For those of us who use Quidco*** for cashback purposes and for booking hotels, they have a good offer with Accor Hotels***  than can really slash the cost of hotel stays (especially if you’re a member of Le Club which then gets you the lovely points).

The magic numbers you’re looking for are:

  • 3% for Etap Hotel, HotelF1 and Formule 1  *
  • 3% for Ibis Budget
  • 7.5% for Ibis and All Seasons
  • 7.5% for Adagio Access *
  • 12% for Mercure, Novotel, Suithotel, and Adagio  *
  • 16% for Pullman, Sofitel, and MGallery *

* indicated increased rate.

There are of course Terms and Conditions which are worth a read.

  • Accorhotels will not validate cashback until your stay has been completed.
  • Members should only use voucher codes listed on Quidco. If you use voucher codes or gift vouchers that are not listed on Quidco your cashback may not track or be declined.
  • Cashback may only be paid on the net value excluding VAT, all other taxes, surcharges and any additional costs such as delivery.

I’ve tend to use Accor Hotels as a “discounted option” when I go travelling, and have in the past combined them with the insane sales that Accor have every now and again. Combine this with a LeClub Platinum or Gold – and it becomes not the worst way to stay around the world.

Tracking with Accor however can be a pain, and it sometimes takes time for everything to go through using Quidco (then again, ICHG is almost as bad). I find a fresh browser with cookies flushed increases the chance of cashback heavily.

Note that non UK residents may find Quidco a bit limiting in terms of how much cashback you can get paid to you via PayPal (between £1.01 and £25), so this needs to be a consideration too.

It’s a darn good offer if you can use it…

 

*** Yes, you’ve noticed some stars. If you sign up to Quidco via my link, I get a referral bonus of £2.50. This is divided half, with you receiving the £1.25 credited to Quidco your account. The “naked” link is http://www.quidco.com/accorhotels/

Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Time to bring this trip together and wrap it up. If you’ve made it this far, you’re a brave person. Well done!


Lets look at the Airlines, the accommodation, and then the wrap up before we get on to final trip thoughts.
The Airlines:

  • BMI For Lufthansa. Amazing service for a short segment and great communication. The staff even wanted to be there for hells teeth sake. For BMI, it’s always been the staff that have made that airline, and this was evident again. I’m going to miss those guys when it is formally game over. 
  • ANA took a level of service I expect from a business class carrier and blew it away . With the 787 product, they have a winner – though I do fear for the loads and if that FRA-HND is viable in the long term with 46 business class seats and 112 Economy seats and I do fear economies of scale will move in sooner rather than later. Food for thought for ANA.
  • Thai Airways whist competent with the service, the safety aspects were worrying. It could had been that crew who just wanted to get on the ground. Doesn’t excuse them from pulling the cabin lights to high and checking the cabin is secure.
  • Asiana Airlines did the job once again. There’s a few little rough edges here and there – but nothing of real consequence you can’t overlook. Excellent service and excellent crews.

The Hotels

  • Hotel Savigny was a lovely property… but the room was way too hot. Still. It provided a bed, a place to relax and sort myself out before the madness of Asia.
  • The Strings by Intercontinental is a really lovely world class hotel with wonderful service and great little touches. If you’re heading to Haneda Airport and are looking for a great Intercontinental property, look no further.
  • The Crown Plaza Causeway Bay (Happy Valley) felt like a major cut above what a Crown Plaza is – if anything, it felt more Intercontinental that a Crown Plaza. Great staff, great service – if a pain to get there hiking through Causeway Bay station (although the tram outside the hotel does help. A lot).
  • The Ramada Seoul Dongdaemun wasn’t what I expected. And that is… a good thing. Certainly it’s a better stay for those who are doing longer term trips to Seoul with the kitchen, clothes washer, it’s a great property. The only thing that really scared me was the threat of a W10,000 fine for loosing an electronic key….

The Destinations

  • Japan and Tokyo were everything I expected to be… and nothing like I expected to be (if that makes any sense). The people were lovely, welcoming (if shy). I could see me going back to Japan in an instant. But I’d want to treble any spending money I assign for Japan. Then Double that amount.
  • Hong Kong was its usual bustling self. As well as getting the camera seen to (important), I also managed to get my two “chops” carved at long last – these will both serve me in the future.
  • Seoul may be the 2nd biggest metropolis in the world, but I found plenty of quiet points in Seoul this time – even in the markets, it seemed quieter than last time. A lovely dovetail to an amazing trip.

So, Goodbye Miles?

I save my miles from when I do idiot mileage runs around the USA and Canada for that “special occasion” or “special trip”, and with BMI heading the way of the dodo, I took my chance and flew whilst I could. And I make no apology for that. It is the “suffering” in Economy Class that I do so often that allows me to really appreciate business class travel when I take it.

Let me say as well, it is always the journey – never the final destination that matters. Because the final destination is always the front door of my flat. And sometimes, it’s nice to be home after a long trip.

I’ve burned the best part of 100,000 BMI Miles on this trip, and 150,000 Priority Club points on this trip – a big amount by any stretch of the imagination.

But miles and points depreciate. Companies go out of business. Experiences and memories do not leave you as quick, and can change how you think of the world – or how you appreciate the world.

However, just because miles change or devaulate – it’s not an excuse to hang up my travel shoes. I’m sure I’ll accumulate Avios, Miles an More Miles, and a plethora of other  currencies that will aid in in travel, and get great experiences.

Because at the end of the day, it’s why I travel – for the experience.

And that concludes Farewell Miles. It’s been a long write up, and there’s one more paragraph left after this. I’d like to thank you for reading and your comments, and of course, I’ll try and answer your questions as soon as possible.

However, enough of the premium flying malarkey. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice – far too nice actually. But I’m a sucker for Economy flights (namely my wallet won’t allow much more!) and it’s heading to that time of year when I get my travel shoes on again and head of for the Windy City. So please join me in April for A final Star Hurrah? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada

Toodle Pip!


ADDENDUM:

If you represent an organisation who has been reviewed in a Trip Report and wish for clarification over any issue , please contact me directly at blog@ghettoife.com stating your credentials and the nature of  the question requiring clarification. A response will be sent to you as soon as is possible.

Posted by Kevincm | One Comment

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Well we’re approaching the end of this trip, but there is room for one more business class segment. But before we get to fly, breakfast is a darn good thing…


The final day of the trip was going to be special as I had been contacted before I set off by stargold who kindly invited me to breakfast or drinks in the evening. And since i was in town, it would had been rude of me if I refused (I can do niceness sometimes).

In the end, we chose Breakfast on the grounds that my sleep pattern was shot to hell by this point in the trip (getting up at 5am on Holiday and being out like a light at 10pm isn’t cricket for me), so on the final day of the trip, we met at Seoul Station (after a minor mess-up by yours truly telling poor stargold I was staying at the wrong Ramada. Oops.).

And it was a great breakfast, chatting about redemption’s, ideas for the futures, how bad some North American carriers are and general chit-chat. A darn good morning. That and the food at the Westin was excellent. A highly recommended buffet breakfast.

