Monday, November 19, 2012

19/11/12 – Hong Kong to Seoul, and Harry to the Rescue Again!

Today was a day that I had a few plans for in Hong Kong, but unfortunately they were not to be. Our flight to Seoul left at 2pm in the afternoon, which meant we needed to be at the airport by 12pm. Our day was meant to start bright and early, but due to sleeping in, it started slightly less bright and slightly less early. A quick breakfast was in order, during which I barely had time to scoff down a bowl of cereal before we headed out for the morning’s activities.

I really wanted to visit Hong Kong Park, because I was yet to see any form of grass in the whole of Hong Kong. But, due to our delayed start to the day, we were definitely against the clock. A brisk walk through the bustling streets of Sheung Wan, and we were soon on the subway to Admiralty. In the guide, it said that the park was a quick walk from exit A of Admiralty station. Perhaps something had changed since the guide was written, because between the station and where the park apparently was, was a series of impenetrable high traffic roads that certainly didn’t make it easy to even see where the park is. Also, Hong Kong seems to have these fantastic little guide posts at every corner that point you in the direction of all of the local tourist sights. Not here though. I tried in vain to find one to lead us the right way. After walking around frustratedly for a good 20 minutes, I regrettably decided cut our losses and gave up on getting to the park, and instead just head back to the room. Clearly this was just poor planning on my behalf. Perhaps another time. If I come back to Hong Kong, I’ll spend only a day or two here and I’ll go have high tea at the Peninsula Hotel, and then have a leisurely stroll through Hong Kong Park. Who knows when that will be, but it is officially on my “to do” list.

After getting back to the room, we packed up and checked out. At reception, I left a jar of Vegemite and some Tim Tams for Harry – presents I forgot to give him a few nights earlier. Harry said he’d swing by after work and pick them up. Why am I mentioning this? You’ll see why later.

We then took our bags through the tangled maze that is Sheung Wan, and made it to the MTR. A quick ride to Central later, and we were presented with the dilemma of whether or not we should take advantage of Hong Kong’s in-town check in service for flights. The upside is that you can check in in the city, and they take your luggage to the airport on the train, and you don’t see it again until you collect it from the arrivals hall at your destination. The downside is is that it means more people handling your luggage and therefore more chances for it to get lost. We decided to scope it out, to see how many people were using the service, and by extension, how reliable and safe it was. There were loads of people checking in for various airlines, and none at the time for Cathay Pacific, the airline we’d be on today. We took it as a sign, and decided to take advantage of this service. It did feel weird checking in for a flight at a train station, though.

The train ride to the airport was fascinating – the 25 minute journey from Central to the Airport was full of high rises, urban development, and then tiny fishing villages, all right next to a high speed train line. It made me want to get off and explore, but obviously we had places to be.

At the airport, I wanted to check out the observation deck, whereas Emma wanted to check out lipstick. Our time was limited, only about 70 minutes or so before we departed, so we decided to split up. I soon discovered that our agreed upon time of 30 minutes to ourselves wouldn’t nearly be enough. The observation deck was literally at the opposite end of the other terminal to where I was. A brisk walk was definitely in order. I managed to get over there in about 12 minutes, so I calculated that I had all of six minutes to spend at the observation deck. This was a little bit of a letdown, but during those six minutes, I managed to see two jumbo jets take off, and a handful of smaller aircraft. This is Hong Kong, after all – a very, very busy airport.
When I met back up with Emma, we cleared immigration, security and then immigration again (???), and then we were soon airside. We needed a quick bite to eat before our flight, so we headed to a “popeye’s chicken”. The appeal of this place was unknown – I don’t really know why we ate there, but the chicken was tasty and fairly good value for money. What’s more, they accepted the Octopus Card, which allowed us to use up most of the remaining credit on our cards.

We then navigated our way through the baffling maze that is Chek Lap Kok airport. We headed down several escalators, into a subterranean train system, that took us to a gate area where our plane was parked. We made it with just enough time for Emma to buy some fancy lipstick, and then we were boarding.

