Jeju Love Land rises to the top as one of the strangest tourist attractions in Korea.
OK, I got that out of my system. Well, kind of. Give me 10 minutes and I’ll be good to go again.
A Visit to Jeju Love Land
So what is this Jeju Love Land thing? It bills itself as an erotic sculpture garden. Sure enough, there are plenty of beyond-life-sized sculptures of the nude form. But some attractions shrink to a soaked-in-cold-water micro scale, with dioramas that are an odd blend of instruction, humor and flat-out “WTF?”
We visited Jeju Love Land during the late evening, way too close to closing time. We’d already seen the natural wonders of Jeju Island, from Manjanggul Lava TubeÂ to Mount Halla to Seongsan Ilchulbong. I wasn’t sure what we’d find at a Korean erotic sculpture garden. Korea has an odd mix of propriety and in-your-face attitude where sex is concerned.
Tying into South Korean Culture
On one hand, couples living in multigenerational homes need to flee to love hotels for a bit of fun. Yet some billboards and establishments with names like “Club Tits” (and I’m not joking about that one) leave little to the imagination.
The crowd at Jeju Love Land reinforced that duality. We spied more than a few blushing, giggling younger couples. And a few steps behind them? A full family, right down to toddlers. And nobody batted an eye.
We had more than a few amused chuckles and could’ve taken our time for more fun.
The admission fee of 9,000 won is about $18 per person. A little stiff if you plan to be quick about it. But make a few hours of it, and you’ll be satisfied with the trip. Seriously, this was the best and most-unexpected of everything we did in Jeju.
I’m watching people in traditional Korean dress teach art classes. To my left, there’s a string quartet playing to a growing audience. But when I look to my right, I get roped back to reality – masses of travelers rushing to gates or shambling toward the baggage claim after a long flight. This is Incheon International Airport, and it’s seriously the best damn airport that’s ever waved me through a magnetometer.
Let’s start with these art classes: Travelers can drop into one of the Korea Traditional Cultural Experience centers scattered throughout the terminal behind the security area.
There, they can take a free lesson in a few different simple Korean art projects. It’s a great way to spend part of a four-hour layover -- and I have visions of an Arizona Traditional Cultural Experience Center at my home airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor (I have visions of a shooting gallery, a road-rage driving simulator and a mechanical bull).
What else is cool about Incheon?
Wi-fi, food, architecture and transit. Let’s talk wi-fi first – you’re in luck if you have your own computer. But if you don’t, just drop into Naver Square Internet Lounge, where you can hop onto a netbook for absolutely free.
Food’s important for an airport, too.
Incheon has the array of Asian food you’d expect, with just about every country represented. I had a nice Vietnamese fried rice from one of the food courts just upstairs from the main floor. Sarah and I both scooped up some quality gelato – I was tempted to try the black sesame flavor, but it didn’t have anything chunky in it. It’s one of my odd quirks that I like chunks in my ice cream. I’m typically not a hot dog person, but they have some crazy hot dogs throughout Korea. I didn’t try any since, like I said, I’m not a huge lover of nitrate-crammed cylindrical mystery meats.
The architecture is open an airy, with plenty of windows.
Plane spotters must surely love it, though I didn’t find any outdoor areas for taking photos. For such a busy airport, it never felt cramped. Traffic flowed, and it was easy to find anything you might need, when you need it.
It’s easy to get to and from Incheon.
By rail is the best way, with commuter and express trains zipping people into Seoul and its surroundings. There are also buses, and plenty of helpful airport staff members to help you navigate if your Korean language skills are limited to "hello" and "thank you" (like mine!).
And there’s one final thing about Incheon that I love – that current of energy that permeate nearly every major intercontinental airport. People from everywhere stream across the globe – some for business, some to enjoy new-to-them cultures, people and sights. It’s one of my favorite parts of travel. Incheon brings it to a rare height by having that unmistakable vibe while also being a paragon of design.
I hope my eyes have malfunctioned. I rub them with my knuckles, blink rapidly, shake my head like a dog shaking water from its fur. And then I re-focus.
Nope. I still see them: Two mannequins, one male, one female. They wear matching lingerie.