After breakfast with stargold, my time was running low. It was back dash back to the Ramada, a quick pick up of the trash, and then back to Seoul Station in a fast cab. 4,100Won later, I was outside and running with the heavy rucksacks, exchanged my train voucher, raced downstairs and the train to Incheon Airport was waiting to go.

Airport Express Seoul Station to Seoul Incheon Airport
A’REX Service
Price Paid W9,800 (List is about W13,800)

Little hint: At the time of writing, if you pop down to the Korea Tourist Information Office, they’re is a travel agency there that  sell you tickets for the train there at a discount.  Alternatively, if you’ve got time on your hands, the local stopping service costs W3700 or so.

When I went through Seoul last time, this line wasn’t complete (it was running up to Gimpo Airport at that point). Now that line is  built, I’d thought it would be worth a review to see how it compares to the Limousine Bus.

Now it is entirely possible to check in, drop your luggage of and get immigration clearance here – if you’ve allow enough time to do it all (with a 3 hour deadline before flight). I didn’t sadly make the 3 hour deadline, so it would be the conventional means of checking in at the airport for me.

The ticket had a seat number and assignment so I duly found my way to Car 5, and dumped my luggage on the seat next to me – normally, I’d dump it near the luggage bin except there were only a few people aboard (if it was loaded, yes – the bag would had been in the luggage area.

Once the train pulled out, it was a 43 minute journey to Incheon Airport – just showing how far away it is from the centre of Seoul. Thankfully this was also a non stop service, so it was on dedicated tracks and lines. Sometimes I think countries like to build these airports in the middle of nowhere and think of the infrastructure later just for the hell of it. The service wasn’t exactly fast per say (not TGV fast, but it pootled along at its own speed). With 0ver 60% of the route underground, there is sadly not much of a chance to see the Korean countryside before approaching Incheon Airport. Still the train did its job, and pulled into the airport station on time.

On the way to Incheon

After getting of the train, it was straight up the escalators and through the barriers.

Overall: It’s a great improvement for those who travel between Seoul Station and Seoul Incheon Airport. And it’s a great way to get from A to B.  However, I maintain if you’re in a big City like Seoul, and don’t know your way round, stick to the Limousine Buses on the way to your hotel, and on the way back, get the train if it is convenient to your journey.

With the rucksacks heavy as heck, I took advantage of the free shuttle truck that sped along the Transportation Centre to the main Terminal, where I wandered up to Check In, and over to Asiana business check in.

I was greeted politely, and presented my passport. I confirmed that London was my final destination. At that point, my bags were tagged, told what gate the plane would be going from today and invited to the lounge. I noticed that my seat had been changed again, and was told the seat next to me was empty (and a hope it would remain empty for the flight home).

All good. I picked up the little day rucksack, and headed to security. Security was split into two – those heading for the USA and those who were not. An interesting split, but nothing too odd.

I was through security in a few minutes, with no questions asked, and just the usual formalities of laptop out, empty pockets, shoes on.

As I packed up my trash to head away, to immigration, one of the security guards came up to me… and handed over my memory cards that I accidentally dropped. How polite and nice!

Soon enough, I was at the Emigration barrier, and after a passport stamp on an empty page (grr), I was free to proceed.

Now, I’ve got to admit, mostly every Korean person I’ve ran into in this  trips have been wonderful and polite. It seems they saved the pushy sales people for the Airport and the Duty Free concessions, where I felt I had to run the risk to get what I needed from Duty Free.  Two attempts to shop – and I gave up getting anything else.

Instead, I headed to the lounge to kick back for a tiny bit before the flight.

Lounge Stop: Asiana Airlines Business Lounge

I was welcomed to the lounge, and settled down near the food (it’s tradition – plus the view is very acceptable)… plus the lounge was very busy so it was one of the few window seats.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Asiana lounge – far from it. It’s a lovely large space, and plenty of seats. I just happen to like being near a window and watching the world going by.

Food area

Seating area

Eventually, the time in the lounge came to an end, and I headed off, checking that boarding had yet to begin.

Heading down the spine corridors of Incheon Airport, it was fairly busy – people heading to destinations far and wide, and the duty free shops doing a roaring trade.

Making it to Gate 40, my plane was waiting, and boarding was a few minutes away yet.

Waiting to load...

OZ521 Seoul Inchon International Airport to London Heathrow Airport T1
Asiana Airlines Inc, Boeing 777-200ER
Seat 3A > 4K > 2A, Business Class

The pictures:

Welcome!

I was welcomed aboard with a poilte bow, and headed to 2A – my home for this flight. I placed everything I didn’t need in the overhead bin, and the useful things such as the laptop and camera in the seat next to me.

As I looked around, I saw I had lucked out on the old equipment rather than the new lie-flat seats. Oh well – not the end of the world for me for what is in effect – a day flight. And on top of that, old IFE.

Old OZ Seat in Normal mode with seatrest extended(taken later in flight)

In "Relax" Mode

In bed mode (taken later in flight)

Oh well.

A welcome drink was offered, and I took a glass of bubbles.

Bubbles

Eventually the jetbridges were pulled away and 2B was free. However, there was distinct pause. That pause turned into a delay at Incheon due to traffic. Whilst this would had been inconvenient to others aboard, for once this played into my hands my next connection was in London at 7:15pm local. An extra 15 minute delay wasn’t that bad and was useful to me.

Eventually, safety video played, and the pushback tug began its work. This time, it was the basic safety video, and none of the “beautiful manners” videos played.

After pushback and positioning was complete, the tug crew waved the plane off – a lovely touch.

Bye Bye Korea!

A quick taxi, and the 777-200ER lined up on the runway keys, and we were off into the blue

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3yfaOV0vQ8

 

Climbout

As climbout continued, the flight settled down, and food options were requested. I went for the Korean option. Of course as most of you know who have been aboard Asiana, and stick to the Korean cuisine it’s BiBimBap on the way into Korea, Ssambap on the way out. Yes, there were other options, but come on, lets keep the food here nice at least.

That, BiBimBap and Ssambap are very safe options in my humble opinion. Anyhoo. Onto the service itself (and for once – I liberated a menu out of Asiana Airlines. Yes, I’m in shock too)

So lets go through the menu (Korean option)

Starter - Starter Hashed Beef with Baby Leaf and Potato chip

This had lovely delicate flavors within it, with the potato chips lovely and soft too – not harsh in the mouth. Wonderful tastes inside it. And yes, that is a glass full of bubbles with me ;)

 

Chlorella roll

Now the Chlorella roll was something different – And I still can’t put my finger on it even with the power of Wikipedia (Seaweed seems about right).  Still, this was a lovely vegetarian taste, with different flavors throughout. Very different – and very Korean.

Chestnut and Date Porridge

I’m going to be honest and admit, this wasn’t to my taste at all really. I did try, but the texture and taste didn’t appeal to me sadly.

