I’m currently living in Chiang Mai and I wanted to go back to the good old USA to visit family and friends over the holidays. Bangkok is a well-known international air traffic hub, and I do like to visit the city from time to time. However, when you are scheduling yourself a certain amount of time to spend visiting people you don’t get to see all that often, the extra detour to pass through Bangkok seems like a big time (and money) waster. So when I was looking for air tickets online, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Korean Air now flies directly from Chiang Mai to Seoul.
I knew before that Chaing Mai’s CNX was an international airport, but I had thought that the destinations served were limited to the immediate vicinity: Singapore, Laos, southern China, etc. But it turns out that you can fly directly all the way to South Korea and catch a connecting flight there to get to a large number of cities around the world.
This ended up being a win—both due to Korean Air and Incheon Airport in Seoul, where I had a 5-hour layover. For many people, five hours in an airport might be their idea of hell, but the folks over in South Korea are doing many things right. First of all there is free WiFi throughout the entire airport. And best of all there is no stupid password or username you need to sign in with. It’s as simple as selecting Incheon Airport on the WiFi settings of your phone or laptop, and you’re good to go. There just happened to be a good NFL game that I missed while I was in the air, so the free WiFi made it really easy to just pop out my laptop and watch the replay off the web.
Incheon Airport is clean, easy to get around, and has lots of eating options. If you feel tired there are massages and showers available. The shower rooms were pretty nice—They basically looked like a bathroom in a hotel. Free soap, shampoo, and towels are provided for use. There is a lounge area with long, comfy reclined seats that you can plop down and take a nap on. Recharging stations for your electronic equipment are provided, as well as a number of PCs connected to the internet for free use. There’s also a mini museum with some pretty nice cultural displays.
If you have a long layover, there are many ways to pass the time. The airport includes a skating rink and movie theater in the public area. If you like to gamble you can slip across to the Paradise Golden Gate Casino located in the Hyatt Regency Hotel right nearby. There are various transit tours of the city that you can take if you don’t feel like sitting around the airport. You can take-in anything from temples to shopping, and the tours last from as short a couple hours to all day.
I was quite impressed with Korean Air as well. As someone who is over 6 feet tall, economy class air travel can be a horrible experience if you get stuck in a bad seat. On Korean Air, I still had enough room for my knees and feet. On some other airlines they use up the foot room of many seats by placing a box containing the entertainment system electronics there. But that wasn’t a problem on Korean Air.
A really nice touch on long-haul flights is that each person gets a pair of disposable slippers, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. The slippers are handy because you want to have your shoes off during the flight so your feet are comfortable, but you need something to slip on easily when you want to get up to use the toilet. Speaking of the toilet—There were moisturizing sprays and lotions for passenger use located in the bathrooms. Quite a nice little touch for your dried out skin.
The service from the flight attendants was top-notch. It seemed like they were constantly coming around offering juice and water throughout the flight. I would definitely fly with Korean Air again, especially if I was trying to get from Chaing Mai to the US as easily as possible without stopping through Bangkok on the way.
South Korea is also very easy to travel to for Americans and Thai citizens, as well. Thai passport holders are allowed visa-free entry. So it may be a good choice for a short getaway if you wanted to travel outside the country with your Thai sweetheart. I’m sure they would be excited to fly “Gangnam Style” on Korean Air and hit up the shopping in Seoul.