Nov 062015

Took the KAL Limo Bus back to the airport, and it was a gorgeous day. Traffic wasn’t horrid either, and soon it was check-in time. Decided I would check in first, and then stumble down to Starbucks to join the rest of the world. There was a huge and horridly organized queue for checkin, and long lines for business class…full of economy class passengers. After about 5 minutes I gave up, and walked to the front, and asked “are you checking in business class here too?” That was the magic ticket, and they finally stopped the economy line and helped me.

Was told it was a 2-1-2 configuration today, which is odd because it was 2-2-2 when I booked it. She assured me this was the case, so I asked for row two in the middle. Got a lounge pass to the Korean Air lounge, and then headed off to join the world with Starbucks. Starbucks was packed, but after coffee and a snack I was much happier and ready to head to the lounge.

However, first there was security, which had a 20 minute line, and no priority queue. Ugh. After that, it was another 20 minutes in the immigration queue. This wasn’t shaping up to be my morning. When I finally got through, had to take the train over to the other terminal and that’s when I found the Korean Air Lounge. Found is the right word, because I couldn’t find any signs that said where it was, and the few airport employees I asked spoke absolutely no English.

Once I finally found it, I pretty much wished I hadn’t. It was filled with families, with small children running all over. At first I thought “apparently the US isn’t the only country where mommy and daddy let their precious angels run around and disturb everyone else” but then I heard the accents…and realized they were pretty much all Korean-Americans letting their kids run around. Ugh. America. Stop it. Manners aren’t that hard!

The lounge also had an extremely poor selection of food and drink on top of being super warm. In fairness, some of this was probably due to the large glass windows with a sweeping view of the airport where you could see tons of planes, but unfortunately with the view came the heat, and I was over it. Plus, MIAT was at the very last gate in the terminal and a rather long walk away. But when I got to the gate, the excitement built:


My ride to Mongolia:


Business class turned out to be extremely empty, with only me and one other passenger today, but economy looked packed. Oh well, was very glad I’d paid the extra!

MIAT Mongolian flight 302
Seoul, Incheon (ICN) to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (ULN)
Depart 14:20, Arrive 17:50, Flight Time: 3:30
Boeing 767-300 Registration JU-1021, Manufactured 2013, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 94,406
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,133,012

Was super glad to see I’d paid extra when I saw we got a reconfigured plane with proper international business class seats instead of a regional product!


Nice seats, with power ports:


Plenty of legroom:


Decent entertainment system:


Welcome aboard glass of bubbles…it was semi-warm, and I only had a sip:


Impressive looking amenity kit for a short flight:


The contents were much less impressive, although I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an amenity kit with an inflatable neck pillow before!


Ahaha, I knew I wasn’t dreaming it…there is such a thing as economy class syndrome! 😉


MIAT’s fleet…looks like while the 767-300 which I was supposed to have has crummy regional seats, the 767-300ER we actually got has 30 proper international business class seats. A definite score!


Before the meal, packaged nuts were offered along with a pretty terrible glass of red wine:


“Meat or fish” was the choice. I had the meat…I think it was beef, and it was…about as good as it looked. The overall presentation wasn’t too bad, but…


Close-up of the mystery meat. I tired a bite and it tasted much better than it looked, so I had a few more bites:


This is what passes for dessert on MIAT:


Flight went quickly watching movies on the iPad, and soon we were descending towards Ulaanbaatar:


The city coming into view:


Aero Mongolia plane on the apron:


Inside the airport, this sign welcomed us:


Overall impression of MIAT: the seats were quite nice, the plane felt new, and it was a pretty peaceful experience. The soft product was pretty bad, however. The food was grim, the crew completely disappeared after serving it except to try and sell duty free, and after that they didn’t even respond to the call button so I could get more water. I had to go all the way back to the coach galley to find someone. I’m pretty sure had business been any fuller I would have been left with a bad impression, but since the cabin was empty and it was a relatively short flight I was willing to overlook it and call it an all-around ok product.

Next up, time to explore a bit of Mongolia!