Then it was onto the Ssamabap. For those who don’t know Ssambap is the wrapping of rice, beef and leaves into edible portions using the leaf as a wrapper

So here’s the full tray:

The main meal tray

So you have your beef and rice..

Beef and Rice

Side Dishes

The leaves

Also, there’s a soup..

Soup (note the bean paste in the top left)

And once again, the beef didn’t taste overcooked as it is easy to do (and the beef was slightly delayed out of the oven too it seems as the Western dishes were served quickly), and the flavours of the leaves, the bean paste and the soup all combined into a lovely Korean meal. Apart from the short delay before it arrived – nothing to fault at all.

This was consumed and cleared down, and a fresh fruit plate took it’s place.

Fruit and Ice Wine

The fruits were fresh, although the apple was starting to discolour. No biggie – it was edible still – and the fruits did indeed taste fresh. Desert wine was offered, and the flight attendant offered a nice Ice Wine. Who am I to say no to Ice Wine (after enjoying it in Canada).  The Ice Wine was  syrupy with some lovely notes in it.  Put it like this: There are worse things to do in the air.

Finally to conculde the serve,  was the Kkultarae

Kkultarae (served with Coffee)

This is a sweet with the white strands made of honey, and a sweet nut filling inside. Whilst they look small, they packed one hell of a taste and flavor. Whilst there were “only” two on the plate, after the dinner that had been served, it was enough.

After this had been consumed and a small amount of time had passed, the cabin was cleared down, and blinds were drawn downwards.

At this point, I put the seat into bed position and settled down for a bit. And I think I got a grand total of two hours snooze. The bottom line is simple: I wasn’t in the mood to sleep. Therefore, I popped the seat into the upright position and checked out the IFE.

Whilst the IFE screen was nice and big… the content was… awful. Only about 12 movies and programmes loaded on the system, and on a loop. I defaulted back to the map application and left that running during the flight. For my own IFE, it was time to pull out the laptop, rig it to the mains system and watch.. well.

Do you even need to guess the show? ;)

Midflight comes and goes, and it’s time for a midflight service. Again, I stuck with the noodle option – the options being “Mildly Spicy or Very Spicy”.

Regular readers should guess that answer ;)

Noodles!

... with Kimichi

Again, it’s the toppings that made these noodles (I think it was squid). The noodles did taste like packet noodles (the higher end sort as opposed to the super cheap ones), but they tasted nice, and filled a corner whilst I tried to get some rest again.

And failed.

So I put the seat into relax position.. .and watched Top Gear instead.

Heading into the minus two hour part of the flight, the lights came up a bit as the flight attendants took orders for the arrival snack. Again, there were choices, but here is what I went for:

Meatball with Cherry Tomato and Bocconcini

Ok, I’m not a fan of tomatoes, and never a fan of cheese, but this was a nice starter offset with the balsamic dressing on-top. Not bad at all. This was accompanied with a fancy bread:

Moving onto the main course

Duck Confit, Roasted Celeriac, Honey Glazed Apples with Red Wine Sauce

The duck was non fatty and had a rich taste to it.  The Roasted Celeriac made a great replacement for potatoes, and added an extra edge to the dish. However, there was a little downside to this and it can be shown with the image below:

Oh dear.

It seems the curse of the plastic knives have now reached Asiana. A shame (probably down to some ludicrous safety reason). The Duck wasn’t tough by any stretch of the imagination – but a metal knife would had been a useful thing in this case.

The service was concuded with a fruit tart and coffee.

Fruit Tart

Whilst the tart was small, it was quite flavorsome. A nice ending to a reasonable meal.

And at this point, most of the blinds went up in the cabin as the evening sunlight begun to fill it. And once again, I begun reflecting on the end of another adventure coming to an end – this time without loosing my keys in Korea (Which is what happened last time – I swear they’re somewhere near the DMZ…).

Soon enough, the plane began to cross the channel, counting the miles down to London. The cabin lights were brought up, and the cabin was cleared down.

Eventually, the plane crossed over British waters and over Kent, and settled into stacking for a few laps – a couple of laps outside London, and then… a few laps as the plane begun a river approach to Heathrow.

London 2012 Stratford Site

Over Canary Wharf and The Millennium Dome/The O2

With a river approach and Twickenham to the Left on arrival, soon enough, the 777-200ER descended into a lovely sunset at Heathrow Airport.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyNqs8o63FQ

Sunset at Heathrow

The plane doubled back and tracked past the T3 complex, past the T1 Irish Tunnel, until reaching the Europier and parking up. The bongs went to release the passenger via Door 2L (Dear Heathrow. Invest in LOTS of dual Air-Bridges please), and it was time to complete this trip and head for the barn.

... and I hope to see you again Asiana!

Overall: Asiana have maintained their service in the past 2 years – and that is an amazing thing in the airline industry. The service is still friendly and top notch, and whilst there are little cuts here and there – Asiana Business is still one of the best ways to go from Seoul to London.

Arriving back at Heathrow, it was a case of hiking from the Europier end of T1, all the way down to the UK border, where I was greeted with IRIS roped off.

Now after a long flight, that was… annoying.

With the UK/EU Passport Queue filling up fast, I decided to risk the E-Passport Gate. And whilst IRIS is lovely and fast, E-Passport took the best part of 2 minutes to match my biometric details.

And this is a forward step… how?

Anyway, I was cleared through the e-Passport gate, passed the rest of the desks into the old and deserted passport hall, and down to the luggage belt, where , and headed down to luggage claim where my Rucksacks were working their way around the belts.

Now that was excellent timing.

I loaded up the bags onto a trolly, and cleared UK Customs… and then re-entered the “real world”. With the premium experience over, it was time to head back to reality – and take the train to London, a Cab, and train to Birmingham.

Sounds simple enough? Well I needed to be at Moor Street for 7:15PM as I wanted to avoid a lot of the rush hour (and also use cheap tickets). First stop was down to the Heathrow Express platforms, where I brought a Heathrow  Connect ticket.

Heathrow Express pulling out. Maybe I should had paid out the extra in the end...

Considering HEX is one of the most expensive train services in the UK (bar none per mile), I feel slightly less conned when using Heathrow Connect. This was not the greatest decision, this time as the service suffered a 30 minute delay into Paddington. By this point, catching the 7:15PM to Birmingham was turning into a vague hope as opposed a reasonable idea.

However, the beauty of taking the HEC is it drops you off at Platform 12 – which is where the new taxi pickup point is. Which is very useful. Thankfully, it being nearing the end of peak time, there were plenty of taxi’s do pick-up.  I was directed to a waiting queue, and in typical London style, I stated my destination (and the meter started too) and I bundled into the taxi, dealing with the peak time London traffic to Marylebone station.

The cabbie dropped me outside Marylebone station with 10 minutes to spare. Another £25 in the machine and I had tickets for the train service, where a platform had already been declared for the service.

London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street
Chiltern Railways  Class 168, Standard Class.
£25 Super Off Peak Return.

Of course, this being just outside peak hour, it was full of North Oxfordshire commuters heading home, relegating me to the floor for 50 minutes until Bicester North.

