Photo of the day: Hanwoo @ Maple Tree House. Photo credit: Aaron.

There are limited direct flights from Phuket to Seoul and they have odd departure times (1 or 2 am). We decided to save some money by taking a indirect flight with Air Asia, with a transfer to Kuala Lumpur. This led to a 8 hour in transit gap at the KLIA2 airport, so we booked a stay at the Sama Sama Express right in the airport itself. Alternatively I could’ve just slept on a bench in the airport, like what I saw others doing. It worked out to still cost less than a direct flight even with this hotel stay. In addition, we got to shower and get some rest in an actual bed, instead of sleeping on the plane, which I can never get restful sleep on. We also had a late check in time and we did not want to explore the city with our suitcases, so we did not think it made sense to arrive early anyway. (We later found out that there were storage lockers at subway stations, which we could’ve used to store our luggage. Good to know for next time!)

We also received an email to upgrade our seats to Seoul a couple weeks ago. It was a very good discount on their “premium flatbed” seats, so we thought why not. I only realized later that this was not a simple upgrade offered by the airline. It was run by a third party called Optiontown. It basically is a lottery/standby system, where you don’t really find out whether your upgrade is successful until really close to the flight time. They said that we will get a notification 1-3 days prior to the flight, up to 4 hours prior. When we checked in at Phuket, we still had no idea what the status was, even when we asked the Air Asia staff. Only after we woke up 1 hour prior to the flight to Seoul, we checked our email, which said that the upgrade request was “accepted” to be confirmed at the gate. Aaron was so excited as it was his birthday today and he thought it would be a nice treat to get the upgrade. We were very disappointed to hear once at the gate that the upgrade was not successful. There were only a few flatbed seats on the plane, so our chances would’ve been slim. In addition, they mentioned that checking in prior to getting the upgrade may affect our chances but we had no choice, since we were forced to check in at the Phuket airport. It was only after that we read bad reviews online with people having problems getting their money back after their upgrade was unsuccessful. Optiontown promised to refund the money within 5 business days after the flight, so we will see. We also did not pre-purchase seats, so we did not end up sitting together. Luckily, we travelled carry-on only so we did not have to rely on the upgraded luggage qualifications. We were also able to order food from a limited menu on board. Overall, it was a disappointing experience. I would probably not opt for this again in the future, as I don’t trust my luck with lotteries and I really don’t like uncertainty. It’s good for those out there who enjoy testing out their luck. 

Cannot transit through Malaysia without having some Nasi Lemak for breakfast!
Cannot transit through Malaysia without having some Nasi Lemak for breakfast!

We landed in the Incheon Airport a little early and breezed through immigration. Aaron said that the efficiency reminded him of Japan. We headed into the Seoul via the train, which was pretty easy to use. Our accommodation was conveniently located at Seoul station, the central hub of the public transit system. Although convenient and efficient, it still took us around 2 hours between when we landed and when we got to our accommodation. By then we were really hungry and ready to get some good Korean food. 

First stop was to stop by a convenience store to get a T-money card, they prepaid card, which can be used to take the public transit and also can be used at various stores and vending machines in Seoul. My Korean language skills is limited to “1,2,3”, “thank you” and “hi” so it was not easy trying to purchase this card from the convenience store employee who spoke no English at all. But it worked out at the end and I walked away with a cute “Line”-themed card, while Aaron chose a boring white one. 

My T-Money card.
My T-Money card.

It was Aaron’s birthday today, so I thought I’ll take him out to somewhere nicer. He really wanted Korean BBQ, so we headed over to the expats-filled district of Itaewon. My friend had recommended that we go to Maple Tree House to try some Hanwoo, premium beef rivalling the Japanese Wagyu. Now, Aaron liked his Wagyu, so he was skeptical. They were pretty busy and it took us around 30 minutes to get a table, so perhaps reservations would be useful if you have a big group. We used that time to walk around the restaurant and shop-filled streets of Itaewon. This area was filled with not only Korean restaurants but also a lot of different restaurants, such as Thai, Chinese, and even Middle-Eastern. The service at Maple Tree House was very good. There was a service bell but we hardly had to use it. My friend had recommended to get the Hanwoo (of course) and the Woosumgyup (or “Beef Bacon”). We also got the short ribs and tried some local beer, Hite and Cass. Of course, a Korean meal is not complete without its side dishes or Banchan. We were given small portions of kimchi, mushrooms, seasoned green onion as well as a super fluffy souffléd egg dish! But we must get back to the meat. One thing I did not like about Korean BBQ is the fact that you had to cook it yourself. I want to be able to just enjoy my meal and not worry about anything else, so it was not my preferred way of eating. Here, they came back regularly to help us cook our meat and cut it up into bite size pieces (likely because we were foreigners), which is probably for the better because they knew exactly when it was perfect to eat. First, we had the Hanwoo. I have never had Wagyu but it was really good. The texture was perfect. Aaron says that he has had better quality Wagyu but this is definitely still really good compared to some other Wagyu he has had. The short ribs were next and were more flavourful than the Hanwoo but less tender. The Woosumgyup was also very good but not as good as the other two. To balance out all the meat, I wrapped the grilled meat up with lettuce, which is supposedly the way to eat grilled meat here.They also gave us some really delicious Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) and salt to go with the meat. We also ordered some rice and it interestingly turned out to be red rice. This was not a bad way to start our trip here in Seoul. We had to break our tradition of eating noodles as our first meal but birthday boy gets what he wants!

Itaewon, Seoul.
Itaewon, Seoul.
Some of the side dishes @ Maple Tree House. Photo credit: Aaron.
Some of the side dishes @ Maple Tree House. Photo credit: Aaron.
 

I was hoping to get a cake for Aaron, but we passed by a place selling churros during our walk earlier and he really wanted that instead since it’s one of his favourite desserts. The cafe was called Soft Queen. They served churros with soft serve ice cream, so we ordered the one with almond and peanuts toppings as well as a latte. I was impressed with how amazing the soft serve tasted with the combination of the nuts. The churros were also pretty good and got Aaron’s approval. 
We both had a full night’s sleep last night, if you add up all the sleeping on the plane and at SAMA SAMA; nonetheless, we were both really tired and passed out really early.

 Churro with almond and peanuts over vanilla ice cream @ Soft Queen. Photo credit: Aaron.
Churro with almond and peanuts over vanilla ice cream @ Soft Queen. Photo credit: Aaron.
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