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The Whirlwind Begins

Wat Chedi Luang, one of the billions of Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chedi Luang, one of the billions of Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai.

After a whirlwind two days, I’m finally (relatively) settled in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok late Wednesday, where Matt of Nomadic Matt fame was gracious enough to lend me his floor for the night. I spent half of Thursday running around town making arrangements for the rest of the trip. The dizzying rush of finding last-minute bus rides and plane tickets taught me a few things.

First of all, in a place like Thailand where the tourists flock, there is always a bus ticket. Even though I was looking for an overnight ticket for Christmas night — the start of Thailand’s true peak tourist season with foreigners and Thai nationals all on vacation — I found one within minutes of talking to a travel agent. That leads me to my next point.

Travel agents, no matter how friendly and well-traveled they are, are not your friends. The travel agent’s affable nature combined with my lack of preparation for this trip to sucker me into an overpriced tour package that seemed to be a good deal. I should’ve followed my first instincts and booked everything one step at a time. In Bangkok, I should’ve booked how to get to Chiang Mai, where I would find my accomodations and things to do.

Now I’m in a relatively nice hostel called Backpackers’ Meeting Place Resident, but it’s a little more expensive than I would’ve like to have paid. Also, the bus ticket to Chiang Mai was probably a little more expensive than I should’ve paid for it. It’s also outside the city center, but it is close to an open food market, which is wonderful given my affinity for street food. Through this same tour, I’m going on a two-day trek through some jungle tomorrow complete with elephants, huts, and bamboo rafting. Should be interesting.

At least when I screw up in Thailand, it only means an extra six or seven dollars a night, which won’t kill me. Six or seven dollars, however, goes a long ways in Thailand. For example, six dollars stuffs me with street food for three meals, so losing such a big part of my budget to something so stupid is rather annoying. I’ve learned my lesson for my trip to Vietnam in January.

At least now I have everything set and I only have to worry about getting from scheduled Point A to scheduled Point B. The rest of the itinerary looks like this: Chiang Mai for three more days, then bus to Bangkok where I catch a flight to the islands around Koh Samui for New Year’s, then back to actually explore Bangkok for a few days.

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It’s not what you know but who you know

After arriving in Korea with an E-2 visa (one designated specially for English teachers), it’s necessary to get an Alien Registration Card (ARC). The ARC is more or less my ID as a temporary resident in Korea and is necessary for things such as opening a bank account (which I actually did without an ARC thanks to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education‘s sponsoring us at orientation) and acquiring a cell phone (which I actually did without an ARC thanks to the shadiness of Itaewon).

The process is somewhat tedious, but I finally got my ARC this week with the help of my Korean co-teachers. Here are the steps to apply for a Korean alien registration card:

  1. Get two passport-sized photos of yourself.
  2. Get a medical check at one of the public hospitals in Seoul. You’ll need one of your photos for this.
  3. Pick up medical check a few days later.
  4. Make an appointment at the Seoul Immigration Office or show up and wait forever (I’ve heard up to two hours) in line.
  5. Show up and turn in your ARC application with 10,000 KRW, your medical check, and your passport.
  6. Wait 1-2 weeks for your ARC.

Or you could have a co-teacher who knows someone who works in immigration in Incheon who makes a phone call to someone who works in immigration in Seoul and can shorten the whole process at the Seoul Immigration Office to a painless 20-minute wait and have you walk out the same day with your ARC in hand.

I went with the latter of the choices. It was fantastic. Also, in other fantastic news, I learned my school doesn’t require me to be at school during winter break when I’m not teaching the winter camp. The holidays lasts from December 24 to February 2 and then from February 14 to March 2. After taking out two weeks for the camp, I have about three weeks in January and two weeks in February to do whatever the hell I want — and still get paid for it.

I’m thinking a three-week backpacking excursion through southeast Asia in January and maybe a jaunt through the States in February, but as we all know, that could very suddenly change. Stay tuned.

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Korean Air Review

My plane as seen from O'Hare.

My plane as seen from O'Hare

The nearly 14-hour flight from Chicago O’Hare to Seoul Incheon passed by rather quickly thanks to my all-night packing affair coupled with my propensity for sleeping on moving vehicles. All in all, I’m sure I slept more than seven hours of the flight, which is probably a major reason I can’t truly believe I flew halfway around the world.

The six or so hours I was conscious were actually rather pleasant for being strapped to a seat inside a cabin suspended 32,000 feet in the air. I flew Korean Air, and the journey was much easier than I had anticipated. For a pre-paid flight, I wasn’t going to be difficult, but I had heard good things from my mom, who flew Korean Air from Dallas to Seoul en route to Vietnam.

This particular flight didn’t have personal viewing screens, just a large projection in the middle of the cabin. I had my own means of entertainment with my laptop, my Nintendo DS and my iPod, so I was rather indifferent to this fact, especially because they showed Korean news and some crazy Korean movie that involved (from what I could gather from glances and not reading the subtitles) a girl who gained superpowers from having too much Soju. It was worth the occasional peek.

There was lots of leg room, especially when I put the seat back. I was surprised at how far the seats leaned back, but I wasn’t going to complain. It definitely helped the sleeping patterns. The few occasions I woke up were coincidentally (unless I have some uncanny sense) the same times the attendants served food. The staff was very friendly despite a bit of a language barrier, and the meals were a little better than typical airline food. For each of our meals, we had two choices of entrees, one Korean and one, well, not-so-Korean. Between meals, the staff also provided snacks, such as a choice between a BBQ pork-stuffed bun and a banana half, as well as tea in addition to the standard airline drinks.

Overall, Korean Air was a pleasant trip, especially since I didn’t have to pay for the ticket (thanks, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). I would fly them again, and I probably will since I’ve read flights around the tiny South Korean peninsula are rather affordable.

Has anyone else flown Korean Air? What was your experience like? Any recommendations on other overseas carriers?

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