Still, I was exhausted, so I sat with my luggage on the floor and snoozed until Bicester where I got a seat. After lashing the backpack to a railing, it was then a matter of getting to Moor Street Station. This being a fast service, there was only 5 stops to Birmingham, taking a grand total of 1 hours and 40 minutes from London, which this train service manged to do without any problems at all.

Nearing 8:35pm, the train approached Moor Street station where I loaded up the bags on my shoulders one more time for this trip and got off the train.

The ticket barriers at this point were switched off for the evening, so it was a simple matter of getting to the taxi rank. I could had walked a bit to grab a cheaper taxi, but you know what – stuff it – I want to enjoy the final part of my holiday. Thankfully, the driver knew where he was going (a rarity for a Birmingham Taxi Driver some days), and I was deposited outside the gates to the block of flats where I live.

Opening the gates, I moved each rucksack through, and lugged the lot bit by bit to my block of flats, and finally to my front door, taking a photo to conclude the trip with.

Home again.

After that, I went in, collapsed on the sofa, and let the world suffer to itself for a few days.


Coming up. The wrap-up. Well, everything must come to an end….


Posted by Kevincm | 5 Comments

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Time for a One-Time Exception – something a bit more slower than the fast-paced frenetic madness that has been parts of this trip as I head to a Shrine. 


In some trips, I can go blindly from one place to another without appreciating some of the peace that a country has to offer. And I did a lot of that the last time in Seoul. And a lot of it during this trip in fact. I’ve wanted to head to some of the palaces this trip. I chose the Jongmyo Shrine according the guide book.

Jongmyo Shrine
W1000 (English Tours on the hour,  but check for exact timings). 

The pictures:

Now whilst the shrine does allow the public to wander around one day a week, the rest of the time, it is by tour only. And at 1000 Won (the best part of ooh… £1)  I thought – hey – why not.

I got my ticket at the booth and was told there were Korean Language tours in on the twenty and forty, and an English language tour on the hour. It was by this point 11:20. And rather than rushing off to do other things, I took the time to sit down for a bit, and enjoy the peace of the park. Something I try and do once a trip (and often fail) – to stop for a minute and reflect on the whole thing. And this gave me the chance to sit down near the entrance and watch the world go by.

And it was lovely not to have to rush to the next stop somewhere – just to have peace to myself for a bit.

And that sums up the tour. The Shrine is dedicated to the memorial services for the deceased kings and queens of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. UNESCO deem this place important enough to add it to their World Heritage lists – and it is a peaceful place from the areas where the living king prepared to the long building of hte  Yeongnyeongjeon (Hall of Eternal Comfort), with  19 memorial tablets of kings and 30 of their queens, placed in 19 chambers.

And with so few people around – it felt like the spirits were happy at rest.

For now, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

A bit busy on the outside

But quiet on the inside

Overall: If you need the peace of a shrine, and need to get away from the wilds of a city to a place where spirits roam in peace…. this is a wonderful escape from the noise and the hubbubs of a city. An excellent place to take in some of the history of Korea.


Next up, I head homewards with Asiana. But not without breakfast first…..


Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


From MGallery to Intercontinental to Crown Plaza to a Ramada. For a Seoul “Value” option – how good can it be… or not?


Hotel: Ramada Seoul Dongdamun
Booked via Hotels.com – £132.10 with £15.85 cashback (via Quidco).

The photos: http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/03/06/ramada-seoul.html

Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. Some of us are trying to cut the costs on this trip.

After stumbling to the hotel (with the ever heavy rucksack and bags), I checked in. The rate also gave me breakfast – which was nice. What was not nice was the threat of if I lost my hotel keys, I’d be charged W10,000 each.

OUCH! Needless to say I held onto the keys like clawed hawk talons.

Heading up to the 4th floor there was a bed in the hallways on it’s end. Not the greatest of impressions. Once through the door of the room, I was quietly impressed.

The suite was… just that. Whilst the “bedroom” was as pokey as hell, the bathroom was of a reasonable size (with another toilet with too many buttons). The floor whilst wooden was under-heated and the bed was comfortable. And to be honest, a warm bed is sometimes that is all that is required.

After a frustrating evening of hogging other peoples Internet connections as the local connection was wired only (without a Cat5 cable), I bedded down for the night.

Slippers

Bedroom

Living area

Kitchen

The price of the room also included breakfast. Whist not as extensive as the Crown Plaza in Hong Kong, the Ramada had a reasonable selection for the included price.

Western Eats

Kimchi

Seaweed

Fruits

Overall: Like the other rooms in this trip, it had a purpose. The fact it was an odd layout, with kitchenette, and a bed in the hallway is besides a point. The room did the job as needed. The fact the rate had breakfast included was an additional surprise.  The only shocker was the W10,000 fee in case you lost your keycard… and the lack of reasonable Hotel WiFi.


Next up is a One-Time Exception of something I missed last time in Seoul. Tune in too see a shrine next time…


Posted by Kevincm | Comments are off for this article

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Back to more conventional matters, away from Camera cleaning and being a tourist – the joy of flying as I pick this trip report up again with Thai Airways International


The short time at Hong Kong was coming to an end, and after checking out, it was a cab ride back to Hong Kong Central station (with the crap I was carrying, the hike through Causeway Bay and Central/Hong Kong station was not appealing – neither was getting the tram or bus was tempting).

After exiting the cab and beeping my Airport Express Octopus card, I completed the check in formalities at the city terminal for my flight. Now this is a lovely feature of Hong Kong. Check luggage in, bypass silly terminal madness, go to lounge.

It was then a simple case of catching the Airport Express back to Hong Kong International Airport, where soon enough, I was deposited back at the Airport.

A quick step through security, and it was lounge time. Well when in Hong Kong, there is only one lounge I really like

Lounge Stop: Singapore Airlines SilverKirs Lounge.

I was sort of welcomed to the lounge, when the dragon said “the Thai lounge is closer to the gate”. A flash of the Senator Card, and I was reminded no boarding calls are made, and after my details were taken, I was let in.

The lounge is done in dark colours and richer tones, but I head straight the food area. Well it is sort of lunch time.


More dim sum


Piper

I was pretty relaxed, but saw time was moving on. And there are so many lounges to try. This time, I decided to head out of the lounge, and head to the Thai Airways Lounge which would be nearer the gate. A ride on a train and looking where I was going, and soon enough, I found the next lounge of the day.

Lounge Stop: Thai Airways

Lounge Stop: Thai Airways International Lounge

After showing my boarding pass, I was let into the lounge, which is a appointed with a food area, a work area, a games area and a a general seating area – which was crammed full of people.

The food options were different to the Singapore lounge (and no bottle of bubbles), but it was a nice bright space. The problem with a nice bright space in the air is the noise of the terminal below sadly.

I went to check when the gate opened, and was told to hang back for a bit as an announcement was to be made.

No announcement came.

15 minutes passed and I had a look at the gate area. Looking down at it I noticed it was mostly complete, and yet there was no announcement. I decided to take the initiative and head down. And it was good thing I did as the words “FINAL CALL” were on the display boards.