I leave the storefront, amazed. And I fervently hope it’s an aberration.
But soon, another storefront. Another set of mannequins in his-and-hers lingerie. Out comes the camera – without proof, nobody will believe me. Being behind a shop window and armed only with the point-and-shoot hampers me (Go to this grrrltraveler.com post for better photos of matching Koreans, plus some other quirks. It’s a very fun post!).
This repeats itself several times a day during my stay in Korea. Once the horror wears off, the amusement sets in.
Then for the coup de grace. I’m at Incheon International Airport waiting to board my Asiana Airlines flight to Los Angeles. I take a short stroll -- and I notice a young Asian couple dressed in matching outfits. And another. And another. And another.
Several couples in, I started counting. Within five minutes, I arrive at my gate. During that time, the count hits 22. I whip out my compact point-and-shoot digital, surreptitiously trying to capture photographic evidence. The late-evening light and attempted stealthiness hamper my effort, and I barely get anything clear.
The winners: a couple wearing matching hoodies emblazoned with Marmite jars and the words "We Like It!".
I have to assume they are the target demographic for the matching lingerie.
Please, please, please – do not let this trend come to the United States.
This just wouldn’t be an Asiana Airlines review without mentioning my breakfast choice: spicy octopus with rice. Yes, this is my kind of airline.
This is just eight hours into my handful of Asiana Airlines flights spanning the Pacific, with shorter flights to Jeju Island and Tokyo. During these five flights, I got to know Asiana pretty well. And I have some impressions to share about how Asiana Airlines scores for international flights. I admit, I have no other Asian airlines to compare it to. But it stacks up well for any airline, winning a number of Skytrax awards over the years. To get much better, you’d have to step up to Emirates business class, which has an impressive reputation with flyers.
1. Let’s loop back to that food. Other meals including a traditional bi bim bap, bulgogi, and tempura chicken and shrimp. Most of the meals included fresh fruit. Hands down, it was the tastiest and healthiest airline food I’ve ever encountered. It easily dethrones the Qantas meals, which were decent but nothing memorable. But I’ll never forget spooning marinated beef, bean paste and rice into a huge lettuce leaf, folding it into a burrito and munching away. I was more than a bit amused that, half the time, the flight attendants didn’t ask if we wanted to the squeeze tubes full of tasty hot chili sauce. They probably hadn’t encountered many Arizonans -- many of us crave spiciness in any form.
2. In-flight entertainment was everything it should be for international flights. I caught up on my silly superhero movies, plus the latest Star Trek. No hiccups from the equipment at all, and it was easy enough to work. I might’ve expected Asian airlines to be even more slick and hi-tech. But it was just solid, no-fuss equipment.
3. The cabins were immaculate whether I was aboard an A320 or a 777. Asiana’s 767s are probably no spring chickens, but they looked great. A question for Asiana – I could’ve sworn our 1:30 flight (Oct. 15) from Narita to Incheon was a 767 configured in 3-3-3 rather than the usual 2-3-2. Was I overdosing on the spicy chili sauce, or is that some unusual 767? Bottom line: Whatever I flew, I have to mention the cleanliness in my Asiana Airlines review.
4. From the check-in counter to the cabin, every Asiana employee was helpful and welcoming – no exceptions. They were all efficiency, and they said everything with a smile. They weren’t quite as jocular as Air New Zealand or Qantas, but who is?
5. There was a bit of weirdness the moment our flight pushed back from the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX on Sept. 30. We’d only moved a few feet when I felt the plane lurch. This led to a few announcements about tire changes, which made us a bit more than two hours late. I didn’t mind, even though international flights are long enough with no delays. I took advantage of the time to read and doze. I’m really curious about what it takes to change tires on a 777 at the gate. Kind of cool, really! Oh, and props to my mostly Korean fellow passengers. They took the delay announcements in stride. Does this cost Asiana Airlines review points? Not really. They seemed to make the time up in the air. And really, we still arrived in the early morning hours.