Nov 052015

As I mentioned earlier, since it was absolutely pouring rain and late at night, I really didn’t have much choice but to take a taxi to my hotel in Tokyo. I considered trying to call an Uber, but there wasn’t one anywhere on the map, and I was too tired to wait, so went with it, fully expecting an extremely expensive ride.

I had asked the hotel approximately how much I should expect in an email, and they told me “around 70,000 Yen.” This was around $55 or so, so I didn’t feel like it was too bad. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the hotel, the total bill was 9,370 Yen, or just over $78. Ouch. To the driver’s credit, however, he knew exactly three words of English (compared to my four of Japanese), made exact change, and was as pleasant as could be.

Arrived at my hotel the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Tokyo, and there was a line waiting to check in, and only one agent working. Waited nearly 15 minutes (even as an SPG Platinum) and finally got to the front of the line. The agent was indifferent, displayed absolutely no personality, and when asked about the possibility of a platinum upgrade, perhaps to a suite, said “we do not do that.” So, standard room it was for me. This ranks as some of the poorest platinum treatment I’ve had anywhere in the world.

Got to the room, and it was smaaaaaaal. I’ve stayed at the Westin Tokyo before, and through the rooms were a good size. This hotel was more “traditional” feeling, but at the same time felt old, run-down, and not nearly as nice. After putting my bags down and grabbing a shower (it was about 12:30am at this point) I realized I was pretty starving. Ordered a sandwich from room service along with two beers, which was actually a pretty reasonable (for Japan) around $38.

When it arrived, I had just sat down to my computer to do some work and saw that there would be no internet from 9-5 the next day due to upgrading work. Are you kidding me? How can a hotel of this level not have internet? Regardless, my body clock was off by 4-5 hours at this point, so ended up staying up until around 2am doing work after having what proved to be a reasonably decent sandwich. Then, passed out, and didn’t bother to set an alarm.

…which I probably should have done, because it was nearly 1pm when I woke up! I can’t remember the last time I’d slept nearly 11 hours, and pretty sure it’s been more than a decade. So, despite the room being small, the AC being barely functional (it was 22C in the room), and anything else I didn’t like about this hotel, at least I managed an amazing night of sleep!

Upon seeing the time I leapt out of bed, but when I threw open the curtains I suddenly didn’t feel bad about sleeping in – it was STILL pouring rain! I puttered around for maybe 30 minutes before grabbing a shower and heading to check out. Once again, the front desk was completely indifferent, so I headed to the concierge to find out the best way to Narita. He suggested a taxi to Shinagawa station about 2km away, followed by the Narita Express train to the airport. Given the rain this sounded good, and off I went. The taxi was just under 1,000 Yen (around $8) and the station was absolutely huge.

I was able to buy tickets no problem from the ticket office, and decided to wait 55 minutes instead of rushing for the train in 25. I hadn’t had anything to eat since room service like 12 hours prior, so headed off to, well, you can probably guess…


Yes, apparently the Pumpkin Spice Latte is called the Pumpkin Pie Latte in Japan. It was super packed in Starbucks, but after stalking tables I managed to find somewhere to sit. Coffee and sandwich was good, but after around 15 minutes of people watching it was time to head down to the platform and find my Narita Express. I’d decided to pay a little extra for the “Green Car” aka business/first class and it was definitely well worth it given it was empty while most of the rest of the train seemed pretty full:


It was a reasonable walk from the train station at Narita to the JAL check-in counter, and I waited about 10 minutes to check in since apparently there was also a flight to Taipei leaving around the same time, and the entire business class was filled with people needing to check their golf clubs. Wasn’t too bad of a wait, the agent was very friendly, and soon it was off to immigration and security (which were completely uneventful) and finally the JAL lounge.

I don’t fly a ton of OneWorld, so in all my trips to Narita had never been in this lounge. A few thoughts…it was absolutely packed, to the point it felt like a United Club. I know late afternoon is rush hour in Tokyo, but it was still pretty ridiculous. The food options were also rather poor, basically some little wrapped cheese things, some biscuits, and that was more or less it. The beverage option was decent, and I took the chance to have a bit of plum wine. Internet was also reasonably quick, so overall not a bad stay. Just nothing “special.”

