Giant Spiders At Incheon Airport, Seoul

As is my usual habit, I arrived at Seoul airport (Incheon) with half a day up my sleeve. The Grand Hyatt is literally two minutes from the airport, I got my boarding pass in Sydney and I have no bags to check in so I’ve done a 5km walk around the airport and it’s great! Of all the airports I’ve visited I’d say Incheon is in the top 10, maybe even the top 5. Here’s why!

It’s full of art.

Sure, some of the art is giant spiders, but they’re *gentle* spiders.

It has comfortable furniture. If I’d had to spend my 19 hour stopover in the airport I could’ve actually stretched out on a couch. Some backpackers are sleeping very comfortably right behind me as I write this. If you’re in Incheon and looking for a lie down, it’s opposite gate 23.

I won’t be rude and take a photo of them, but they’ve pushed a bunch of these together to make a decent bed.

Robots! I’ve seen three different kinds. One for transporting bags, one for delivering food and one that I think was for information.

Luggage robot!
They have QR codes that take you to websites for more info.

Flowers! Orchids must be the floral emblem of Korea because they are everywhere and absolutely perfect. I looked closely, they are all real.

The food is great. Not a vast range, but I had a fantastic meal of bibimbap. I thought I’d see what it was like when it wasn’t actually airline food and it was great! The vegetables and meat were served in a heavy stone bowl that was so hot the food was still sizzling for about ten minutes after I got my tray. It came with soup, kimchi and a bunch of extras. In a moment of excitement I poured in all the chilli sauce, but with three hours to kill it wasn’t a problem and I only sweated through my T-shirt, not my jumper.

As I get older my tolerance for spicy food seems to grow, which was lucky because I poured in about half a cup of chilli.

The cuteness. There’s a giant Lego-style playground for the kids., as well as some giant plush figures around the place.

I think this is the airport mascot.
Lego maze!

Last but certainly not least, being Korea, everyone cleans up after themselves and even the food court is spotless. Everyone in the restaurant took their trays to the rack for the dirty dishes and when I went up with mine there were no spaces left so a teenage boy behind me asked the chef where to put them and we all put them in the racks after pushing back the trays at the front. problem solved!

I thought that was going to be my whole list but as I was sitting here typing, a parade of people in traditional Korean dress and playing music walked in a procession past the departure lounge I’m sitting in, I’ve never seen anything like that in an airport… maybe Incheon deserves a place in the top 3?

A few cherry blossom trees outside the hotel.

Sydney to Seoul

I set my alarm for 5am so I could pack up and leave the hotel in plenty of time for my 9:30am flight. On the advice of the bus driver who drove me to the hotel, I decided to walk back. With the sun coming up and the sky a bright orange, it was a lovely walk and took me a bit under 30 minutes.

It was really easy to follow and I’m glad I got a chance to stretch my legs before sitting down for 11 hours on the plane.

I ended up getting to the counter 20 minutes before it opened so I got through very quickly. Security was very quiet as well, giving me lots of time for a nice breakfast overlooking the main hub of the terminal.

I had time for a video chat with luke and to answer some birthday texts, which were very nice to get. Then I bought myself a little word puzzle book in case I was sick of looking at screens on the flight.

Big airports really do almost all look the same.

I spent the 30 minutes before boarding walking up and down the corridor where the terminal gates were located, trying to stretch my legs. Knowing I had an aisle seat I left boarding until the last minute. I know some people like to get on quickly so they can find space in the overhead compartments but my large backpack comes with two small ‘balance bags’ – little pockets that clip onto the front when hiking to spread the weight around the body. When I take them on flights I can clip the two together to make one small backpack. It’s amazing how much stuff I can fit into them but they easily fit under the seat in front, so I never have to use the overhead space.

Charmaine and I originally chose Asiana, an airline I’d never heard of before, because it was cheaper than the nearest price by several hundred dollars. I’d normally fly out of Melbourne, but I wanted to leave my car in Orange and see my family (Charmaine and I grew up together and her mum is also in Orange) so we thought flying out of Sydney would be a good option, which meant different airlines to choose from.

Weirdly, when searching for flights this time, a lot of flights to Europe via the US were available. Now, I had a great time in America, I know lots of truly excellent Americans, but I’d rather stay home than fly on an American airline for a great number of reasons, not least of which is overbooked flights and the vast number of videos I’ve seen recently of people behaving appallingly on American planes.

