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A Korean Odyssey: MEL-ICN RT w/ Side Trip to CJU (pics)

A Korean Odyssey: MEL-ICN RT w/ Side Trip to CJU (pics)

Old Oct 2, 08, 9:29 am
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Location: MEL, Australia
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A Korean Odyssey: MEL-ICN RT w/ Side Trip to CJU (pics)

Hi All,

Im an avid trip report reader and it gives me great pleasure to present my first TR, and FINALLY make my first post on FlyerTalk :-)

This TR is of a trip to Korea i undertook very recently to visit friends and satisfy my intrigue for this puzzling peninsula. My routing was MEL-SYD-HKG on a QF award redemption ticket, followed by HKG-ICN with Korean Air, booked through their website.

Im not the type to be excruciating with minute details, i havent written things such as the actual times of departure and arrival, as all flights were mostly on time, or the registration as i dont log any of my flights and in my mind, the registration has no bearing on my in flight experience.

Sector 1:
QF430 20Sep08 MEL-SYD
STD 1200 STA 1330

I hadn't flown the Qantas CitiFlyer product for many years now, always preferring Virgin Blue for Domestic travel (except to OOL, where JetStar seems to be the go). The last time i did, to SYD many years ago, a full hot meal was served on a lunchtime flight. Needless to say, times have now changed, and the inflght offering here was a delicious sandwich and a drink. It was perfectly adequate so no complaints here. A very full flight managed by a very adept and friendly crew.

Whilst in SYD we were lucky enough to spot the SQ A380 waiting for its departure to SIN:

Sector 2:
QF187 20Sep08 SYD-HKG
STD 1440 STA 2150

Once again, my experience with QF of late has been minimal, as internationally, TG/SQ/CX/MH have provided lower fares with better connections to where i wanted to go. In fact the last flight i had with QF International was BOM-SYD way back in September 2004. It was average to say the least.

The first thing that struck me on boarding was the ridiculous size of the PTVs:

Compared to any other carrier which has this facility, the size of the screen is terrible, and over the course of the flight it did begin to hurt my eyes.

Apart from really dragging out, the flight was ok. Meals were just adequate, but my gluttony competition with my travelling buddy was indulged by one partucularly attractive crew member who proactively offered us second and third meals. ;-) Oh, and she was real pretty too, did i mention that?
Cant really fault the crew here, they were enthusiastic and friendly- something which i had not expected.

There are minimal pics of this flight as i forgot to charge my camera. Fortunately, this was seen to at HKG.

Sector 3:
KE 608 21Sep08 HKG-ICN
STD 0020 STA 0425

Transit at HKG was a breeze even with our short-ish connection time. By this time i was dead tired and rather worn out from the boozing on SYD-HKG but i charged my camera and soldiered on- for the good of the TR!

Anyway the equipment on this flight was an old, old, old 747-400 and its age really showed. The seats were incredibly uncomfortable but by that stage i was too tired to care.

Interior from my seat:

I noticed that myself and my mate were one of about 4 non-koreans on the flight. It was indeed a new experience, and it certainly seemed like the english annoucements were for us only.

I slept uncomfortably for a little while before waking just in time for meal service, something id never miss. I chose the korean meal, hoping to warm to it before actually arriving there. Exactly one quizzical look from the FA later, i was handed a tray of Bibimap (sp?) complete, i was very impressed to see, with a step by step english guide of how to make and eat it. Now that IS a nice touch!

Upon arrival at ICN, i was blown away by the airport; it was modern, well laid out and had plentiful spotting opportunities. Of course, i felt pretty rotten, it was dark and foggy and every plane was from KE so no spotting actually took place, but it was nice to know the option was there. Customs and baggage claim was a breeze, and i loved the fact that i didnt have to submit my bags to a Quarantine search upon arrival as i do when i return home to Australia. Its odd but even after all the times ive travelled overseas, i still consider myself lucky when i can just pick my bags up and walk out of the international terminal. Its nice :-)

All up it was a very long day and night of travel, but it couldnt seriously be faulted in any way. Apologies for the lack of photos, the volume and qualit does get better as we progress through the trip.

