Late flights, no sleep, great timesIf you’ve got money to burn and time to kill, red-eye packages probably aren’t your thing. But if you are a commoner (like myself) pressed for time and money, the red-eye is a ticket to paradise.
A red-eye traveler should have stamina (both physical and mental) and a willingness to make the most of every minute. In the most popular Tokyo package, you get only 42 hours in the city, and you don’t want to idle that precious time away. Red-eyes can thus be a challenge for those who think the world ends if they don’t get to bed at 10 p.m. For adventurers, though, it’s almost a steal. As they say, life is short, and you can sleep all you like after death.
With Korea positioned between China and Japan, we get a good selection. Red-eyes are currently available to Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai and Beijing. The Tokyo flight became available in 2001, and set off something of a red-eye craze among college students and young office workers. While round-trip tickets from Seoul’s Gimpo airport to Tokyo’s Haneda cost more than 600,000 won ($500), red-eyes from Incheon ― hotel included ― are going for around 330,000 won.
Watch out, though ― red-eyes can become addictive. You are tantalized by the brief glimpses of your destinations, and you know there’s much more to enjoy. That’s why I just got back from my second Tokyo red-eye last weekend. I had a nosebleed on Monday, but I’m still planning to take a third. Here’s all the information you need for a great, hectic weekend.
TOKYO ― At three hours from Incheon, you couldn’t ask for a better red-eye destination than Tokyo. Flights from Incheon to the Haneda airport, begun in 2001, are what made this possible. Whereas Narita International Airport is about a two-hour trip from downtown Tokyo, Haneda is an hour away at most ― after a shuttle ride to a subway station, downtown’s only a few stops away.
So here’s your schedule, which can only be called insane. Your flight leaves Incheon around 3 a.m. Saturday, and arrives at Haneda around 6 a.m. Your flight back Sunday night leaves around midnight, and you land in Incheon around 3 a.m. Monday.
There are a few rules to red-eye travel. Number one is that you’re on your own, so it’s up to you to come up with an itinerary. You don’t want to wind up in the hotel bar all weekend. Number two: travel light. You’re on a red-eye, not a catwalk. Number three: currency exchange and duty-free shopping are best done in advance. On my red-eye last weekend, one currency exchange kiosk was open, but with an unimaginably long line. It’s too much to expect a duty free shop to be open past midnight, though pick-up service is available.
Once you get to the Haneda airport, buy a JR (Japan Railroad) Free Ticket from the No. 13 ticket vending machine. At 2,000 yen ($19), it allows unlimited use of the JR subway for two days, plus a round-trip train ride from the airport to downtown. Considering Tokyo’s notoriously pricey subways, it’s a must-have.
Since you can’t check into your hotel until early afternoon, your sightseeing starts whenyou get to Tokyo ― around 7 a.m. Meiji Shrine in Harajuku in western Tokyo and the controversial Yaskuni Shrine in central Tokyo are good places to start, since they’re open from sunrise to sunset and convenient to downtown.
After a round of shrines, it’s 8 or 9 a.m., and the city is waking up. By 9 a.m., parks like Shinjuku Gyoen in northwestern Tokyo and Higashi Gyoen in central Tokyo, next to the emperor’s residence, are open. The Japanese word “gyoen” means “emperor’s garden.”
These parks are must-sees in Tokyo in April, because it’s where the cherry blossoms are. And early morning is the perfect time to visit, because they get crowded in the afternoons, with closing times at 4 p.m. Additionally, Higashi Gyoen, which boasts historic sites like the remains of stone castles from the Edo era, limits the number of daily visitors.
After this peaceful morning, it’s time to dive into urban life. If you don’t see the western part of the city where the Harajuku, Omotesando and Shibuya neighborhoods are clustered, you can’t say you’ve been to Tokyo. Harajuku’s Takeshida-dori, right across from Meiji Shrine, is a hip street for the young and fashion-conscious.
At the end of Takeshida-dori, take a right and you’ll soon see Omotesando, an upscale area with stylish cafes, restaurants and shops. Since you have the wondrous Free Ticket, you can take the subway to Shibuya, one stop away, but it’s more of a challenge to walk, especially if you’re fully loaded with shopping bags already. Shibuya is full of malls and stylish shops to make young people’s hearts throb.
