Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Travel (page 1 of 23)

Jin Air — Seoul to Vientiane: Thanks, but No Thanks

jinairpr-45_600For travelers flying to Laos from South Korea flight options have been limited: there was the Incheon-Hanoi-Vientiane route which left Incheon in the morning and got into Vientiane early in the evening or the Incheon-Bangkok-Vientiane route, which arrived at 2:00 in the afternoon of 9:00 in the evening depending on whether one wanted a three, six, or ten-hour layover in Bangkok.

Now there’s a direct flight on budget airlines Jin Air (part of KAL) which departs Incheon at 6:00 in the evening and arrives at 9:40. (Budget might be a misnomer though, because it’s only a few thousand won cheaper than the Thai Airways ticket, sans the Bangkok layover.)

Check-in is quick and painless. The ground staff is friendly, vivacious, and efficient. You might think you’re on a college trip judging from the baseball caps and jeans they all wear. On a recent flight to Laos, I was the only foreigner on board.

Their inflight service is what you would expect from a budget airlines. There is no inflight entertainment which I found a bit odd for a five-hour plus flight, but one could rent a Sony Playstation Vita (I saw no one that took advantage of this) and the meal was more of a snack (two tiny rice rolls, two sausage patties, salad, kimchi, and custard (which I mistook for tofu) than something to hold you over on a long flight. Beverages (Coke and orange juice) were free but alcohol (Tiger Beer) was not. However, there was duty free. There’s always room for duty free, even on a budget airlines.

The highlight of the flight, prior to arrival at Wattay International Airport was a rousing stretching routine led by the flight attendants and with some pre-recorded music turned up loud and distorted. Everyone knew what stretching exercises to do: either they had taken Jin Air before or knew the routine.

If you are a foreigner traveling to Laos you can get a visa on arrival (be sure to have a passport sized photo). For Americans the cost is 35.00. South Koreans do not need a visa. As I was the only foreigner inboard I was able to breeze through immigration formalities after getting my visa (there is a special line for visa-on-arrival passengers).

However, be aware that because of the late arrival (the flight I was on arrived 30 minutes late due to a late departure from Incheon) you won’t be able to exchange money at the airport. However, there are two ATMs near the airline check in counters which takes foreign cards. Also it would be a good idea to make hotel reservations prior to coming to Laos. All of the Korean passengers onboard were on various package tours and had no problem arranging for transport from the airport to their hotels. There is taxi service available ($8.00 for car/$16.00 for van) but given the late arrival, I had to take a van.

Returning to Incheon is a little inconvenient given the late departure (23:00). Although I would have had the same departure from Bangkok, there are more things to do in the airport. You are better off paying half for a hotel room (which I did) and getting in some sleep before the flight back to Incheon.

There was no announcement of the check in for the flight. No need to worry. Groups of Korean travelers upon arriving at the airport went to the check-in counters immediately. Also all the boarding passes and baggage tags had already been processed, which actually made the check-in process easy (one could still request an aisle or window seat).

It was a smooth flight going and coming back (except the late departure from Incheon), the service was fair given that it is a budget airlines, and the staff and crew were quite friendly. However, the next time I fly to Laos I am sticking with Thai Airways. For want it’s worth, as a budget airlines, Jin Air gets you to Laos quicker, but that’s about all.

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm — Tumuli Park, 1991

Before we journeyed to Pusan, my friend and colleague Ken wanted to spend a day or two in Kyongju, the ancient capital of Korea’s Shilla Kingdom (noted for its arts and the spread of Buddhism).

Located in the center of town were these small hills, which were actually burial mounds. You see these mounds all across Korea, but in Kyongju there is a large cluster of them in Tumuli Park.

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm

Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm — Chalgachi Fish Market, 1991

One of my first trips outside of Seoul was all the way down to Pusan in early 1991. My friend and colleague Ken Celmer, who had made the same trip the year before wanted to take the same trip again and I joined him.

I have an essay about this trip in Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm and mention this famous fish market.

It was a bitterly cold day when Ken and I were there and one of the first things he wanted to do was tour the fish market as well as hire a fisherman for a few hours to take us on a boat ride around the harbor. When the skipper of the skiff got too close to some fishing trawlers, Ken and I got a little nervous.

Later, to warm up, we ate some spicy fish soup which included the head of the fish in a spicy chigae (stew) concoction.


On the road from Vientiane to Thakek.

Now, there are a couple things going on with this photo. First, “please” is misspelled; okay, that’s a little obvious. Now what got me chuckling is the next part, “butroom.” Yes, it should be “bathroom” but, (no pun intended) butroom makes sense. After all, it is a room for your butt.

Make no buts about it.

(Taken with Sony Bloggie)

He was in such a hurry to get off the plane…

Have you ever been on a plane and noticed how some travelers jump out of their seats as soon as the plane hits the runway, open up the overhead bins, and start to pull out their bags before a flight attendant has to yell at them to sit their asses down and wait for the plane to stop moving?