Coming up next:
- A side trip to Jeju Island (CJU) using Jeju Air, an airline with a curious hatred of the english language
- The return trip to MEL, and all drama associated with transit through SYD (YAY!)
- A pleasant suprise at SYD

Thanks for reading, hope you'll join me again for the remainer of this TR.

Last edited by afterDawn; Oct 8, 08 at 12:05 am Reason: fixing up formatting
afterDawn is offline  
Old Oct 4, 08, 6:45 pm
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looking forward to the Jeju report!
pkdonnel is offline  
Old Oct 4, 08, 7:59 pm
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Great report so far, and looking forward to the rest of it. I always thought QF had larger PTV screens on their aircraft, as those ones look tiny. I wonder if the screens on the 332 are the same, or larger given the aircraft are newer.
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Old Oct 4, 08, 8:34 pm
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Originally Posted by pkdonnel View Post
looking forward to the Jeju report!
I don't want to steal afterDawn's thunder, but I was in Jeju last week and I'd like to report that in addition to all the well-known sights, there's a Museum of African Art in Jungmun that not only has an absolutely stunning collection (reportedly the best in Asia), but it is housed in a reconstruction of the great Mosque of Djenne! Worth the trip just for that.

Here's the real thing: http://www.sacredsites.com/africa/mali/djenne.html

And here's Jeju's version: http://www.africamuseum.or.kr/
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Old Oct 4, 08, 10:13 pm
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Subscribed. I'll be in Jeju again this December. Looking forward to your posts!
GuyverII is offline  
Old Oct 4, 08, 10:41 pm
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great first post, thanks for sharing!

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Old Oct 7, 08, 1:09 am
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After three excellent days exploring Seoul and surrounds it was time to fly to the idyllic holiday island of Jeju, off the south coast of the Korean Peninsula. A shocking example of poor planning; the night prior to our flight saw us out on the town consuming vast amounts of the local brews (Cass and Hite, they're excellent) until approximately 7am. With our flight from Gimpo (GMP) scheduled to depart at 0855, it no longer made any sense to actually go to bed, so we simply packed a backpack each (we were travelling hand luggage only) and jumped in a taxi to the airport. Somehow the driver understood me slurring 'Gimpo' in my broad Australian accent and away we went.

Sector 4: 7C (Jeju Air) 105
STD 0855 STA 0950

Jeju Air are certainly very adept at making the booking process difficult for non-korean speakers. Their website is entirely in Korean with no English option, and their fares are not available on the standard fare search engines (amadeus.net, farechase, etc.).
Ultimately a visit to the USO Branch at Camp Kim near Itaewon in Seoul fixed this as a Korean speaking travel agent booked the fares online for us. Including the surcharge of W10,000, the fare worked out to USD$152/person thereby saving us $5 each over the full service carrier Asiana. Nevertheless, the opportunity to try a brand new airline was one we couldnt pass up.

Stumbling into Gimpo International Airport, Jeju Air checkin wasnt hard to find.

Now initially i had feared that 7C was a strictly NO ENGLISH airline, something that would somewhat complicate the checkin formalities. Of course that is laughable and the lovely agent that quickly checked us in greeted us in perfect english.

I was issued with the typical LCC reciept-style BP:

After setting an alarm on my phone, i grabbed the largest bottle of Pocari Sweat (THE greatest during and post alcohol fluid replacement ive ever had) i could find and grabbed some much needed Zs on a couch in the waiting area. The sleep was fitful however, as the one Jeju Air gate we were near had boarding calls every twenty minutes. Also the GMP domestic terminal is stiflingly hot. Finally, however, boarding was called, and was completed via bus and airstairs.

Brand new B737-800

Leg room was adequate, the seats did not recline, however and were quite hard. I'd reached the stage of having a slight hangover and found the flight incredibly hot and uncomfortable; therein learning an important lesson- try to at least get some sleep before flying!

Leg Room shot

There was no inflight service to speak of, as i was dozing for the entire flight. Landing at CJU was perfectly on time and we dismbarked at exactly 0950.