Cathay Pacific Flight CX418 HKG – ICN
Airbus A330-300, B-HLT
Captain Mike Sinclair
Intended Pushback: 1405
Actual Pushback: 1406
Intended Arrival: 1830
Actual Arrival: 1827
Seat: 32K

This flight was the definition of non-eventful. The aircraft pushed back more or less exactly on time, the flight landed on time. The food was average, the service was average. The views, due to the haze over Hong Kong, and the clouds over the East China Sea, were average. I did get a good look at Hong Kong Island as we climbed out, and the clouds parted for a little while as we headed over Taiwan, which made for some interesting, yet brief scenery. Due to us sitting at the front of the economy, the flight was pleasantly quiet, too.

There wasn’t anything fundamentally *wrong* with the flight, aside from Emma’s lacklustre gluten free meal, but there wasn’t anything outstanding about it, either. The aircraft was old, with really poor seatback screens which became unwatchable when the tiniest amount of light shone on them, and the crew seemed to be just going through the motions. Perhaps it was because it was a regional route, and not one of their premiere routes, but it certainly didn’t make me want to book my next holiday with Cathay Pacific. Maybe I would if I could guarantee that I’d be on a newer plane, but they’ve had the same type of aircraft delivered with many different layouts, so Cathay Pacific is known for their chronic product inconsistencies.

We were soon coming in to land, with Seoul’s spread out cityscape sparkling in the evening light. After a smooth touchdown, we were soon de-boarding the aircraft. Because we were only three rows back from the very front of economy, we were off the plane very quickly.

Seoul airport is very easy to get around, with another underground rail system used to transfer passengers from the satellite terminal to the main one. We then had to queue for a quite a while to get through immigration, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as LAX, or other US airports. We were soon ground-side, and I went about sorting out a T-Money card for both Emma and I. They’re essentially the Octopus Card of Hong Kong, the Go Card of Brisbane, or the MyKi card of Melbourne. I then organised renting a phone for our short stay in Seoul. For only $8 AUD a day for an iPhone 4, it was pretty good value. What’s more, it came with unlimited data usage – essentially what I’ll be using it for. $32 for a phone that can display where we are in a very large and confusing city? Worth every penny, if you ask me.

We then bought a bus ticket to the City Air Terminal, and we were soon speeding down one of Seoul’s many expressways. The journey was meant to take about 70 minutes, but I swear it took less than an hour. Seoul has a lot of highways. Lots and lots. Also, coming from the narrow, winding streets of Hong Kong, it was quite a change of pace to see such a large, widespread city layout. Clearly space isn’t an issue here.

After getting off the bus, the first thing to hit me about Seoul was the heat. Or, the extreme lack thereof. It was freezing cold. This was a very nice change of pace from the stinking heat of Australia, and the unpleasant humidity of Hong Kong. We grabbed our bags, and braved the cold of the outside as we walked from the bus terminal to the subway station.

The subway stations in Seoul seem to have alright English signage. Not nearly as good as Hong Kong or Tokyo, but still enough to get by on. A short hop on the subway later, and we were at our local district, the now infamous Gangnam area. Another freezing cold walk through the streets awaited us when we got above ground, but it wasn’t long before we were safe and sound in our hotel.

The room is… in a word… interesting. It has a tiny, tiny window, about the size of an A4 sheet of paper, hidden away behind a part of the wall that swings away like a cupboard door. It also has a massive TV, and a fairly big bathroom, yet very little in the way of actual floor space. There’s also some weird ornate decorations on the roof, which are driving Emma, the interior design student, absolutely batshit crazy. Still, the two guys in the lobby are quite caring and are doing a good job taking care of us, even with their limited English knowledge.

As I unpacked my bag, I noticed that I was missing something – my camera! Thankfully not my DSLR, but I had definitely left my little pocket camera behind in Hong Kong. However, as I sat down to write this blog, I received a message from the amazing Harry Chik. When he went to pick up his Tim Tams and Vegemite from the hotel, he had been notified that I’d forgotten my camera. He said that he would pick it up and mail it back to Australia for me. Absolute bloody legend!

Anyways, that’s all for today. Thanks again Harry, if you’re reading this.

Tomorrow: Seoul! Invisible Horse Riding! Markets! Stuff!

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