6. There are only two things that prevent me from flying Asiana Airlines every chance I get: First, Seoul is its only hub. Second, I always love trying a carrier based in the country I’m visiting. So if I go to another Asian country, I’d want to fly some different Asian airlines just to sample its airborne culture. Asiana’s competitive fares and excellent in-flight service would give me second thoughts about booking on another airline if it’s possible to use them, though. A follow-up Asiana Airlines review would also be interesting.
7. Something else odd – most of our international flights were only about 75 percent full. The busiest ones were the flights to and from Tokyo. But the trans-Pacific flights had plenty of empty seats. That’s very nice, of course, since it gave Sarah and I some room to stretch out.
8. In one way, Asiana Airlines might learn from fellow Asian airlines JAL and ANA: Both these Japanese airlines sell small trinkets with their logos on them at Narita. Asiana should do the same at Seoul. I would definitely add an Asiana t-shirt to my collection of airline stuff – if one was available.
I can honestly say that Asiana deserves its Skytrax Airline of the Year award for 2010. I always insist that getting there is part of the fun, and that my vacation truly starts when I step aboard the plane for international flights. Asiana did everything right and put the Republic of Korea’s best foot forward. Maybe next time, I’ll get to try some other Asian airlines, too.
I just booked tickets for my first trip to Asia. This fall, I’ll fly Asiana Airlines to Incheon and Tokyo. U.S. Airways, one of Asiana’s Star Alliance partners, will get us to LAX and from San Franciso International. The plan is to go first to Seoul, hit the countryside and then make a quick visit to take in the otherworldly craziness that is Tokyo.
So why Asiana, which isn’t one of the better-known names in the United States?
It’s online booking actually works -- unlike those of ANA, Korean Airlines and JAL. I considered those heavy hitters (hoping that ANA might have a 787 Dreamliner flying by then). Too bad their online booking is clunky to the point of non-functional. The online booking experience is a flyer’s introduction to an airline. It needs to work flawlessly every time. Asiana’s does. You’ll notice I don’t mention the big American carrier’s That’s because I have yet to see evidence that any U.S. carrier outside of Hawaiian Airlines provides the level of service of its overseas counterparts. More on them below.
It’s prices are the most reasonable I could find. A good chunk includes taxes and fees, though. Out of curiosity, I set up the same flights on Continental.com, also a Star Alliance member. Tack on another 10 percent. Not egregious, but not worth rolling the dice – American-based carriers just don’t have a reputation for good service, and mediocrity can make a long flight hell. Oh, and some of the flights are operated by United on its older 747-400s.
It has a great reputation for service. It’s the SkyTrax Â Airline of the Year Award winner for 2010 -- the same year Global Travelers magazine named its in-flight service the world’s best. And its online booking actually works (I’m sure you read that somewhere recently --)
It has a very shiny new fleet. That’s always a plus, as is its reputation for rigorous maintenance. I’m looking forward to my first flight on a Boeing 777, which I’ve heard is a sweet ride for people who actually like commercial air travel.
Why Asiana Isn’t Quite Perfect
No direct flights from Tokyo to the United States during the times I searched. We have to go back to Incheon. That costs a bit of time. But hey, it’s another ride on a 767, one of my favorites.
An Asiana 747 freighter just crashed. There’s word that the flight disappeared after reporting a fire onboard. I can’t think of the last time an airline has last two aircraft very quickly, so that puts stats in my favor! And freight versus commercial service. I have no cause to worry.
The Very Worthy Second Choice
Hawaiian Airlines. I love the idea of skipping LAX and flying from Phoenix to Honolulu to Incheon to Tokyo to Honolulu to Phoenix. I also hear Hawaiian Airlines totally rocks, providing inflight service on-par with foreign carriers. The timetables just didn’t favor my allotted time. I also would’ve been more interested if I could’ve caught a ride on a Hawaiian A330 instead of a 767. Again, I like the 767 … but I’ve never been on an A330. Yes, these things do weigh into a flying geek’s decision making.
Also, Hawaiian’s site doesn’t take advantage of its Star Alliance buddies to get me from Incheon to Tokyo. One thing I learned: If you book all from one site, you’re covered better for mishaps like missing a connection. Qantas left us high and dry because we booked separately from Auckland to LAX and LAX to Phoenix. The ground staff lost some serious brownie points, but I also learned to book more efficiently.