The Jeju Tourism information desk directed us to Hyopjae beach on the north-west coast, a trip which required the use of the Jeju public bus service. This was a great way to see the island, as it passed through all the towns en route. The main users of this service are the locals, and if one is so inclined it is a great way to interact with them.

Signs like this can be seen all over the island, and really give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Anyway Hyopjae Beach turned out to be a very small town consisting of a 2 seafood restaurants, 3 of the ubiquitous 24hr convenience stores and one oddly fancy hotel. With such limited options and not really wanting to get back on the bus, we opted to stay at this hotel, whose name escapes me. It was Japanese-themed (boasting two japanese restaurants) and had some pretty incredible sea views.

View from the room:

The next day (our second and last in Jeju) I used the public bus system again to travel further around the island to the south coast, to the incredibly touristy beach of Junmung. Catering more the the convention crowd (it has a HUGE convention centre and a Hyatt hotel) it was well maintained but proved to be relatively expensive, with drinks and food around 1.5 times that of other places in Korea. I had a swim at Junmung beach itself before going in search of some lunch.

Junmung Beach

Not particularly being a fan of seafood i was hard pressed to find anything at all to eat at Junmung, literally every single restaurant in the area specialised in seafood only. I picked up some basic sustenance at a convenience store and we walked around Junmung for a bit longer. The day was getting on and our flight back was approaching- we had budgeted something stupid like 3 hours to get back the the airport, on the other side of the island. We had spent some 4 hours on buses travelling around the coast, but the distance was about the same using the inland path directly north.
This is where the power of development really shocked me- from Junmung, the 'Airport Express' designed specifically for foreigners, complete with american-accented english voiceover took just 50 minutes to get to the airport.

In any case, when i arrived at Jeju International Airport, the first thing i did was grab a feed of the best fast food in Korea, their very own McDonald's- Lotteria.

Bulgogi Burger Meal

Sector 5: 7C (Jeju Air) 120
STD 1920 STA 2015

Checkin at CJU was thankfully deserted.

Once again an agent greeted us in perfect english and directed us to the gate. Curiously, even though this was just a domestic flight, foreigners are required to pass through a separate security screening queue. Wierd

Boarding was again via the airstairs.

I was fully awake and relaxed for this flight, after two days without alcohol to reflect on my previous binges. Inflight service was as simple as it gets, a paper cup of water or sweet orange juice, with a refill or two proactively offered. The aircraft was spotless as it was on the flight down and landed perfectly on time at Gimpo.

Couldnt fault either of the Jeju Air flights (aside from the cabin temperature on the outbound), they were clean, tidy and on time and the crew were pleasant. Next time, however, id try the full service carriers such as OZ and KE on this route, as the prices are similar and they would probably offer more in terms of drinks.

Unlike at Jeju International, there were no taxi stand attendants at Gimpo, meaning that to get a taxi, one must argue with the taxi touts. Its either negotiate with them or walk. This put a bit of a downer on the end of the trip, but i long ago accepted that this was a part of travelling in Asia and thought nothing more of it.

Jeju Island itself is a startling dichotomy of development and destitution. Some of the people we saw living in tiny beach shacks were clearly struggling- but would still smile back at you. Their shacks were just metres away from huge chrome and glass tourist information centres with brochures in five languages. To me, the two bus rides, one taking an eternity and costing barely 50 australian centre, and the other one the complete opposite; fast, foreigner-friendly and expensive, roughly AUD$6, were the best insights into the way the touristy areas belie the realities of life there.

In any case it was great to get back to Seoul and continue the party that is life in a Korean city.

Up Next: A Tour of the DMZ, and I set foot in North Korea!

Thanks for reading the TR so far, comments always appreciated :-)
afterDawn is offline  
Old Oct 7, 08, 4:25 pm
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Great work. Love the thread.
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Old Oct 14, 08, 4:58 am
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Nice report. Looking forward to read the rest of the trip ^
aSiAnRiCk is offline  
Old Oct 14, 08, 6:57 am
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I think Jeju Island is a visa-free zone for some nationalities (such as China IIRC), so on departure from CJU they want to make sure that you were previously admitted to the mainland or admitted for all parts of the country on arrival at CJU.

