodles and Nuts. It’s a breakfast OK?
And oddles of them….
Walking around the lounge there was some nicely lit areas (but no natural light) and of course, the piano in the centre
As boarding time approached, I made my exit and over to the gate where boarding had been slightly delayed by 15 minutes – with our 777-200 ready for another day of flying.
As 10:00am passed, the tensabarriers were removed, and I boarded.
TG629, Seoul Inchon International Airport – Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport
Thai Airways, Boeing 777-200, Seat 12A, Business Class
1284 Miles flown
Again, first aboard the business class area, and I was greeted in with a traditional Thai bow. The cabin slowly filled up, and a seatmate joined me. Not the end of the worlds considering how much space there was. It was even better when my seatmate move to the bank of seats next door
Pre-flight drinks were distributed along with menus as well as Hong Kong or Thailand landing cards – obviously I had the 2 part Hong Kong landing card..
Soon enough we were pushing back and the Thai safety video played. After a trundle around Inchon, it was up into the skies.
A Flyertalkers dream…
Soon enough the bubbles came around, and menu orders were taken.
Starter: Smoked Salmon
Duck, rice and packchoi – not bad at all.
And a blueberry cake square.
The crew was very talkative and the purser took an interest in my photography jokingly calling me a spy capturing all the little details of the flight.
The seat was a wedgie lieflat seat, but with a nice sense of recline, so it wasn’t too bad. Whilst fully flat would be more appreciated, it was more than enough space. Combined with two seats to myself, this was a nice way to spend 3 hours in the air.
As we begun decent, arrival drinks were given
Soon enough we broken through the cloud and Hong Kong was below us, with the plane heading towards Lantua Island.
Upon landing I was getting ready to disembark when I did a little check on my body. And found my passport had taken a walk. Various words were emitted from my mouth. After practicality disassembling my bag, I put the seat into the bed position – which perked the curiosity of the purser. After explaining, it was time to disassemble 4 C class seats (quite literally, with the flight crew pitching in).
20 minutes later the passport had been found underneath another seat diagonally to me. After thanking the crew profusely, I left the plane, and cleared Hong Kong Immigration and found my bag was just being lifted off the belt.
Overall: Thank you Thank you Thank you Thai! Whilst the short hop and regional food could only give an inch of what Thai had to offer, the help I received post flight was invaluable.
Hong Kong Airport Take 1.
After clearing customs, I parked up for a bit to download information where I needed to go next (the screen capture utility on the iPhone is essential some days).
It was then a case of buying a MTR visitors card, and off on the MTR to Hong Kong Station, then a hike over to Central Station before finally meeting with a service to Jordan.
on the way…
Boxes make the world go round…
After coming out to a blast of heat, I walked a few roads up to my hotel for the next two days, the Novotel Nathan Road, Kowloon
Hotel: Novotel Nathan Road, Kowloon (Accor Group)
Price Paid: £159.88, Cash-back £19.18, net £140.80, 367 base points earned, 275 bonus points earned.
I wandered upstairs to check in where my reservation was found. I was offered a box of tissues and managed to cool down a bit before wandering to my room at the end of the hallway (the joy of booking a cheap room).
Whilst a lot smaller than the Grand Ambassador, it was a reasonable size, with a drinks making area, and a nice powerful shower.
Bathroom with non scary toilet.
After buying some wired Internet and having cooled down sufficiently (that rucksack gets heavier with each stop I tell you), I wandered out and explored the hot city that is Hong Kong.
Overall: You pay your money, you takes your choice. Not a lot of money for a reasonable hotel. And the aircon could go to icicle levels. Well appointed, but the lack of WiFi is… disappointing.
Random Hong Kong Pictures
… and just for you GhettoIFE.com viewers – a trip on the Star Ferry.
