CategoriesAdventuresTastesTravel

Four Cheap Things to Do in Jeju, South Korea

Travel guidebooks sometimes call Jeju “the Hawaii of South Korea.” Though it falls short of Hawaii’s scenery, I really liked it. It has everything from a city of nearly half a million people to outdoor recreation. Also, this list of cheap things to do in Jeju will show you how to have fun without spending a lot.

Here are a few of my favorite parts of a visit to Jeju, along with one spot I regret missing. There is plentiful transportation; city buses run often, and taxis offer a reasonably priced option for quick trips around the city.

Seongsan Ilchulbong Cheap things to do in Jeju
At the base of Seongsan Ilchulbong

Cheap Things to Do in Jeju

Hike: Mount Halla (aka Hallasan)

A visit to the island’s highest point will give you a great view of the entire island. I enjoyed views of the many smaller volcanic cinder cones that dot the landscape. Along the way, I passed through forests populated by roe deer. Be sure to get an early start — there’s a 1 p.m. cutoff time to climb all the way to the summit. Hallasan not a technical hike, but the longest trail is 6 miles. There’s a 1,600 won fee to use the trails, which is about $1.50 U.S.

Climb: Seongsan Ilchulbong

This volcanic tuff cone pops up along the seashore and draws flocks of tour buses. The climb to the top is short, steep, and very crowded. But it’s worth the trip. On the way down, I found a second path that leads to the shore. There, you can try fresh raw seafood like abalone and octopus fresh from the water. The admission to climb Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak was 2,000 won, or about $1.70 U.S.

cheap things to do in jeju
Pick your spot for a makeshift tripod and make some photo magic,

Go Underground: Majanggul Lava Tube

A few miles south of the seashore, there’s massive lava tube designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not all of Manjanggul-gil, Gujwa-eup is open to visitors, and those familiar with caving may be shocked at how developed it is. Still, the sheer size makes it worth mentioning on my list of cheap things to do in Jeju. A few features inside are well lit, and people handy with their camera settings can capture some images worthy of framing. I prefer my caves and lava tubes less developed, but I still enjoy any chance to go underground. The admission fee will fluctuate according to exchange rates, but it was less than $2 during my visit.

Imbibe: Boris Brewery

Travel guides say Modern Times is the best-known brewery at the moment. “Best-known” and “best beer” are two different things. Had I known about Boris Brewery, I would’ve bypassed Modern Times (the beer there is simply awful). The latest venture by brewer Boris de Mesones, Boris Brewery earned a bronze medal at the Australian AIWA international beer competition and a silver medal at the European Beer Star. I like hoppy brews, so I’d suggest trying the two India Pale Ales on tap.

If you’ll be in Jeju anyway, be sure to check out Jeju Loveland. I also have a blog post all about it. Enjoy!

CategoriesTravel

Review: Lufthansa 747-8i

Right now, the Boeing 747-8i is one of the coolest, newest airliners flying. People who are into air travel should put this on their "must fly" list.

This October, I got to fly in a 747-8i to Frankfurt Airport from O’Hare Airport and back. Lufthansa was my airline of choice. And I know that air travel nerds like me will want to know what the 8i is like.

Lufthansa 747-8i
Our 747-8i parks next to another one.

What’s the Deal?

If you like air travel as much as I do, you probably already know what’s so cool about the 747-8i. But for the rest of you might need some background: The 8i is built on concepts learned from the 787 Dreamliner. It’s incredibly fuel efficient thanks to new engines and a wing that sweeps upward steeply, especially after takeoff. It’s also the longest passenger airplane flying.

Inside, it’s all slick modern goodness, from LED lighting to fairly spacious lavatories to huge overhead luggage bins. And on-demand entertainment at every seat, of course.

How Did I Like the 747-8i?

On both flights, I had seat 34A, right up against a bulkhead and behind the wing and engines. So this wasn’t a quiet place to be.

747-8i
A look at the 747-8i cabin.

Our choice of seat was based on getting a bassinet for our 9-month-old daughter. The flight attendants attached it to the wall after takeoff, and the little person got some quality sleep.

The on-demand entertainment worked perfectly and included some cool extra programming, like short documentaries offering looks inside Lufthansa operations, in addition to movies, TV and sports. I would’ve loved some German language lessons.

This was also a very comfortable slimline seat. Usually, my buttcheeks get achy and numb  starting at about 5 hour. I had no problems at all on these 8-and-a-half hour flights.

747-8i
The 747-8i has some comfortable coach seats.

Boeing wisely skipped the Dreamliner-style window dimmers and opted for traditional shades. There are also power plugs at every seat, including a USB port. The USB port did seem to have an oddly loose fit with our cables, though.

What Complaints Do I Have?

No plane is perfect, not even the 747-8i. It didn’t have air nozzles at the seats to cool you off. This could be a problem if one gets left in the sun to bake; this is a trait it shares with the Airbus A330.

There are also some problems with the bassinet and retractable video screens and tray tables. They can interfere with each other, and their appears to be some inconsistency: It wasn’t a problem on the first flight -- a minor bit of Tetris allowed me to move the tray and monitor without moving the bassinet. The second plane. though – the monitor didn’t rotate as far, so I was out of luck.

747-8i
These slots on the bulkhead are where the flight attendants can mount a bassinet. I’ve probably seen these on other planes, but never thought about it before being a dad.

I also have yet to find a plane like the Asiana 777 that has self-serve water fountains. That is so much better than waiting for shot glass-sized water cups from the flight attendants. Why every airline doesn’t do that is beyond me. One thing I noticed in Europe is that people don’t drink water like we do in the U.S., especially in Arizona. So this could be partially a culture thing.

