I love paying for flights with points and miles and David and I try to maximize the points we earn on nearly every purchase we make. But, as anyone who’s tried to book awards flights knows, those “free” flights are often hard to find. Airlines tend to raise the amounts required for convenient times and schedules, offer less award seats on a flight than you need, or simply don’t offer award flights at all on certain flights. Taxes and fees on some airlines and at certain airports (I’m talking about you, Heathrow!) can turn a “free” flight into an expensive proposition. For flights to Asia from DFW, we think Korean Air is the ticket. (Our opinion holds even with all the saber-rattling currently going on between our government and North Korea, although we’ll definitely keep an eye on developments.)
Korean Air offers a very convenient service (unavailable for code-share flights): You can check-in and check your luggage at Seoul Station before taking an express train to the airport. To do this, you need to arrive 3 hours before your flight. (This isn’t really a big deal since they ask you to arrive at the airport 2 hours early if you’re going to check luggage there, and the direct train from Seoul Station is about 45 minutes.)
The process at Seoul Station is as follows:
1. Arrive 3 hours early. (The location is by Entrance/Exit 3 of Seoul Station, down two floors via escalator and/or elevator.)
2. Buy a train ticket to the airport (either at a machine if you have cash or a local credit card, or at the office just by the machines–to your left as you face the machines–with a foreign credit/debit card). You MUST buy the train ticket first. You’ll need to show it at check-in. Choose a time at least 30 minutes in the future for your train ticket to allow time for check-in and immigration. If you should miss that train departure time, you can exchange your ticket for a later time at the office.
3. Check-in and check your luggage at the Korean Air check-in desk just as you would at the airport.
4. Go to immigration. This is located at a small office just beside the ticket office, at the entrance to the check-in desks. The process was very quick.
5. Take the elevator a short distance away to the train platform. The train is clean, comfortable, air conditioned and (like so many public places in Korea) offers free wi-fi.
I realized I failed to publish two travelogues from our time in Seoul, South Korea, in October 2016, so I’m adding them now, but back-dating them so they will be in chronological order on Wanderwiles. -Tamara, 12/5/2016:
Visiting the Demilitarized Zone (“DMZ”) between North and South Korea was high on my list of things to do in Seoul. At this time, access to the DMZ requires booking an organized tour; you cannot visit on your own. After doing some research on tour providers, I chose Koridoor. Not only was their price competitive, but I liked that they worked with the USO and coordinated with the US Army so that there was an opportunity to hear from US soldiers stationed in South Korea. Koridoor offers two DMZ tours plus tours to other places in South Korea. I opted for the longer JSA/DMZ tour which includes the Joint Security Area. Knowing this tour is extremely popular, I booked a couple of months before we were to be in Seoul. The tour was scheduled to run from 10am-6:30pm and cost $92/civilian adult and $65 for US military personnel. Unfortunately, before we even left the States, I received an urgent email telling me there would be no JSA tours during the week we were to be in Seoul due to some “operational reason in” the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC). This situation effected all tours to the JSA, not just Koridoor. With no other options, I rebooked for the DMZ Half-Day Tour for $41pp. Our new itinerary was as follows:
From the first time I read about temple stay programs in Japan and South Korea, I was hooked on the idea of spending the night at a Buddhist temple. I wanted to learn more about Buddhism and what, exactly, Buddhist monks did on a daily basis. The stays I saw in Japan (“shukubo”) sounded more like simple lodging in a monastery; interesting, but not as much as I was looking for. When I found South Korea’s Templestay program, it seemed I’d found what I was looking for: a real cultural experience aimed at sharing and preserving an ancient way of life.
Unfortunately, we woke to driving rain our first full day in Busan. Hmm. When you travel, bad weather happens, so good to have a Plan B. In Busan, Plan B was the hop-on/hop-off bus. We were pretty sure that we weren’t going to do much hopping off unless we saw shelter nearby, but what the heck? At least we’d see some of the city and we were kind of ready for a slow day anyway. Busan offers several hop-on/hop-off buses and, happily, they all pick up by Busan Station very near our hotel.
After viewing a couple of brochures and comparing routes, we chose the BUTI Bus. Although it claimed to offer free onboard wi-fi, our bus had none. Strike one. The app I’d downloaded didn’t work either. Strike two. The tour was mostly in Korean. Probably should be Strike Three, but we were in for the long haul, so we stayed on. Given our experience, I’d try the other hop-on/hop-off called the Busan City Bus Tour. [This is really confusing as both the BUTI Bus and this other bus use the phrase “Busan City Bus Tour. There may be a third bus also using the same name. The price is the same for all of these buses, 15,000 Korean won (approximately $15).) We got off at the last stop which was the underground shopping area near Gwangbok (Exit 6).] We were only idly curious about the shopping, but we hoped to be able to use the sheltered areas to reach the Jagalchi Fish Market.
So we leave tomorrow on the trip that inspired me to start this blog: a 77-night ramble through Asia. This trip runs the gamut of lodging, transportation methods, and weather. It’s been a challenge to plan (and a challenge to pack for). We’re excited!
In a (large) nutshell, this trip includes:
- Our first trans-Pacific cruise [the Aleutians, northern Japan, Yokohama/Tokyo]
- 2 weeks in Japan [Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima island (where we’ll stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn), Fukuoka]
- a ferry to South Korea [Busan, a Buddhist temple stay, Seoul, the DMZ]
- a cruise from Shanghai to Singapore [Okinawa, Hong Kong, Chan May/Hoi An and Phu My/Ho Chin Mihn City, Vietnam]
- Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
- Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see Angkor Wat
- Luang Prabang, Laos
- a 2-day open-boat trip up the Mekong with a stop at some to-be-determined-when-we-get-there guesthouse in tiny Pakbeng, Laos
- 2.5 weeks in Thailand: Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai (a day with elephants and a Thai cooking school), Krabi (scuba diving the Phi Phi islands), the Bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi, Bangkok
- a 1st class mega-flight on Korean Air from Bangkok to Seoul to Dallas (courtesy of airline miles and credit card points, a favorite game of ours)
I’ve tried to anticipate the trickier bits and done an incredible amount of research, but I know there will be things I overlooked or had no way of knowing. There are liable to be things that don’t pan out as we’d hoped (or maybe don’t even pan out at all). It’s the nature of travel, and also part of what makes it exciting and interesting. And besides, I don’t want to plan every moment anyway. I intend to focus on experiencing the trip rather than documenting it, but I’ll blog about it when I can. Hopefully, there will be fun as well as useful info to share…and, no doubt, our portion of clueless-fools-in-a-strange-land moments. Wish us luck!