However, 3 days is not a long time, so once again, I packed my trash up and checked out at 10:00, and dumped my luggage with the concierge and spent the daytime wandering around Hong Kong. As the evening came, I picked up my bag, and paid the HK$20 to get to Kowloon Station, and then checked in at the station at the same time (allowing me not to see the big rucksack until Heathrow). It was a case of then wandering downstairs where an airport Express had just arrived, and getting on board. A speedy journey, and I was dumped back at Hong Kong Airport.
Hong Kong Airport Take 2
After getting my HK$50 back from the MTR, I wandered back up to departures and passed through security (again with no objections raised for a film scan – anyone still listening in the USA? Of course not) and emigration, then the hunt for the lounge.
Classic fly by wire
On the way to the “official” lounge I ran into the Singapore SilverKirs lounge. Whilst someone was arguing with the poor door person why she should be allowed in, I handed her my BMI card and Boarding passed, and was waved into the lounge (I could had been a gentleman and guested her, but she was rather… annoying).
Lounge Stop: Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge
Bottles of champers consumed… Errm
The lounge itself is comparatively dark, but hey. It’s a lounge and it looks plush. Of course, as I hadn’t had some food for a bit, I made my way to the diner section
I made a beeline for the food area and after eating some of the wonderful snacks they had on offer, I found Hagan Daiz,.. and a freshly popped bottle of Champers.
Well, we can all guess what happened next
The Desert of Champions!
Soon enough, the SQ flight was closing and they were closing the lounge for the night, so I reluctantly left and made a walk to the contract lounge – the G16 DragonAir lounge.
Overall: A very nice lounge – compared with what’s next…
Lounge Stop: DragonAir G16 Shared Lounge
One word. Yuck. Ok – not as bad as some of the lounges, but a major comedown from the SQ lounge. The lounge itself is exposed to the main terminal in a mezzanine sort of position.
Put it like this: I won’t sully this report with pictures of it.
Soon enough, I got bored again, and I disappeared out of the lounge, and headed through what was now a very quiet Hong Kong Airport to Gate 22 for my next flight which was about to board.
Asania Flight OZ724 Hong Kong International Chek Lap Kok Airport Airport – Seoul Inchon International Airport
Asiana Airlines, Airbus A330-300, Seat 3A, Business Class
1284 Miles Flown, 55250 miles spent, 200 destination miles earned
I was welcome aboard, and made my home in 3A. Again, there was no one next to me for this short home to Seoul. Shortly after sitting down I was given a small amenity kit and slippers for the flight
Welcome – again!
The load again was light, with two C class seats to myself.
Again, the doors were secured, the safety demo and the beautiful manners tape played, and after a little trundling, it was off into the black (with all the lights on – I thought there was some odd rule about having lights down on takeoff?)
Once the crew were released, they sprung into life, with the dinner service.
Salad and butter
Prawns, Rice and Pakchoi.
Whilst service was delivered quickly, it didn’t feel too rushed. After the table was cleared down, the light went down in the cabin and I closd my eyes, only to wake up when the requests to put the seat back into the upright position was given.
Shortly after and just before 5am we touched the ground and landed at Inchon Airport, where the A330 docked and we were allowed off the plane.
Overall: A simple service for a red eye flight, and the bed was sleep-able too. But how sleep-able are the OZ wedgie beds? You’ll find out in a bit.
ICN: Take 2
Part of the reason why I wanted to arrive early was to take part in one of the transit tours. Alas, that means exiting into Korea again. So sad that another couple of cute stamps are put in my passport
As it was just 5:30 by the time I exited, I powered up the laptop and surfed for a bit – although the quality of the WiFi is… awful.
Soon enough the day broke, and I wandered over to the transit tour desk to find that everyone had booked the long tours, and no one was booking the short tours. By 8:30, I had gone back into security and wandered round the expanse of Seoul Airport, wandering past Lotte Duty Free Shop after Shilla Duty free stop, whilst stopping in the cultural area for … cultural gifts.
I can do cultural!
Eventually, I headed off to the Asiana Business Class lounge.
Asiana Business Class Lounge
This is a much larger complex than the Concourse A facility, but essentially – still the same – right down the fake library and piano.