Headed off to the gate about 50 minutes before the flight, and there was already a long queue to board. Didn’t matter, however, since we ended up being a bus gate. Fortunately the rain had turned into a heavy drizzle at this point, so didn’t get TOO wet waiting to board.

Japan Airlines (JAL) flight 959
Tokyo, Narita (NRT) to Seoul, Incheon (ICN)
Depart 18:40, Arrive 21:15, Flight Time: 2:35
Boeing 767-300 Registration JA601J, Manufactured 2002, Seat 3D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 93,180
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,131,786

Upon boarding, this 767 business class was exactly what I expected. Those who fly United will remember what was not-too-fondly called the “Ghetto Bird” which was a 767 with 2-2-2 seating that was pretty much domestic first. Well, JAL still flies them, and that’s what we were on today. The big difference was the crew was super friendly and helpful and despite the flight being booked full there was one seat empty in business class…and it was next to me!

Plus, how can you complain when you get a menu on a two hour flight:


Sure, it came all on one tray, but the wine came in individual bottles, and the presentation was pretty much excellent:


When I finished it all, I was asked my favourite part, and the flight attendant brought me another lobster salad along with my ice cream dessert…and insisted on bringing me another bottle of wine. So far, this crew was excellent!


After clearing my tray, she came back again…with yet another bottle of wine. “Please, I would like you to have.” I mean, come on, how can you not drink it when the flight attendant pretty much guilts you into it? I have to say, despite the hard product being pretty poor, the soft product was most likely the best I’ve ever had on a two hour flight. I know lots of people say JAL is no ANA, but I have to say after this flight I look forward to trying them on a longer flight.

Immigration was a piece of cake in Seoul, bought my ticket for the KAL Limo bus to my hotel, the W Seoul. After about a 90 minute ride, we finally arrived at the hotel around 11:45 pm. I’d been upgraded to a “studio suite” which wasn’t quite as large as my previous stays there, but was still a pretty good size:


Super large bathroom too:


So, this is where the problem began. I’d unpacked, and after 15 minutes of the AC running it wasn’t getting any cooler. The thermostat read 24.2, up from 24.0 when I’d checked in. So, I called down and asked someone be sent up. Someone came up, but they assured me it ‘just takes time’ and I should wait. So, I waited 15 minutes…before calling back and informing them it was no cooler.

Ok, so now maintenance will look at it. Maintenance assured them the AC was working fine, and sometimes “these just take time.” No, this isn’t acceptable. I asked to change rooms…please…give us 15 more minutes, it will cool down. I waited 15 more (it was now 12:30 am) and I called down and demanded to speak to the manager on duty.

The manager showed up a few minutes later, and agreed to see “if” she could find another room since they were “pretty full.” Well, not according to the website, which had all kinds of rooms to sell me if I wanted. After 15 minutes she managed to find me the exact same room on the floor below….which was also 24C when I walked in, but cooled to 21C in the first 15 minutes. Ugh.

Fortunately, now that I had a cool room, I could tuck into the wine JAL had supplied me with, along with the chocolates the W had left in my sauna…I mean room:


By this point, it was approaching 1:30 am, and I was ready to tuck into the Austin Powers bed:


So, overall, extremely disappointing performance by the W. Eventually I got a good room, and a good night of sleep, but barely six hours thanks to all the mixups on their part. The kicker was the next morning when I asked the manager on duty for some points as compensation for all the problems. She was “not authorized to do that” because only the General Manager can…and he is on vacation for two weeks. Are you serious? Service recovery seems to be a MAJOR weak point for this hotel. When things go right, it’s a great property, but as this stay proved when things go wrong, they really have no idea how to recover for it.

Six hours was plenty of sleep to function on, however, so off to the airport it was for my next new country…Mongolia!

Dec 062014

After a nice relaxing breakfast, it was time to catch the hotel shuttle back to Narita. Got there a bit early, so mainlined some Starbucks while I waited and very slowly came back to life. Soon Asiana check-in was open, and the line next to me provided “Happy Mom Service.” This is a thing? Seriously?