Thankfully, the gate was still open and i was accepted for travel. After heading down through the gate, it was then a turn for the Business Class Air-bridge.

TG628 Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport to Seoul Inchon International Airport
Thai Airways International, Boeing 777-200 (Regional Configuration)
Seat 12K, Business Class

I was warmly welcomed aboard, and headed to my seat.

Thankfully I checked in the day before using OLCI… and did a seat shift when I found someone was sitting next to me to a pair of seats which were unoccupied.

I quickly settled into the seat, and got the stuff I needed out for the flight, and read the safety card. Soon enough, the jet-bridges were detached and the safety video begun and the plane begun pushing back.

Welcome Bubbles

A slow taxi around the airport as it seemed to be in a usual busy queue. Thankfully the Thai 777’s have a lovely little feature – Nosewheel Cam! It gives a lovely perceptive of where you are and how far away you are from take off.

Soon enough the Rolls Royce Trent Engines roared into life, and our 777 took to the air.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqxAa5Ztizs

After the initial bumps out of Hong Kong, the plane settled down for it’s trip to Seoul, heading over Taiwan and up to the Korean peninsula.

Climbout

Soon enough the bumps cleared and the plane continued its climb. This was the perfect time for a service. And sticking once you start on Champagne, it’s rude to change drinks.

Smoked Almonds and Bubbles

Champagne in a thimble glass with smoked almonds.

Food soon followed with various choices. I went for the “local” options again

Beef Pastrami Starter

 

Garlic bread and Crackers

Butter and cheese

Cute salt and pepper shakers

Stir fried beef with onion, red and green capsicum with steamed Thai Hom Mali Rice and Sauteed Vegetables

Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream

The service was cleared down relatively quickly with coffee to follow:

Coffee and other after dinner drinks

Lets get onto the bane of every airline I travel on -  In Flight Entertainment. For most of this trip so far, I’ve been relying off my iPhone for content (as my laptop was by this point rapidly running out of hard disk space. Again). But a quick browse through the entertainment listings listed 1) content that looked reasonable and 2) content I liked – in big chunks. So I donned the earphones and watched a fair few episodes of the The Big Bang Theory.

Big Bang Theory. Watchable IFE.

The screen was reasonable, and the content delivered for once. Stranger things have happened in the air, I’ve got to admit.

Cabin during flight

Sunset

Dusk

As we closed in on Seoul, day turned into evening turning into night.

Closing in on Incheon

Now when the final cleardown and safety checks are done on other flights I’ve been on, the lights 90% up so the crew can see everything is secure. However on this flight I think they barely turned up the lights and did a quick look in business class and felt the luggage lockers before hiding back in the galley. Not what I’d call great safety performance there.

Nearing the ground

Thankfully, the decent into Seoul was relatively smooth and soon enough, we were on the ground.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evyv2_rd1ts

Taxi to the terminal was from the far runways, and once again, I switched from the online map to NoseCam again. It was also fun watching a little “FOLLOW ME” Truck guiding us to the gate during the sluggish taxi around Incheon Airport, and finally to the “Foreign Airlines” Concourse A, where the plane parked and we were allowed to leave the plane

Overall: Whilst the service was good, and the IFE content actually hit this trip reporters button, the lack of attention to landing procedures that I’m used to with other carriers is of concern. And I’m having trouble believing what I saw was a “full’ check. Maybe all this time being stuck in the plane with lights up before landing (before putting back down), and flight attendants “there for your safety” is starting to rub off me…. and I’m watching more carefully. Certainly I know my safety routines (and lets hope I never have to use them), but I felt the crew could had been more “visible” in this respect.

After getting off the plane at Seoul I took this photo.

Pre-wave.

And the pilots waved back at me. Awwww! I knew I liked Thai for some odd reason.

Anyhoo, it was then a hike to the train station as the most non Korean carriers dock at the International Terminal, which is connected by Train to the main terminal. Alas, as opposed to being every couple of minutes like they are in some places, this thing was every five minutes. And a train pulled out as I was heading downstairs.

5 minutes can feel like a long time...

5 minutes passed and a planeload of pax boarded the plane – not the most pleasant to loads. It quickly zipped to the other side of the airport, depositing me at South Korean Immigration.

South Korean Immigration used to be look at passport scan passport, bang bang, off you went. Sadly, like Japan and the USA, they’ve caught the biometrics bug and now also collect a photo and fingerprints, which does add to the delay to get into the country.

Still there wasn’t much of a queue when I got there (and a bigger one after I cleared immigration), and I was soon in the vast baggage hall where my bags was one of the first out. Loading it up into the cart, then it was through customs, where I was invited into South Korea.

After clearing immigration, I knew my next priority – getting to the hotel.

It was then a case of buying a ticket for the bus, and praying it would drop me near the right place. W14,000 later – I had a ticket and after double checking where things were (again thank you Incheon International Airport for Free WiFi), I headed for the bus stop.

The bus of course took it’s time, operating fast to Gimpo Airport, then crawling its way into Seoul itself before finally nearing the Hotel Achia… with the Ramada Hotels a few doors down. You don’t know how relived I was when I saw that!


Can a Ramada hotel be actually rather good? Tune in next chapter to find out!


Posted by Kevincm | 4 Comments

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Welcome to something very different for GhettoIFE.com. Regular readers know of my love and pain with my cameras (Especially this Canon 50D which at one point was going thrown out of the Star Ferry and into the depths of Hong Kong Harbour this trip). However, Digital SLR Cameras can get very dirty… but when the dirt is on the sensor, it’s defiantly time to get the thing cleaned.

Here’s a little background and where to get it cleaned in Hong Kong if things get desperate…


One Time Exception  - Tim Cheung Camera, K11 Shopping Complex, Tsim Shau Tsui.
Camera sensor clean, HK$570

When your camera is dirty, it’s a darn good idea to get the camera serviced as soon as possible. Normally the main cause of trouble for DSLR users is dirt on the sensor – what can’t be blown away needs a darn good clean.

And if you’re not confident or haven’t got the kit to clean it with, it’s time to research and get desperate to find a fix or someone to clean it for you.

Now whilst Tsim Shau Tsui has oodles of camera shops, most of them are… yes. Well put it like this – I wouldn’t go in and barter with them on discounts and rely on them being in Hong Kong when I next visit (even if it was a glass filter from $600 to $540 to $300 after walking out of the door in mock disgust later when I can pick up a decent one elsewhere for a slightly less prettier coin).

After sorting out getting my chops engraved in Man Wa Lane, I headed over to TST, and  found the shop in the K11 place (Exit A3@  TST – go past the 2nd hand Tim Cheung Camera shop, and go around the corner).

The shop is what I’d consider more of a “proper” camera shop than some of the places down Nathan Road which have flashy Neon tubes and prices that can be… eye-watering.

After explaining the problem, I was given two options – option 1, buy the kit myself and do it myself or option 2, get the sensor cleaned there and then in 30 minutes flat.