Shinjuku, in northwestern Tokyo, is another hip part of town with parks, shopping malls, department stores, bars ― you name it. Another must-see in Tokyo is Ginza, the upscale area a few blocks from the emperor’s residence and the Yaskuni Shrine, home to department stores, stylish restaurants and cafes.
Other attractions include Odaiba, an artificial island off the southern coast, which is a hot date spot for young people. For hip nightlife, check out Roppongi, Japan’s Itaewon, or Akasaka. The night is always young in these neighborhoods.
For more information on this red-eye, contact All Nippon Airways at (02) 752-5500 or Skymark Airlines at (02) 2652-3361.
Osaka, Kyoto and Nara ― a glimpse of Japan’s past
If Tokyo is the soul of today’s Japan, Osaka in the Kansai area, and its neighboring cities like Kyoto and Nara, is where the country’s past resides. Osaka is Japan’s second-biggest city, and was once its commercial center. Encouraged by the success of the Tokyo red-eye, a fly-by-night tour program to Osaka has been launched, at 369,000 won and up.
This red-eye doesn’t require quite the superhuman stamina that the Tokyo trip does. With the plane taking off from Incheon at 6:20 p.m. Friday, you arrive at Osaka after about two hours. You’re back at Incheon before midnight Sunday, making for a nice and easy weekend getaway.
One thing to remember before you go is to get a Thru Kansai Pass, available for foreign tourists visiting Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe. With this ticket, which you can buy at Seoul travel agencies (at about 48,000 won for three days’ use), you get unlimited access to the private rail lines and buses in the area. For Korean travelers, the package comes with accommodations at a motel run by Korean-Japanese, but you can easily upgrade to a downtown hotel.
You can check into your room right after you arrive in downtown Osaka, but before you do, remember that you’re in a dining capital. In the downtown area, called Dotombori, you’ll find restaurants serving authentic Japanese gourmet food, many of them open late, or all night. A Japanese saying has it that “Osaka will ruin you for eating, and Kyoto for dressing up.” Don’t miss the chance to find out what they mean.
Saturday is best enjoyed in Kyoto, past capital of glorious Japanese dynasties. With the Thru Kansai Pass, you can catch the train to Kyoto, which gets you there in less than two hours. Since most of the temples and palaces in Kyoto are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the latest, you should leave as early as possible. Kyoto’s main means of public transportation is buses, whose webby lines sometimes confuse travelers; but the bus guide available at the train station should make things clearer, and once you reach your destination, you’ll no doubt find it worth the trip.
Kyoto’s attractions can’t be experienced in one day. Start with the eastern part of the city, where you’ll find Kiyomizudera Temple, Heian Shrine, Ginkakuji Temple and others. Time will tick by quickly as you enjoy the beauty of these places, and before you know it, it’ll be late afternoon. Time to take the train to Kobe, a port city whose night skyline is known as being second to none.
On Sunday, you can see more of Kyoto, but if you want more variety, you’re advised to check out Nara, about a two-hour train ride southeast from Osaka. Nara’s attractions include Nara Park, whose many deer are so used to humans that they seem to think they’re in charge of the place, and Todaiji Temple, where a giant Buddha sits.
For more information, call Mode Tour, the agency that developed this program, at (02) 752-9494 (English available), or local agencies like Globalist at (02) 598-6555 and Japan Doc at (02) 730-7889.
A long weekend in China
Japan isn’t the only place where you can get away from Korea for a weekend. China also serves as an easy destination for those with a red-eye travel bug; Shanghai (pictured below) and Beijing are about two hours away by plane. These trips aren’t as well known to the Korean public and are less in demand, according to one agency.
These trips to China are full three-day programs; they start early in the morning Friday or Saturday, and end Sunday or Monday evening.
With one day off from work, however, you can easily make a weekend getaway to the continent.
We found trips to Shanghai, the “Paris of Asia,” and to Beijing, the capital, for as low as 299,000 won. That price includes airfare and two nights’ hotel accommodation. You can also ask for a professional tour guide at an extra cost of $50 to $70.
For more information, call Tourbee at (02) 566-8202, or Interpark at (02) 311-6842.
by Chun Su-jin