At check-in I got the bad news that Asiana had eliminated first class service on regional routes, and I’d been downgraded to business. GRRR. Not to worry though, it was still the same plane so I’d get a first class seat with business class service. No first class lounge, however. Yuck. The great thing at check-in, however, is that the agent was willing to check my bag of scuba gear all the way to DC so I didn’t have to pick it up for three days….and I was back in the land of carry-on only. Thank God!

Through immigration, where you must remember that transporting crabs is not permitted!


Explored the United Club lounge, had one beer because…well…automatic beer machine…before retreating in fear to the ANA lounge. It unfortunately, wasn’t much better. I’d never been in either of these lounges before, having always used the ANA First (now suites) lounge on my previous trips through Narita. The ANA lounge was fairly ok, but neither lounge was anything to get there at all early for.

I decided to head to the gate on time, and of course, boarding was thus delayed for 20 minutes. Just my luck. Our plane had arrived slightly late from Seoul, but was nice to get a good pic of her:


Right around the time we were scheduled to leave we finally boarded.

Asiana Flight 101
Tokyo/Narita, Japan (NRT) to Seoul/Incheon, Korea (ICN)
Depart 12:30, Arrive 15:10, Flight Time 2:40
Boeing 747-400, Registration HL7423, Manufactured 1997, Seat 3A

Boarded and the crew extremely graciously brought menus rather quickly:


I chose the Korean option, however, I noticed the crew being rather uncomfortable with the last passengers. I called the FA over and asked if I could switch to the western meal, and she gave a big smile and said of course. When I don’t really have a preference I like to make the crew’s life easier, and it was nice to help them avoid an uncomfortable situation a bit.

It was a good choice, and rather tasty:


My help provided me with several timely champagne refills, which helped the flight go by quite quickly. I’d saved my Air New Zealand socks just for the occasion:


The crew actually closed the curtains between first and business class during the flight, so other than the fact that the food and wine were slightly below what they would have been in first…and the lounge issue…it felt more or less like first anyways with the seat and service, so it wasn’t too much of a let down.

Immigration was pretty quick, and with no luggage checked I was outside waiting for the Korean Airlines Limo. Took a few minutes to buy a ticket and find the right route, and after about 15-20 minutes a bus came. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get to my hotel, but I seemed to remember it was a bit over an hour. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on the fact it was rush hour, and it took nearly two hours to get there. Ugh. At least the bus was empty so I had two seats to myself.

It was a bit after 6pm when I finally got to my hotel, the W Walkerhill. I knew this wasn’t in the best location, however, I knew it would be relaxing and my first choice (the Westin) wasn’t available the night I needed. I got lucky, however, and received what was for me a rare W upgrade to a Cool Corner Room. The check-in agent was really helpful, helped me figure out all my transportation questions for using the hotel bus plus subway to get to dinner, which was really awesome. Strange furnishings outside the room should have warned me things were going to get weird:


I’ll save the room details for later. I headed out to meet some friends for a light dinner and drinks in Gangnam. Bright lights! Heeeeeeey sexy lady!



After dinner and a few drinks, these dancing soju bottles looked about as goofy as I felt:


I’d had just enough to drink, and made the mistake when asked what our next stop should be of saying “I want a traditional late night experience.” Then I made the mistake of saying I would “eat anything.” Off to the fish market we went…where I was introduced to sannakji…or live octopus. It gets chopped up while alive, and you eat it while the tentacles are still thrashing from electrical impulses:


What they DON’T tell you, however, is that the little suction cups still work, and attach to your throat on the way down in an attempt to hang on. Fortunately I avoided choking despite the amount of soju we’d consumed, and managed to make it back to my hotel…where the oddness of the room somehow seemed not quite as weird.

The Austin Powers bed. Unfortunately, it didn’t rotate:


Living area, and walkway to the walk-in closet, door, and washroom:


Walk-in closet:


Strange uber-modern washroom:


…you can’t give me a goofy red robe and slippers that match the decor and expect me NOT to put them on:


The octopus had finally settled down for a bit, so settled down to get some sleep before what would be an unfortunately very early flight the next morning.