I went for option 2 – That’ll do nicely as they say.

I dropped the beast off at the camera shop and walked around the K11 complex (which has 1) a useful supermarket in the B1 level 2) Is connected to TST/TST-East stations and 3) Has 30 minutes free WiFi.

30 minutes later I popped back, and the sensor was clean again.

I paid the cash and walked out a lot happier than I went into the shop.

The fact an hour later, the camera decided that the floor of Man Wa Lane was a better place to be than my camera bag is besides the point (and whilst annoying the hell out of me, releasing MORE dust – thankfully that could be blown away)

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again – this Canon 50D and me are not getting on in any respect.

Except I can live with things normally. Before going mad. Well there has to be some madness for me for doing all this Economy flying normally.

Overall: Digital Camera sensors are good, but ultimately annoying when a bit of dirt gets on the sensor. Whilst others are confident and cleaning them, I’m not confident. Having a few contacts around the world when you’re in need can only be a good thing.

Hong Kong was a short break, doing the sights, the night show, and of course – the Temple Street Market which is a favourite hobby of mine – least of all I can practice bartering, and of course, enjoy the lights of the city.

Temple Street Market

Over to the island


Back to the flying malarkey in the next chapter of this long trip report – Stay tuned!


Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Yes, it’s time for another hotel review after jetting here with ANA. And in this, I learn the real reason why I paid for Ambassador with Intercontinental last year (even if it took them 6 months to get me a membership card and welcome pack!!!!)


After negotiating Hong Kong immigration with what I thought was a long wait for Hong Kong (30 minutes) it was time to sit down and work out my next move, and work out where was going next. Abusing the free WiFi at HKG therefore was a must. It was then a case of buying a 3 day octopus pass with Airport Express tickets loaded, loading an extra HK$50 on incidentals (such as Ferry, Tram and Bus ride and then heading to the island.

Airport Express is of course its usual quick self, depositing me at the Hong Kong MTR station 24 minutes after picking me up at the Airport.

 

A quick check, and realising there was no shuttle bus to the hotel, I wandered into the Hong Kong to Central connection and was instantly reminded of how long a walk it is from the station to station. Well it is longer when you have a 20kg solid backpack on you with another 10kg in the front.

The MTR is… it’s usual self (actually a good reason why I don’t particularly like the MTR. Too much pushing, shoving, etc with walks that seem longer every time I go through a station – part of the reason why I switched to tram, bus and ferry when I could). Eventually, I make my exit into Times Square, a quick double back and I reach my digs for the next two days – the Crown Plaza Causeway Bay.

Hotel: Crown Plaza Causeway Bay
Price Paid: 30,000+$120USD (Points and Cash).

No, I will NOT take pictures of the outsides of hotels during the day!


I wandered into the hotel, and queued up with the masses. I then went to check in, and presented my Ambassador card. This promoted a raised eyebrow from the checkin agent and a bit of tooing and froing – after a minute was taken to the Priority Club Checkin.

Oops.  (Although in my defence, I couldn’t see the Priority Club Check In point)

I was welcomed as the agent tried unpick the damage that had been done with the reservation, and welcomed me formally as a Platinum Ambassador. I was then told of I was upgraded to a corner room with a view of the Happy Valley Race Course (nice), breakfast was included in the rate (very nice) as well as nibbles in the bar after 5:30 (very nice indeed) as well as Internet Access (Excellllent!).

The agent also checked when I was leaving and extended by an hour too.

With that, I was shown to the lift, and reminded to shove my keycard in the slot in the elevator to get get access floor level access to the room.

The after settling in, and opening up the blinds,a view of the Happy Valley was before me.

The Happy Valley before me

The room itself was a lovely size, and the views were… great. Not as amazing as the ones in Tokyo (that will ll be hard to match anywhere I suspect). What made this room different are the amenities in it – from the bathroom that looked out onto the world.

A bathroom with a view

Toiletries and Water

Bed

Desk connectivity - note the Media Ports and USB Charging

But it was the little things around the room like a USB charging socket, an a iPod dock to charge your phone or watch your media on.

And “normal” plugs (well, normal to to me anyway – those of you who aren’t a resident of the British Isles won’t appropriate yet another adaptor in your collection ;))

Flat Screen TV with iPod Dock (and DVD player)

It’s little touches like that, that make one hell of a big difference.
Soon enough, a welcome fruit plate turned up as well. Hang on, am I in a Crown Plaza or a Intercontinental here?

Welcome Amenity

Anyway, after settling down, I decided to enjoy the evening, and headed to the bar, where it was drinks time and nibbles time. As there is no lounge here – it’s drinks at the bar.

I can live with that.

Pool and Art

Pool and art.

After being fueled for the evening, I escaped into town, and over to the Kowloon.

Another day, and it was time to take advantage of the buffet breakfast. Well it’s inculded in the rate, so why not?

Now this is a big buffet they have, form sushi to noodles, to western stuff, to cold and even a custom omlette and Noodle bar

Raw.... to...

Cooking...

To cooked!

And Dim Sum too!

Overall: If you want Intercontinental Service without the Intercontinental cost, this the Crown Plaza to visit. Excellent and friendly service, whilst being lovely and friendly throughout. Just make sure you’re at least an IC Ambassador to get the best of the place….


Next up is something slightly different for those of you who read GhettoIFE. A lot of you know I’m a camera nut, but I had a bad case of dirt contamination inside my sensor on this trip. I’d better do something about it…


Posted by Kevincm | 3 Comments

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Amazingly, I’ve hit the halfway point on this trip report. Yes, I’m in shock too!

Well after 2 entries on the ground, it is time to get my backside into the sky with this entry. ANA were excellent with their 787 long haul operation and the service they had on board. Can lightning strike twice on a regional route? Lets find out…


After checking out from The Strings at the best part of 6am in the morning I had the two choices again – JR Hamamatsuchō- and Monorail, or The Keikyu line back to Haneda. This time, it was dictated by how many yen was left in my pocket… which by this point of the trip – wasn’t a lot.

With 300 yen on my Sucia and a 500 yen coin (and a 1000 yen note), the decision was made for me: Keikyu line.

I beeped through the gate, and lo and behold – an express to Haneda Airport was just about to arrive.

Perfect timing.

Whilst the views were less dramatic than the Monorail ride from the airport, in a way they where much more interesting as there was more of the much more of the older Tokyo and the suburban life. The views changed the closer the train got to Haneda before disappearing into black and out into the International Terminal.

After using the fare adjustment machine to add an extra 100 yen onto the Sucia, I beeped out of the airport, and found a trolley, and followed the signs to departures.

This way...

After finding departures, it was off to the ANA Business check-in lines. Now I don’t look like a business class traveller when I travel, so there was an arched eyebrow why I was there, but I was let through and completed the check-in to Hong Kong. I was advised where the lounge was and again, my backpack was taken from me and put into the luggage system (anyone hearing me London Heathrow Airport? Of course not) and I headed off to a security line which had practically no queues, and a very short queue for emigration, where I at last had a proper stamp from Japan put in my passport.

