Ferry to Korea

May 24th, 2009 by scott and becky

We wrote some postcards over breakfast, and planned to ask the hotel to mail them for us. We had purchased stamps yesterday, so all we needed was a mailbox. This turned out to be more of a challenge than we planned. The hotel reception had no clue what we were asking of them, so we decided to find a post box ourselves. Fortunately, Scott had a keen eye and spotted the China Post sign, and a long line up of people waiting for it to open. Since we had stamps already, Scott went over and asked several people if they would mail them for us. After many puzzled looks, someone who spoke a little English pointed out the post office box. It was on the street and lacked any English signage and was a different colour than the standard China Post boxes – white with red instead of green with yellow. It have what appeared to be a postal slot though, so we hope the postcards get to where they belong.

With the postcards successfully mailed, we headed to the ferry terminal. Upon arrival, Scott checked us in and we were assigned bunks. Becky looked at them and noticed immediately that they were in two different cabins. When Scott went back to ask, he learned that he was in the men’s cabin and Becky was in the women’s cabin. Not exactly what we had planned for when we upgraded to business class! By this time, Becky was definitely feeling more stressed out than she should have been – she guesses it was related to not enough sleep (the ATM issue yesterday meant a late dinner and an even later bedtime).

The next step involved getting our bags screened twice. The first time was to enter the terminal building – so everything had to come off the bike and be run through the metal detectors – the bikes were allowed to just roll through. Then when Customs opened, we again had to go through another metal detector. After completing the second one, we were ushered to the front of the customs line (not sure why) and were signed out of China. We found it interesting that China customs does not recognize us as a “family” unit. When we entered and when we left, we were required to go through customs separately. China is the only country where we made to separate.

Loading the bikes onto the boat posed yet one more challenge. They allowed us to ride the 200 meters to the loading stairs, rather than load onto the bus, which would have been painful and inefficient. Once at the stairs, we had to carry the bikes and gear up three flights of stairs to the boat. On the boat, the bikes and most of our gear was stored in the disembarkation gangway, which was locked during the voyage. We were not charge any extra for the bikes.

The Tanggu/Tianjin port was massive, with huge bulk handling berths as well as many container berths. This is the largest cargo terminal we’ve seen, and it appears to be still growing. Apparently it is the third largest port in China, and fifth largest in the world. Singapore is apparently larger, but not the part we saw. Most of the bulk cranes and container gantries were idle, with only a few ships docked. Scott thought this was due to the economic slowdown, but apparently year-over-year volume is still increasing.

Once on the boat, Becky asked at information about being moved into the same cabin. Shortly before the ship departed, they reassigned us to a cabin for just the two of us. The ship was rather empty, with many of the sleeping areas closed and locked off. We were very happy once the rooms were rearranged, and Becky quickly took the opportunity to take a much needed nap.

There was a cafeteria that was open only during meals that served three options for each meal: Chinese, Korean, and Western. The prices were pretty reasonable (about equivalent to tourist areas in China and quick food in Korea). We ate one mediocre meal at the cafeteria and decided to see if there were any other options. We discovered the second restaurant which looked more like a bar – which included karaoke rooms for small groups. The menu was listed in Korean and Chinese only. We had a struggle at first trying to order food, since we had no idea what most Korean food was called. Becky has never been to Korea and Scott has only been once. We haven’t found a good Korean restaurant in Ottawa, so the food is almost entirely unfamiliar. Scott remembered Bulgogi (BBQ beef)and Bibimbap (rice, vegetables, egg and meat) but that was about it. Once we managed to order something, the food turned out to be wonderful. We ate the rest of our meals in the bar – a little more expensive than the other, but the food was much better.

For the entire journey, the sea was covered in a hazy fog. It was very similar to our journey in the Indian Ocean. The hazy fog meant that there was very little to see. We passed the occasional fishing boat, but otherwise, it was not particularly exciting. We noticed that the ship carried neither a South Korean, nor a Chinese flag. Rather, it carried a Panama flag. In our experience, it is odd to see a ferry carrying a flag of convenience.

We had been told the crossing was 25 hours. Although that is technically true, it does not account for the 2 hours of maneuvers necessary to dock in Incheon. The Incheon ferry terminal is located inside the Incheon port, which requires entry and exit via a lock. So, the ferry is ushered into a lock, and the water is raised, such that the internal port has a consistent water level (i.e. it is not subject to tides). So, dock-to-dock it took 27 hours.

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