Food was interesting…
Potato and Bacon – as I said – intresting
Other hot things
and of course…
I found a nice window position and just sat back, watching the world going by, charging the laptop and phone for the journey home.
As time wandered on, I finally saw my flight was cleared about to board, so I sad thank you and wandered to the gate, where a massive queue had built up for travel class, and a shorted queue had built up for economy.
The queue for the flight home
Eventually the tensa barriers were removed, and it was time for the final flight of this journey.
Flight OZ521 – Seoul Inchon International – London Heathrow International T1
Asiana Airlines, Boeing 777-200, Seat 3A, Business
5520 Miles Flown
Unusually for Inchon, only one airbridge was attached. However I made it to my seat to find a seatmate, and this time – a full cabin loading. Not the end of the world by any stretch.
Amenity kits, slippers and headphones where already in the seat pocket.
After settling for a few minutes, pre-departure drinks were served. What do you think I had?
However I was dog tired and started dozing, only waking up and finding we were still on the ground. Chinese airspace had put a flow control order in due to storms, delaying us by 30 minutes. Which was spent usefully snoozing some more.
However, we were eventually cleared for take off, with clear views of Inchon and the surrounding area
Once we had climbed to 37000ft (and again, a bit bouncy), food service begun, with Western food served first, the Korean. This pattern went through during all servings.
Scallops to start
A collection of glasses. One with bubbles, one non bubbles and one water. I’m not an alcoholic… honest…
Main – Ssambap.
Ssambap is leaves mixing instead of rice and soup broth mixing. Very nice and very filling.
Fruit plate to end, and some Korean sweets.
Pretty much after this, I was tired out from having so little sleep, so fearfully I lowered the blinds, popped the seat into the bed position, headphones on. How well did you sleep you may ask?
6 hours pretty much. Missing any midflight service. Whilst a wedgie seat – it did it’s job and provided me with a base for a very long snooze. I only woke up because the lights had come up for the arrivals service.
Seat in bed position.
So what do we have for arrivals food?
Caesar Salad – with a full table laid.
The oddest and nicest roll I’ve had in ages
Main – Duck in an orange sauce. Nicely cooked, not chewy and not overly fatty. A very nice meal size – especially when hot pepper sauce was added .
and a chocolate square for desert.
Towards the end of the flight, I sheepishly asked if they had any spare hot pepper sauce (least of all, it’s going to be the one thing I’m seriously going to miss in Korea). The flight attendant returned with 8 tubes of the stuff that is now sitting in the kitchen at home when I need a taste of holiday (I’m surprised Asiana doesn’t sell them in packs of 8 for $5 a pop like KAL does). In exchange, I filled out a comments card, giving my hearty recommendation of the crew who were onboard, and all the Asiana crews who I had flown with.
However, it seems two toilets in Business class isn’t enough towards the end of the flight with world and dog heading to them.
However, as we crossed the channel, the cabin was secured, and we entered a couple of stacks as we approached Heathrow airport, heading north of the Thames
Must be Heathrow if we’re in a stack…
Eventually, we completed our turns, and landed at Heathrow Airport, and docked at Europier at T1.
Overall: Again, an excellent flight. Service was a little slow due to the Western, then Korean food service pattern, but quality of the food was excellent. The crew again we friendly and well conversed – and great fun.
At the gate of a long journey.
Alas, all good things come to an end, and I thanked the crew profusely, and disembarked. After making my way through Immigration and Customs (with IRIS shut annoyingly) the bag was starting to make it’s first trundle around the luggage belt, which was picked up on my back and ready for the trip home.
Alas, the trip home was going to take a little longer as I had just missed the coach thanks to the delays, and the Tube workers had gone on strike. That meant Heathrow Express today as a Heathrow Connect had just pulled out.
Heathrow Express, Heathrow Central – London Paddington
Class 332, £18, As far front of the train as possible without stepping into the laughable First Class.