Stickers may be fine, but a lovely “thunk” of a stamp is always preferred ;)

It was then off to the ANA Lounge after spotting a friend at the window who had come in from Frankfurt

Well Helllooooo Stranger!

ANA International Lounge
Noodles Consumed: Well…

After accidentally heading the wrong way (going left instead of right – the left side is JAL, the right side is ANA), I made my way up to the lounge, and was greeted. My Boarding Pass was scanned and accepted, and I made my way in.

As you go in, you can see the model airplanes to the side (including a dreaded Pokemon plane).

Then it expands into a big lounge, with seating areas, work areas and food. And whilst there were there was a custom Udon noodle bar. Well it would had been wrong not to take advantage of it ;)

Food Area

Noodle Nom!

Crackers!

With 3 choices, I went for the Eel topping, and it was very nice. The noodles were lovely and soft, and the topping was flavoursome.

You know, I could sort of get used to this sort of thing.

The main lounge area (part of it...)

As I stayed in the lounge, it started to busy up, and the movements outside started to happen, with the Internationally configured 787 being towed away, and replaced with a 777 that was to head to Seoul at the same time the bird I was due to be on was due to head off to Hong Kong.

I forsee a race.

Soon enough, boarding time came around, and I thanked the staff, and headed downstairs to the gate, where boarding had been announced for the flight. Talk about good timing here kids.

The Chariot to Hong Kong...

My boarding pass was beeped, and I was allowed aboard.

NH1171 – Tokyo Haneda Airport (Tokyo International Airport) – Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport
All Nippon Airlines,
Boeing 777-300. Seat 12A

With a very polite bow I was greeted and sent down to 12A, passing the bigger old style First class seats at the front of the plane, down to the 2-3-2 of business class.

Thankfully, 12B wasn’t occupied. This proved handy later on in flight as it gave me somewhere to dump my trash (and also power my laptop – but I’m jumping ahead of myself).

Seat

Legroom

After getting on a plane, and packing away my stuff, the first thing I do is read the safety card. And it’s force of habit – the simple reason being is in an emergency, I want to get out alive. It is therefore good manners to know the layout of the plane and where the safety equipment was. And I spent a good few minutes reading the card, then hunting the life jacket (I always locate the tab of a life-jacket release so I know where it is in my mind).

Eventually I found it to the right of me, between the seats, but up high to my shoulder rather than down below near the floor.

After that confusion, I settled in, checking the menu and waited for the doors to close. Meanwhile the flight attendant came to say hello to me. In three Different languages (Japanese, Cantonese and finally English). Ah the games I love to play when being half Chinese ;)

I was offered an English paper and welcomed aboard properly.

The doors closed a bit early, and the safety demonstration was given manually (as in business class, monitors had to be stowed for take off, landing and taxi), and remember what I said about a race? Both the Seoul Flight and the Hong Kong flight pushed back at identical times, with the the flight I was on seemingly given way.

In the seat pocket was the menu, as well as more slippers. Let’s put it like this: I won’t need slippers in the flat for some years to come after this trip.

Our plane did a fair old taxi around Haneda Airport (passing a techops section and the odd Pokemon Jet) until we had lined up for take off. We were held for a short while, then the bongs were give.

Pika... chu?

The result is below

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezy3m2YlqLs

After climbing out, there were some pretty nasty bumps. Thankfully as the climb continued, the air eased up and service could commence.

Climbing

And well. Since I only had one glass on the way out, it would be rude of me not to have a bottle…

One bottle

Or two ;)

Or two...

Perfect for gazing at how long that 777-300 wing is…

Big Wing. Heavy Wing!

Moving on the meal service arrived, and again, I went with the Japanese option. This was made up of:

The Kuchidori
Kelp-marinated salmon suhshi, Deep fried soft shell prawn, Rolled conger eel with burdock roots and Japanese Rolled Omlette

The Otsukrui
Soy Marinated tuna with gated yam

The Shusai
Grilled Makeraeral, Rice with green soy beans with Miso Soup and Wagashi

I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

 

And once again, it was simply impressive. A great mixture of flavours of textures, with everything cooked well so the flavours were not destroyed. The rice didn’t taste overcooked, and the presentation was simply great.

Again – like someone actually thought about the service they were conducting.

Excellent service.

The service was rounded off with Ice cream, which went well with the Champers I was still drinking.

The desert of champions!

The flight continued on its merry way as the service was cleared down. With a comparatively long leg to Hong Kong, it was a chance to test out the seat in its various configurations.

In relax mode...

In bed mode

The seat had an acre of seat pitch, and is a full wedgie bed. And yes, I was sliding down it.

The staff were on-hand, and I couldn’t count a period where up to 10 minutes one of them was shuffling up or down the isle, topping up water, seeing to customers needs.

Moving onto IFE, this had an older generation of the ANA In Flight Entertainent system. Sadly, after watching the 787 documentary again (I did that a few times ON the 787 ta;)), so I resorted to attempt to type up some of the trip report. Which itself became a problem as the power plugs are at elbow level when sitting in a business class seat. And they’re near the armrest. This becomes a problem if you have to use a power converter, with a big UK style plug too. Amazingly it fitted so I managed to watch the world go by and do a bit of work at the same time.

Slippers are the in-thing with Asian carriers...

Busines Class in Flight - note the 2 x 3 x 2

Over Taiwan, there were a fair few bumps – bumps enough to put the crew into their seats for a few minutes whilst we cleared them.

Descending into Hong Kong

Soon enough they were released for final cleardown as the plane begun vectoring for Hong Kong.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyBjn3LqGRE

After a short taxi off the runway, the plane docked at the pier and we were invited to disembark. Again, the staff held back the hordes in Economy whilst Business Class was allowed to disembark. I politely exited the aircraft and thanked the crew.

Overall: Again, Japanese service is a completely different beast to any other service in the world. And it was delivered with a smile and understanding that was brilliant. The hardware used for daytime flight was appropriate.
Put it like this: If the chance to fly ANA came up again – I wouldn’t say no.


Next up, to the Crown Plaza Causeway Bay at The Happy Valley. Stay tuned!


Posted by Kevincm | 2 Comments

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Ok, it’s time for a One Time Exception – And I’ve had to cut it down a tiny bit due to the sheer amount that I’ve written before. In some ways, it’s not a bad thing as it’ll cut the size of the report down by a few pictures. Enjoy!


One Time Exception: Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Lookout, Shinjuku
Price: FREE.

There are two major lookout points in Tokyo. The classic tourist trap is of course the Tokyo Tower. The other (and slightly less known lookout point) is The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

Now if you’ve noticed in the tagline, there is one lovely thing about this place – it’s free!  And for Tokyo, it makes it one of the best bargains going. However, you do need to cross halfway across the city to get to it, and if you’re lazy, a subway change or two, which can add to the costs on your Sucia/PASMO card.