Here’s why I love flying on Asian airlines. The other people are mostly Asian so they are polite and quiet and don’t do disgusting things like take their shoes and socks off or spread out into other people’s spaces. It also means all the talking around me is done in other languages, which I find much easier to tune out. The staff are delightful, the food is excellent and you get to stopover in interesting places where everyone will help you get to where you’re going.

On this flight I got to try bibimbap, rice with mixed vegetables and pickles and mince. Delicious! I even used one of the two sachets of chilli sauce, although everyone around me used two. I know my limits though!

The idea is that you stir all the separate parts together yourself.

Aside from that, we got a small ham salad roll halfway through and a chicken curry before landing.

When I first boarded the plane I was sitting in a full row of 3, with two ladies next to me. I noticed they there were two empty seats in the row in front so I asked if I could move, that way the two ladies could spread out and I’d be sitting next to an empty seat. The flight attendant didn’t mind and so I moved. Nothing feels more luxurious in economy than an empty seat and I was very happy to spread out.

The last thing I’m going to mention about the plane is the exercise video. Twenty years ago, when I flew JAL via Osaka to London, I was surprised to see everyone on the plane doing a stretching video together. This was the first time I’ve see one since and it was great! Also quite amusing to see a whole plane full of people doing synchronised movements.

Anyhoo, as you would expect, the flight ran perfectly to time and I got to my hotel with no problems, although I somehow managed to enter via a tiny side door (I’m staying at the Grand Hyatt as a birthday treat) and wandered around for a bit before I found the reception desk.

My room is lovely and I ran an bath before I order a glass of sparkling wine and a slice of cheesecake and listened to my new favourite podcast (Urzila Carlson’s ‘Enough Already’ – she talks mainly to comedians about things that annoy them, it’s very funny!) and had another video chat to Luke.

When my room service food arrived the waiter only filled up the sparkling glass half full and I explained with a winning smile that it was my birthday so could he fill it up a bit more ? And he did! But then said it had to be top secret so we’ll just please keep it between us and hope the manager of the Grand Hyatt Incheon doesn’t read my blog.

I still wouldn’t call it properly full though! The cheesecake was pretty amazing however.

The only other thing worth mentioning is the high tech toilet. I tried pressing all the buttons to see what happened but I think you have to be sitting on it for most of them to work. The only thing I managed to do was heat the toilet seat, which really just made it feel like someone else had got off it it right before I sat down.

The control panel on the wall is for the toilet. Here’s a close-up:

Fortunately it flushes automatically when you stand up.

I wonder if people who come from places like Korea and Japan freak out when they get to other countries and the toilets are so basic? Or maybe not all the toilets here are like this?

Anyhow, on to the UK, where the showers are terrible, the toilets less fancy but the scenery is 10/10…. Especially when compared to my airport hotel view.

Why is the weather at airports always so grey?

London to Split: It Could’ve Been Worse.

Before we had even begun, our trip from England to Croatia had already suffered several blows. Our original plan had been to meet our friend Lauren at Heathrow on the 27th then leave from Gatwick at 5:45 the next morning. Unfortunately, I’d unthinkingly booked us a hotel at Heathrow rather than Gatwick so that meant getting up at 2:30 to get  a taxi at 3am to get to the airport at 4 so we’d have plenty of time for our flight. Unfortunately Lauren’s job situation was thrown into confusion just days before she was due to fly out and she ended up having to cancel the trip, which we were rather sad about as she is an excellent (tried and tested) travel companion and would’ve relieved us of the monotony of talking to each other. Just kidding! (Mostly)

So, we made our way from Cambridge to the Premier Inn on Bath Road – would you believe there are FOUR Premier Inns at Heathrow? Luckily only one is on Bath Road and the bus there is free.

The room was nice, the food at the hotel wasn’t too bad, people were watching Germany get kicked out of the World Cup and seemed to be enjoying it. We got about six hours sleep (champions that we are.. drinking lots helped) and woke up in time to meet our taxi and encountered no traffic or road works on the drive. We congratulated ourselves for being so well-organised and checked in our bags then headed for the gate.

This was when Luke realised that he’d left his passport in his checked bag.