I boarded the train, and quite frankly for £18, felt horribly conned (at one point, Concorde was cheaper than travelling Heathrow Express). However, in 15 minutes, it did what it needed to do, which was drop me at Paddington, straight into the taxi queue from hell. 20 minutes later, I was in the taxi for the short hop to Marleybone (with the 26kg rucksack, I wasn’t in the mood to walk the short distance). However the driver did his best, and dropped me at the entrance of the station, where a ticket machine was free – and more importantly – a train to Birmingham was going in 5 minutes.
Chiltern Railways Class 168/2
London Marleybone to Birmingham Snow Hill
Super Off Peak Return – £19.50, Class 168 – Back of the train (easier for Snow Hill)
What’s there to say? Luckily it was a fast service, non stop to Bicester North, and then only a few stops to Birmingham Snow Hill.
And I say luckily, as I had a chatterbox next door to me who talked practically non stop to Leamington Spa and my headphones were buried in the bag somewhere. Wonderful to listen to someone yattering non stop for 1 1/2 hours….
Finally, around 14100 miles later and trip a taxi, I’m home from my adventure.
You’re darned right went and I spoilt myself. I’ve earned it after eating enough gruel in a non recline seat in row 99Z of a United 777.
Was it worth it? Without a shadow of a doubt. Lets evaluate and sum up.
Lufthansa – when slot control comes into play – there’s not much anyone can do. By getting the captain out and him actually talking to the passengers, it showed good communication skills. For a 1 and a ½ hour Eurohop, anything but a constant delivered service is all that can be asked for down the back – and that’s what I got. But for heavens sake – sort out those Senator lounges. They’re an embarrassment for an alleged world-class airline – especially at your home base!.
Frankfurt Airport – I can see why people detest the place. It’s to the point where I’ve moved Frankfurt from rank outsider of airports I hate to Number 2. (With ORD at the Top, knocking LHR T1 into 3rd place.
Asiana Airlines did one thing throughout: DELIVER. Even with the minor foibles, it’s a great product all round and when they roll out the new Quadra business seat – it’ll be an even better product. A lot of us think Skytrax is probably talking out of their backsides somedays. This time I don’t think they are with a constantly friendly service and great food. To be honest, I’d actually be interested to travel down the back of the bus to see if they can maintain their record there too. All their short haul and long haul products were excellent, delivered well and with a smile. What more can you ask for?
Thai Airways – Ok – I did this for variation, and what a variation – some subtle differences between the two products, but the regional business product seems very solid. The help with dissembling business class after was invaluable, and something I will not forget in a long time.
Seoul and Hong Kong Airports – pleasurable places compared to some of the hubs I go in and out of…
Will I be back to Seoul and Hong Kong? Alas, I don’t see it in the near future – but it’s refreshing to see other parts of the world – and there is so much more of it to explore still. However, whilst Hong Kong has a hustle and bustle, Seoul and Korea has an elegance and charm to it – one I would like to defiantly like to explore again sometime – and dread the thought – away from Seoul (and I wouldn’t say no to another trip up to Pamajonom).
More importantly, has this trip spoiled my enjoyment of other flying even if it’s in Row 99Z in the future? I somehow doubt it – I enjoy travelling to places way too much to care about little things like flat beds and champers. To me, part of a destination is the route taken to get there – and even with this trip, that holds very true.
Oh. And I need a Nespresso machine now. And I won’t need slippers in the flat for a good few years.
Right, that’s your lot for this trip as I’ve said FAR too much and posted too many pictures – as usual. There will another big burn to come as we approach the end of Diamond Club (see me in about… ooh… May for that?) – but however, October is beckoning, and that can only mean one place I’ve got to end up in, so “Come on baby lets fly tonight”…
… and all that jazz.
So come back in November when I’ve had had a chance to fly and write my next epic in another not entirely economy trip in a clapped out United aircraft in “Mixed Classes- Infinite Fun: The Autumn Run with United”
And I’ll leave the final word to Asiana…
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