Once you get to the building, take exit A3 (not A4 like I did and hike around the block once), and follow the signs. Oh, and for those lost in translation: The Tokyo Tourist Board is here – and are helpful to Gaijin who act lost trying to find the elevator upwards ;).

In the building, there are not one, but two observation decks, opening at different times. On my visit, I arrived in time for the North tower.

A quick assent up 45 floors, and once again, I was up in the Sky. Well. Sort of ;)

And the views? Well they’re not brilliant heading into Tokyo itself, but the views out of the city towards Fuji-san were… amazing at dusk:

Here’s a selection.


There are a load more images on the Photoblog – http://www.photoblog.com/kevincm/2012/03/13/tokyo-metropolitan-building-north-tower-observatory.html

Now, I fall into the other tourist trap, the Tokyo Tower, which whilst had better views of the city, it didn’t feel as friendly as the Metropolitan building – mainly due to the opportunities that Tokyo Tower were taking to drain your wallet. There are pictures from that, but I’m working through the trip report. Follow me on Twitter and you’ll know when the pictures from the Tokyo Tower are out!


Right, enough of the on the ground stuff. I think it’s time to get back in the air – after all this is a Travel Blog ;). Tune in next time when I see what ANA’s service is like on a Regional Run in Business…


Posted by Kevincm | 3 Comments

Farewell Miles – A Mileage Burning Party with All Nippon Airlines, Thai Airways and Asiana Airlines in Business Class (with a BMI Leg)

Featuring the ANA International 787-8.


Well I covered the 787 in the previous post. Time to get down to accommodation matters – and a hotel brand you wouldn’t normally associate with me….


After exiting the airplane, it was time to play follow the signs to the immigration point – not far away, but still plenty of queues.

Heading towards immigration

I lined up at the non Japanese line and presented my passport, where it was checked, and as opposed to stamping it like most countries… a sticker spat out of a printer and stuck to my passport. Now that’s a bit different!

I was accepted into the country and then queued up for the luggage… which sadly took a while. Well not too sad for me, as I wasn’t in that much of a rush to get to the hotel. It was just after 6:30 in the morning after all.

The bag finally came out and I walked through Japanese customs and finally through the glass doors into Japan. I then took the opportunity to use Haneda airport’s WiFi for a bit in what was a very quiet international terminal.

The bottom line was this: I had cleared formalities by 7am, and could not move for 2 hours as I wanted to 1) avoid the Tokyo rush hour and 2) not get to the hotel before 10am to stand a chance of a room. So I spent the time catching up with mail, my friends and also double checking where I needed to go, and comparing that to the Tokyo maps I had on my phone.

After thoroughly confusing myself with were I needed to go, I had two options – take the direct train to Shinagawa with Keikyū Airport line or… do a Simpson’s and do the Monorail to Hamamatsuchō , then onto Shinagawa with the Yamanote line.

After buying my Suica card, I was humming The Simpsons Monorail song and headed to the Monorail station.

The Tokyo Monorail is allegedly one of the few in the world that makes money – and with the passenger load, I can believe that without question. It was clean and ran efficiently (if I caught a stopper service to Hamamatsuchō from the Haneda International Terminal), with i crossing through the bay area before arriving at Monorail Hamamatsuchō. It was also here I got my first glimpse of the madness that is Tokyo – the queue to board the monorail heading back to Haneda. A beep of the Sucia, and I was out in the “public” area of the station before hunting the entrance to the JR section of the station.

Another beep and I was within the JR section of the station. Again I took my time, watching a couple of trains pass (least of all I was lost as hell even though I was in the right place), but picking a train that didn’t have too many people on it was the prime objective.

And yes, Hamamatsuchō has another purpose – being the home to the Tokyo Pokemon Centre (something one of my friends took advantage of sadly…).

After surviving my first contact with the JR Yamanote line (as well as discovering how sensitive those smartcard readers are and how much change they take out of your pocket – ouch is the word I’m looking for), I made it to Shinagawa, and exited the station, headed in what seeemed to be the right direction and followed the crowd to the skyways, and to a sign that looked good – Strings by Intercontinental.

After noticing where the 7/11 was and the way into the hotel, I went to the elevator and pressed a button for up – as check in was on the 26th floor of the building.

Continuing my tradition of "Take photos of the hotel at night"

Hotel: The Strings – Intercontinental Hotel, Shinagawa, Tokyo
Price Paid: 120,000 Priority Club Points+$240 (Cash and Points Rate)

I was welcomed and my bag taken. As I checked in a warm towel was offered and accepted. My reservation was confirmed (after a bit of faffing around thanks to Priority Club giving me… two PC numbers. I’ve moaned about that already in another entry in this blog).

As I was early (it was 10am) I was asked to wait for a room to become available. I parked up and did a load of prep work for the next Chicago trip (thankfully there’s Free WiFi through the hotel – a wonderful perk).

Atrium (from the 28th floor)

1 hour passed and the receptionist found me sat down, where  I was issued my keys for the room on the 28th floor. After pushing the key in the slot to gain access to the rooms, the rucksack was toted upstairs by a porter, and he lead me to the room. The rucksack was placed down, and I was given a brief tour of the room. With a kind bow, he left, and I was left to my own devices, 28 floors up in a place far from home.

The room again was lovely decorated and whilst there wasn’t acres of space, it was well used with a decent work area, a decent bed. But what made the room is the view.

The view - daytime

At night

At Dawn

Anyhoo, lets look around the room

The bed.. was a delight. So much of delight I didn’t leave my room when I arrived for some time to come (that and the jetlag finally it me with a shovel).

Bed

There was a big Flat TV Screen and a reasonable work area with appropriate sockets (along with a wonderful water heater. Think a Rice Cooker style, but for water. That’s another clever idea…)

Telly - yes. It's BBC World. Don't look at me like that...

The Water Heater

Wandering into the bathroom there is a well appointed bathroom, bath and shower (again – loving  the warm water), but again – another Toilet with WAY too many buttons on it. Amenities were all by Emilies – lovely smellies and nice.

Too many buttons!!!!

Shower and Bath

Basin

Elemis Amenties

Of course, being an Ambassador, there was a Welcome Amenity too.

Welcome amenity

Welcome gift - a Coffee Mug!

Being where the hotel was, it made a great base for me (and in fact for anyone heading in from Haneda). For Narita, it’s a bit more of a hike due to it being at the southern end of the Yamanote line.

The staff were excellent, with a turndown service each day and friendly. Even explaining the sleepsuit that was left on my bed.  It’s the little things that matter in hotels – and this hotel has them in depth.

Overall

Lets face it, on normal Kevincm budgets, this would had been well out of reach. As a points and cash redemption, it was worth every single point (even at the new rates).

If you want a plus hotel which has great service and a great view, and is well connected to the JR Network for Tokyo and beyond – look no further than here… although whatever you want to load on your Sucia/Pasmo card… double it. It’ll make life a lot easier….


Next up, it’s a One Time Exception. You lot do not get away that easy I’m afraid ;) I’ll be back to the flying thing soon enough…


Posted by Kevincm | 6 Comments

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