Summing Up the 747-8i

This is a graceful, elegant aircraft in spite of its size. Generally, I think all aircraft are industrial art forms. But the 747-8i is especially pleasing to my eye. It extra-awesome when you see the wings flex upward as the plane lifts off.

747-8i
The small person tests the bulkhead-mounted bassinet – her review was pretty favorable.

Strictly from the passenger experience, though, the Dreamliner still has a modern, starship-like mojo that tops even the 747-8i. And there’s that aforementioned Asiana 777 that I love so much. I probably won’t make a huge effort to get aboard a 747-8i in the future since the Dreamliner and 777 (depending on the individual airline’s configuration and service, to be sure) are out there. And I have yet to fly an A-380, so my next Lufthansa booking will probably be on an A-380 of my schedule allows. And yes, I’d fly Lufthansa to Europe again in a second.

Be sure to check my other review for Lufthansa; it focuses on the airline’s kid-friendly flight attendants and amenities.

CategoriesTravel

My TSA Encounter at Chicago O’Hare Checkpoint

NOTE: I wrote this post Sunday while sitting in a hotel after a canceled flight.

I’m in Chicago, fresh off a Lufthansa 747 from Frankfurt. I’m happy that I spent two weeks with my wife and little person – and reconnected with family I hadn’t seen since the 80s, plus one of my best friends and his family.

I’m trying really hard not to let the TSA and its collective competence and attitude disorders overshadow the rest of the trip. It’s not easy, though.

Here’s the deal: we had to connect with a flight to Phoenix. That involved a change of terminals, which also means a trip through security. With a baby (admittedly, a baby about to board her 17th flight). We got into a long queue in the checkpoint at Gate B9 in terminal 1 right around 2 p.m. As we waited, a short,  bearded and needlessly officious TSA employee – think Jason Schwartzman – ran a monologue that ran the gammut from contradictory to vaguely threatening. My favorite part: his digressions on fanny packs (Actual quote: “And don’t play games with us on fanny packs – we mean business!”). NOTE: I do not refer to TSA employees as officers because they are not, regardless of the TSA designation; they have no immunity from state or local laws, and do not have the power to arrest people.

(As a side note, I’ve been through security checkpoints in a laundry list of countries.)

I stepped through the magnetometer holding my little person. The TSA screener swabbed my hands. A few seconds later, the agent determined that I triggered some sort of “positive” and that I required more screening. I turned the little person over to Sarah.

I figured a second swab, or they’d swab me and send me on my way. The screener asked me to walk with them, which made me think they just needed a little extra room.

But no – he took me to an enclosed room. The alarm bells went off.

At that point, I told the TSA screeners that I wanted my wife present, and that she’s an attorney. (I wanted them on their best behavior.)

I also asked whether he minded if I recorded the screening. He told me that’s not allowed, and I asked to see that in writing. He fetched a higher ranking official, who told me that it’s against their procedures and is only available – and he really said this – on a need to know basis. “And because you’re a civilian, you don’t need to know.”

“Just so we’re clear here, ” I told him,” you’re a civilian too. ”

“Sir,” he said, somehow making the word sound like an insult, “I am a federally employed civilian.”

Why that matters, I have no clue. He also pointed to a sign that says recording or photographing in the private screening area is prohibited. Of course, putting something on a sign or even enacting it as a policy doesn’t make it law. It is well-known that filming a TSA checkpoint is, in fact, legal. Not even the ACLU seems to address this. The TSA website says “We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors.” I was technically in a screening area, so it seems I should’ve been allowed to film my screening. The “federally employed civilian” implied that there might be something to be gleaned from the screening process, but what I experienced was no different from any other public pat-down I’ve had (I frequently opt out).

I figured I’d come back at this recording issue later. Regardless, every TSA employee involved refused to show me any written statute that prohibits a person from recording a private screening. This is disturbing, for obvious reasons. I let the first guy (who was actually pretty genial) swab me again.

Guess what? Another positive.

He told me that he needed and expert to review his info, and the expert was about 5 minutes away. Five minutes became about 15.

The expert showed up – he had a paramilitary bearing, but I could clearly see that he would bet a year’s pay that he was on a wild goose chase. I listened to them carefully and heard the word “nitrates.” The expert seemed amused, and I overhead him ask – clearly knowing the answer – if the screener found any relevant objects. No.

Then the expert asked about the screener’s gloves. He ferreted out that the screener used blue gloves both times.

“You didn’t use the pink gloves?”

Cue headshaking and a patronizing smile from the expert. The screener told us we were free to go, and he trotted off so fast it was like he vanished. No apology, either. The “federally employed civilian” supervisor had also long since scuttled away.

And it’s with our “federally employed civilian” and our fanny pack-obsessed screener that I want to conclude: They both typify what’s wrong with TSA screeners. They are needlessly officious and demeaning. They conducted themselves with an arrogance (can anything be more ludicrous than a civilian calling another civilian a civilian?) about their status, and use whatever small amount of power they posses incorrectly. They don’t understand the difference between their agency’s policies and this nation’s laws. They also seem to be the type of employees who contribute to the TSA’s abysmal record for lying to passengers about their rights.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve been through security checkpoints in a laundry list of countries. In each of these countries, security personnel are more personable, efficient and articulate than those in my own country. The Department of Homeland Security should put some serious thought into the impression the TSA’s conduct has on not only Americans, but our visitors from abroad. What I find most concerning about the conduct of the two officers I’ve named (there were two others who were not a problem at all) is their insistence that they are above scrutiny. This is clearly a cultural problem within TSA, and one of the first aspects of the agency I’d encourage elected officials to address.

On a lighter note, this might be the funniest piece ever written about a TSA pat-down. And if you still want something heavier, this Cracked.com article shows why TSA is so ineffective. Still need more to read about the TSA security theater? Check out my encounter with them at Denver International Airport!