Saturday, October 12, 2019

Asia Hopper 2019 ✈ Korea Transit Tour

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo 

Trip Planning
If you've been following our past travels, you'd notice that our trips always seemed complicated and long, definitely not a style that fits most people. The thing is, we want to spend time with my families on the other side of the world, and we also want to see new places, but we have limited vacation days. Being an optimizer, it's a fun challenge to  look for ways to make the most of our vacation and our hard-earned points and miles.

I started planning for our 2019 trip right after returning from our NZ trip last December and managed to book our flights in January using United miles and the Excursionist perk. We invited MIL to join us on this trip because it has been about 6 years since she last visited Malaysia. Besides, she had a accumulated good bit of United miles from credit card signup bonuses (yes I'm her CC 'consultant' =P), so she decided to join us on this crazy trip. 

Aug 29-31 (Thurs-Sat): Huntsville - Chicago - Seoul

I decided to fly solo 2 days earlier than hubby and MIL for the first leg of our trip due to several reasons:
- Hubby's vacation is very limited (10 days/year) and I had a lot more vacation days to use
- I wanted to fully utilize the 7-nights hotel certificate for Taipei
- My flight had a long layover in Seoul after the long 13-hours red-eye flight, which I planned intentionally because it was perfect for a free transit tour, but I know my travel companions will be too tired to enjoy it so I'd rather go solo. 

Our initial plan to travel light (with just a backpack) failed miserably because 3/4 of my luggage was filled with stuffs for family and friends in Malaysia. Not fun lugging this big a** luggage all around!

2-hour positioning flight on United to Chicago to connect to Asiana Airlines for the long transpacific flight (always prefer Asian airlines for long hauls).

Our flight departed at midnight, which explains my ready-to-sleep look. This was my first time traveling on Asiana Airlines. The leg space was good (benefit of short people) and I was glad to have an empty seat between myself and another lady.

Traveling on Korean flights means Korean food! Not gonna lie, I was looking forward to having bibimbap onboard. Guess I'm one of the rare ones who gets excited about airplane food. =P Bibimbap at 1am and kimchi pork rice for breakfast...totally fine!

Aug 31 (Sat): Landed at Incheon airport at 3.35am and was welcomed by an empty airport. They had a pretty nice lounge area for transit passengers, including a nap zone, but pretty much every sleep-able space was occupied by people sleeping (and snoring).   

After spending a few hours chatting with hubby and charging my gadgets, I went to the shower room to get a good free shower and freshen up. 

Quick tip for those who have a long transit in Incheon airport, they have a number of free transit tours available throughout the day. This time, I opted for the 5-hr tour to Gyeongbokgung Palace and Insadong. While the tour is free, I paid KRW11,000 ($9) for the palace entrance fee and lunch at Insadong...not bad at all!

Hopped on the bus at 8am and headed towards Seoul. Our tour guide was pretty good and asked us to choose one of the 2 lunch options - Bibimbap or Bulgolgi stew.

Arrived Gyeongbokgung Palace at 9am. We spent approximately an hour here with a guided tour provided by our tour guide. 

Thankful for the beautiful weather!

The last time I visited this place was 13 years ago!

Hahahaha!! Massive throwback to 24 December 2006.

Managed to see the guard changing ceremony at 10am before leaving for our next stop.

Early lunch (10.30am) at this little restaurant at Insadong. I was hungry already so the timing was perfect. Since I already had bibimbap in the flight, I chose the Bulgogi stew. Shared a table with a couple from the US and another lady from Russia.

We had about half an hour to stroll along Insadong shopping street before heading back to the airport at 11.20am. Made it back to the airport at 12.30pm with sufficient time before boarding for my 2.20pm flight.

2.5 hr flight on Asiana from Taipei. Nice that they served a meal for this short flight!

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