As the blood drained from his face he experienced an adrenaline rush like none in recent memory. We raced to the gate and were initially told, by a geriatric flight attendant who looked to be one of those ‘I know the rules and I’m going to tell you about them multiple times’ types that Luke flat-out wouldn’t be able to fly. What precisely would happen to his bag, since it was checked in under my name, we struggled to work out.

He turned and told another member of staff that Luke had left his passport in his checked bag. “If that’s true,” the man said, “that is the most monumentally stupid thing I have ever heard.” Luke agreed with him wholeheartedly. Then this man, a Turn Controller named Jonathon, proceeded to be just the type of guy you want in your corner during a crisis of this nature. He was calm, kind, decisive and communicative. It also helped, as he pointed out, that the plane couldn’t leave until he signed off on it – and he’d do everything he could to remedy the situation before he did so.

What that involved was Jonathon waiting for Luke’s bag to arrive at the plane, snagging it before it was loaded, and then getting security to oversee Luke removing his passport from the bag before loading it on to the plane. While that all sounds straightforward, given that time was ticking, security was being slightly unhelpful and the geriatric gate guard was blustering at us any time Jonathan wasn’t around to fend him off, it was a very close call. But in the end the passport was retrieved, Jonathan saw Luke on to the plane with a handshake, and he took the seat next to mine.

The sigh of relief Luke let out as he sat down was both palpable and heartfelt. Jonathan popped in to the cockpit to approve the plane for take off and even gave Luke a wink as he left the cabin. What a hero!

Well, obviously we congratulated ourselves on dodging a situation that might have cost us a great deal of time and money (well, cost Luke… I would’ve gone anyhow to save having to buy two new fares) and relaxed, safe in the knowledge that surely nothing else could go wrong.

Honestly, what else could go wrong? Nothing, that’s what.

After enduring the free-for-all that is Croatian passport control, we headed out to pick up our bags. Because we’d been in the non-European queue we were almost last out and the conveyor stopped moving almost immediately with only a handful of pieces of luggage left. Luke’s bag was visible but mine wasn’t.

And wasn’t.

And wasn’t.

We waited for nearly an hour before going to the lost property office and registering my bag as missing. Because of the passport issue in London I had accidentally left my luggage receipt at Gatwick but had, oh-so-fortunately, taken a photo of it before handing it to the staff there, which meant I had all the details of my tag. THANK GOD. I don’t know how hard it would’ve been to retrieve the bag without it.

Somewhat heavy of heart we boarded the bus into town, having to stand up for the forty minute drive because we were nearly last in line.

After a bit of wandering around the back streets of Split we found our Airbnb (phone GPS doesn’t always work so well in narrow stone alleys and apartments don’t seem to have numbers here) and our host was lovely and helpful.

The local markets were only a few steps away and I bought a cheap spare pair of underpants and then we bought a few bits of food and wandered around town.

When I got back I took a photo of everything that was in my small backpack.

Of all the things I didn’t have, a belt was probably the thing I missed most as my new jeans were stretching and I had to keep pulling them up every five minutes. So dignified.

Fortunately that afternoon EasyJet sent us a message letting us know the bag had arrived at ‘an’ airport (which one wasn’t clear but it was nice to know it was definitely somewhere) and the next morning my bag was delivered and order was restored to the universe.

By far the most upsetting part of the whole journey was Luke’s passport incident. I think my weeks of camping and being grotty had left me quite happy to wear the same clothes several days in a row. We also felt good, once the whole thing was over, about how calmly we’d dealt with it. You learn a lot about yourself and others when you have to go through a crisis (however small) together.

Lesson learned though – passport in hand when checking in bags!

Canada and Alaska: Whistler and a Float Plane Ride

Whistler rivals Banff for prettiness and the mountains, dare I say it, are even more spectacular. Here’s Mum and I at the float plane dock.

Although who can really say which place we’ve been is the best? I’m reaching that stage of travel where I can’t honestly recall precisely what Banff’s mountains looked like. Lucky I’ve got five million photos!

The float plane was fantastic but slightly wobbly. The scenery was a ring of mountains with glaciers and lakes. The colour of the water was really stunning from the air.