This is to support the local gambling industry (which is for foreigners only).
makin'miles is online now  
Old Oct 23, 08, 7:21 am
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OP, you end up in a ditch outside a Nori-bong? Where's the rest of the report?
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Old Feb 10, 09, 5:26 am
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It is with a rather sheepish smile that i return to this Trip Report, having deserted it months ago when the pace of my life inexplicably hastened. University life, sporting commitments, a new relationship and work (largely to fund further travel) quickly took over every waking moment leaving me no time to return to reporting on this trip - one which i hold nothing but fond memories of.

However, after a refreshing summer of further travel, and the prospect of yet another trip report on the horizon, i have decided to give this trip the report it deserves. Therefore it gives me great pleasure to present to you, Part II of The Korean Odyssey. Enjoy.
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Old Feb 10, 09, 6:28 am
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The rest of my time in Korea was just fantastic. I've never been anywhere quite like it yet, and my guess is that nothing will ever truly compare to it. I thought Korea was an amazingly well thought-out society, where the level of organisation and the ease with which tasks can be completed (especially considering i had absolutely zero grasp of the Korean language) amazed me.

The Korean penninsula itself holds such a rich historical significance to those of us in the west, and my appreciation for this really came together when i attended a tour of the DMZ run by the social arm of the United States Army, the USO. This TR (or any Trip Report) would in no way be complete without me sharing my experience.

When the day of the tour dawned, we were already on a train heading to the meeting point for the DMZ Tour. The almost ludicrous distance we were staying from the Itaewon area of Seoul combined with the curious absence of express trains on the Seoul Metro System meant we boarded a train at 0530hrs to make the tour reporting time of 0730hrs. Truly horrible. And it didnt help that we had been drinking (suprise suprise) the day (and night) before. In any case i sat dry mouthed on perhaps the only empty metro carriage in all of Seoul for a mind boggling amount of time. Samgakji Station was starting to show some signs of life when we arrived, and a ten minute walk later we were in the largest crowd of foreigners that i had seen since reaching Korea. The vast majority of them were American servicemen and their family members - those on acitve duty being easily distinguishable by their haircuts and tendency toward chainsmoking.

There was a farce of a registration process, which created a large snaking queue and required attendees to stand in line for what was effectively a primary-school-style roll call. This process took an hour and a half, meaning that we had rushed to arrive at 0730 but that we would be in exactly the same situation if we had arrived at 0855, as some people in fact did. Almost as a final gesture of hatred towards me, i had to leave the USO canteen before my USD$1 serving of toast was ready because with absoltuely no warning, the buses were ready to leave. Fannnntastic.

The bus ride was largley uneventful, the highlight being the huge fortifications along the Han river designed to stop attacks from the north. This explanation was only the start of a long day of North-Korea-bashing, which, to be fair, i should have expected. Expecting otherwise is almost like asking a cat to be objective about its reasons for attacking a mouse.