Some travelers (I’m not going to mention any nationalities) are more notorious than others for jumping out of their seats and pushing their way to the door before the plane has reached the terminal, but a guy on my flight back to South Korea last Friday took being impatient to a new level: He tried to find an empty seat closer to the door.

About 30 minutes before the plane landed, I got up to use the restroom. When I returned to my seat 33C, there was a man sitting in it. He wasn’t talking to anyone and it didn’t look like he was sitting there to get out of the way of any flight attendants picking up the last of the breakfast trays. He was just sitting there staring straight ahead.

What the fuck, I thought.

“Excuse me,”  I said. “I think you’re sitting in my seat.”

He looked up at me dumbfounded and surprised, mumbled something incoherent and returned to his seat about five rows back.

In all fairness, maybe he was confused where his seat was; after all, it was 6:00 in the morning and most of the cabin lights were turned down.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe he really was a seat jumper.

As soon as the plane reached the terminal at Incheon, guess who was out of their seat first and pushing his way to the door?


Vientiane: The times are a changin’

Earlier this year I read on Samakomlao this informative Laos’ Website that The Pizza Company, this popular Thai pizza franchise was going to open their first store in Vientiane and become the first fast food restaurant in the capital city.

I mentioned this to one of my blog readers and said that this could be the beginning of more restaurants to open up in Vientiane.

Sure enough, not only did The Pizza Company open but also Swensen’s a very popular ice cream franchise in Thailand. And then, one afternoon while strolling down by the Mekong River, there it was–Vientiane’s first American fast food restaurant sans that jolly goateed man in white–KFC.

And wait, there’s more. Not long ago I blogged how there were no movie theaters in Vientiane. Not anymore. Next to Talat Sao–this popular market in Vientiane a new building is going up that will have a modern shopping mall and movie theater.

Is this good or bad? There’s a part of me that loves the quiet, quaint charm that Vientiane exudes–a sleepy capital of guesthouses, street vendors selling baguette sandwiches and charming coffeehouses–unlike the hustle and bustle of cities of other Southeast Asia capital cities like Bangkok. On the other hand, it is good for Vientiane in terms of tourism dollars and jobs–at least I hope this works out for Vientiane and Laos.

However, it comes with a price. Vientiane has already gotten noisy and crowded and it is already translating into some minor price gouging: tuk-tuk drivers are charging exorbitant rates for traveling around the city.

Picture of the Day: Row of Buddhas at Haw Pha Kaew — Vientiane, Laos

A row of Buddha statues outside Haw Pha Kaew in Vientiane.

Interestingly, this temple is no longer a temple, but it is a museum of Buddhist artifacts. Of course, if you are up on your history of Laos and Vientiane then you know that this temple once housed the Emerald Buddha–yes, the Emerald Buddha now housed in Wat Phra Kaeo (notice the similarity in name) in Bangkok.

Laos Bound — Incheon International Airport

Didn’t sleep a wink last night but managed to get a few minutes on the airport limousine bus from Daejeon to Incheon International Airport. I left Daejeon at 3:20 and arrived at the airport a little after 6:00. Checked in at 6:50 and now hanging out in the Priority Pass Lounge with a view of the check in area–glad I was the first one in line.

My plane leaves at 10:20 and arrives in Bangkok around 5:00 (after a stop in Hong Kong). I get to Vientiane at 9:00 tonight.

I’ve never flown out of Incheon in August–the peak travel season. It is only 7:30am and the airport is packed. But don’t be fooled. A lot of people are here to send people off. And then there’s all the tour groups traipsing back and forth clogging the works.

I’ve got about an hour to relax here before I catch a shuttle to my terminal.

Hey, did you read my story at Bartleby Snopes? Come on guys, I would really like to know what you think!

iPod Fully Loaded

Remember the days before digitalized music, MP3 players and iPods–when making a compilation tape, whether for a road trip or a friend was an art?

It’s like what Rob (John Cusack) says in High Fidelity (2000), “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Back in the day you only had 90-120 minutes (is it just me or an urban legend but somewhere along the line I remember someone telling me that 90-minute tapes were better than 120-minute tapes) for your compilation tapes so you had to choose your songs carefully and wisely.

Of course, these days with lots and lots of gigabytes at your disposal, you can make up all sorts of play lists for whatever mood or situation. And if you want a bit of old school you can still make some killer play lists.

That’s kind of what I’ve done for my upcoming trip to Laos–I’ve created some killer play lists, not only for the journey but for some background music when I am with Aon and the boys. It’s time for me to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to some of the music I have grown up with.

I’ve got my iPod fully-loaded and ready to rock out on the long journey ahead and to introduce Jeremy Aaron and Bia to 50+ years of rock and roll.

Picture of the day: Fujiyama from Kofu

Fujiyama or Mt. Fuji rising up from mountains hemming in Kofu. Black and white or in color, Fujiyama is one majestic mountain.

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