As always, I felt my stomach lurch when the plane bumped up and down, but it was worth it! The other good thing about doing the flying options is that they’re quick (20 minutes this time) and so there’s time to do some walking around afterwards. Whistler town centre is a pedestrian mall and the town is set up for lots of summer sports. BMX and mountain bikers we catching the chair lifts up and riding down the mountain right to the middle of town. I got a free gondola ride and watched them from above.

I didn’t go up the mountain until late so I just did a little walk around, enjoyed the scenery and then came down. The gondola is one of the longest in the world and takes 20 minutes to go all the way to the top. Dare I say it even got a little boring? The views were great though, when it wasn’t rocking in the wind.

After having lunch at a cheap pasta place, Mum and I had enough leftovers to heat up for dinner in our room, which had a microwave. Imagine being able to eat what you wanted, with only a one minute wait and not have to make conversation with a waiter or try to work it tips! Luxury!

How one’s priorities change when traveling, hey?

Next: we go to another place and do more things.

From Hoi An to Bangkok

It came time to depart Hoi An and head to Bangkok. We would be flying there from Da Nang via Ho Chi Minh City. It was more eventful than we’d expected.

A few days prior the resort manager approached me to offer his thanks to our group for being such great guests, and kindly offered us a free airport transfer for our departure. Maybe he felt it was the least he could do after spending so much money at his resort’s bar day after day. As our flight left at 9:45am and check-in began at 8:45am, he suggested leaving at 7:45am. I made it 7:30am – never hurts to have an extra 15 minutes up your sleeve at an airport, especially with a group.

After an early breakfast, we finished packing the last of our gear, all wrote on a card that Matt and Michael would give to Tin later in the day, and took some group photos out the front of the resort. We piled in to our van and got underway as the resort staff waved us off.

We made good time to the airport and waited to check-in. When we got to the front we were told we were in the wrong line. Fortunately no-one was in the other queue yet so we went straight to the front. Unfortunately when we got there we were told our flight had left an hour ago, and we’d been advised of the time change by email two days prior.

We hadn’t thought to check the flight’s status, and throughout our nine months of travel a few years ago, none of our flights ever got changed. We quickly purchased tickets through another airline but then had to scramble through check-in and security, having to jump straight to the front of both queues, just to make the flight on time. If we’d left 15 minutes later, we may not have all made it on the flight.

After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City we had some time to kill before our next flight. Quite a bit of time, as it turns out, as nearly all the flights out of that airport had been delayed due to some kind of system error. Our two hour layover turned in to four hours, and we later heard some people had been delayed even longer than that.

I found this article regarding the delays in the paper the next day.

After another quick flight, we finally touched down in Bangkok. We found our driver (who filled us in on how bad the delays had been getting throughout the day) and got underway. For most people in our group, it was the first time they’d been in Bangkok, and it’s always an impressive city to drive through at night with its myriad of huge advertising billboards and well-lit buildings.

We arrived at Lebua at State Tower and started the check-in process. While we waited we enjoyed the lobby’s piano player, who was belting out a medley of random songs. I wish I’d got some footage of this guy, he was really getting in to it! We all tried to figure out each song as it came up. Certainly helped pass the time quickly.

Once we were checked in, we went to take a look at our suite. Kupp greeted us as we walked through the door, as he’d arrived a few hours before us. The place was massive. A huge lounge and kitchen area was flanked on either side by three bedrooms, with two on one side, and one on the other, that one alone being as big as the suite we’d stayed in the last time Amanda and I were there.

The living room! Kitchen to the left, and those doors lead to two of the bedrooms.

After kicking Kupp out of that room and taking it for ourselves (sorry mate! I promise that when it’s your birthday you can have whichever room you want!) we went downstairs to catch up with the others. It just so happens that they had managed to score the Hangover Suite. It is ostensibly the same as every other suite, but it has photos from the movie up on the walls, and other decor that references the film. For those not in the know, several scenes from The Hangover 2 were filmed at Lebua, and they’ve capitalised on this in their marketing. Nikki and Leigh surprised Amanda with an expensive bottle of champagne to kick off the celebrations!





After spending some time catching up, we all decided to spend our first night up on Lebua’s roof at the Sky Bar. Just as we remembered, the views were as incredible as the price of the drinks ($15 AUD for a glass of beer). Still, it was a great way to kick off the Bangkok Birthday Bash!