The bus made a restroom stop at a large canteen combined with a gift shop where we would be having lunch later. Our tour guide informed us that the lunch options were either Korean food, or no food at all. The price was exhorbitant also, at KRW10,000. This, of course, was payable in advance. Bravo USO, you certainly had us wrapped up nice and tight. Having no other option other than the prepurchase our lunch, the bus laboured on to Camp Bonifas, which proudly asserts that it stands 'In front of them all.'
From there a token briefing was provided by two members of the American force stationed at the camp, and we were all made to sign UN-logo-stamped documents relieving the United Nations and United States of any responsibility should we be killed or injured as a result of unforseeable action within the Joint Security Area (or JSA- this is a football-field-sized area within the DMZ itself where any and all interaction between North and South Korea takes place.) Camp Bonifas is located inside the JSA.
The 2 soldiers-cum-tour guides were fantastic, and being actively involved in the administration and technical operation of the area were able to provide an amazing insight into the American side of things in the DMZ. Im sure my knowledge wont be complete until i visit the North Korean side, and figure out a happy medium somewhere in between.
Interestingly, the soldiers would always refer to North Korea as 'Communist North Korea,' using the longer form of the term even when it would disrupt the flow of what they were trying to say.
After the formalities were completed we were taken to the very location most people would think of when considering the DMZ - those low, light blue buildings located directly across the line of control in the centre of the DMZ. The tension there was magnificent, on the South Korean side anyway, with members of the Korean People's Army standing unbelievably still whilst intensely watching the North Korean side. The North Koreans, for their part were quite casual, this approach accentuated by the stern formality of the Southern side. Whilst the south had 6 or 7 guards spending 100% of their time watching the North, the North had only two personnel outside the command post, one of whom appeared to be eating something, and the other who spent most of his time twirling a baton on the end of his thumb. The former did manage to put his lunch aside for a moment and train his binoculars directly on me causing the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck.
We were invited to actually enter the low blue rooms i was referring to earlier, had i had heard that this was the true highlight of a trip to the DMZ. The room itself was quite spartan and belied the significance of its location. A table was set directly upon the border so that the two sides could negotiate without technically having to enter one another. However on account of the room being a contained and controlled area, we were allowed to cross into the other side of the room, and therefore, into 'Communist North Korea.' The Sargeant in charge of our tour group ominously pointed out that as long as we were on the far side of the room, we could be abducted by the North Koreans. I didnt actually feel a chill down my spine, but the feeling was bordering on fear.

From there we moved to another location inside the JSA - an observatory from where one can see Kijong-Dong, or the 'Propaganda Village', a model town set up on the North Korean side of the border designed to promote defecting to the North. To this end it broadcast loud Propaganda for 12 hours a day up until 2004. However the most impressive aspect of the village was the 160m flagpole housing a 30m north Korean flag. This was absolutely gigantic and dwarfed the surrounding landscape. To me, it was a testament to the North Korean attitude to the South - a petty victory at any cost. Still, petty or not, the size of the flagpole impressed the hell out of me.

The tour of the JSA was the highlight of the day, and apart from tour of the tunnels dug by North Korea under the border, most other stops on the tour were boring and uneventful. Lunch itself was disappointing but then again, judging by the way it was administered, i would have been stupid to think otherwise.

To me, even the drive to and from the JSA (through the DMZ) was incredible. Because it was technically a warzone it was completely deserted and heavily fortified - it is the only place on earth where one can experience a relatively stable warzone, and get up close to the practical infrastructure of wartime. Things such as roadblocks, checkpoints, large stone blocks set above roads and billions of kilometres of razor wire are not things that i have been able to see intimately, and the drive through the DMZ allowed me to experience just that.

Arriving back in Seoul later (and by later i mean 2 hours past schedule) that afternoon i struggled to come to terms with what i had seen, and what had happened in the very places i had laid eyes on. I never thought i would be able to appreciate places and things for their historical and international significance, but it was just one of many firsts on this Korean Odyssey. Next up, the journey home. Thanks for reading :-)
afterDawn is offline  
Old Feb 10, 09, 3:41 pm
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Dear OP, nice trip report. I have been to CJU many times and every time I go there I really enjoy the atmosphere. Next time, you should try to climb the Mt. Halla.

At any rate, KE nor OZ will have any better drink selection than Jeju Air or other LCCs in Korea serving the route. In some ways, flying LCC in Korea would be much more pleasant experience than flying legacy carriers as they are in a real steep competition against each other and against the legacy carriers. Service is where they really want to out-shine (not to mention the price). So, unless you have status or need small change of frequent flier miles, it's better to stay with LCCs in Korea (if you are on leisure travel).

Glad to see that you enjoyed Korea!
brahms77 is offline  
Old Feb 11, 09, 8:47 am
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Can I ask you a couple questions about the USO DMZ tour?

My situation is I have 2 days/1 night in Seoul, arriving about 7:30 am the first day (so can't do the tour then), and departing about 7:15pm the second day.

You mentioned that you arrived back in Seoul 2 hours late. The USO site says you depart Camp Kim at 3:30pm. Does that mean you arrived back to Seoul at 5:30pm or was it even later. Just trying to figure out if I can make it from the tour back to ICN by about 6pm or so - assuming I can bring a backpack of clothes with me on the tour or leave them somewhere at Camp Kim.
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