Flights between Korea and Japan can be surprisingly expensive, especially given that the countries are so close to each other. Jared and I found flights from Seoul to Osaka for 99,000 won each with budget airline Eastar Jet, but the return journey was almost three times as much.
The 18-hour overnight Panstar Ferry came to our rescue. The website was essentially useless to us because it was all in Korean, but between this website and this one, we were able to come up with a phone number that offered English services.
It took several tries to get through to someone – apparently the English line isn’t always staffed – but we booked. It was a bit of a disappointing surprise when the total came to 13,100 yen ($166USD or 188,000 won), when the price on the website had been listed as 129,000 won. Turns out that there are a lot of hidden extras, like port taxes and departure fees.
The woman explained that we’d have to pay at the terminal in Osaka, but everything was all booked. We asked for an email confirmation, just in case.
Paying for the tickets was surprisingly easy; the total was exactly as we’d been quoted. We chose to add on meal tickets, which were 1400 yen each (about $18USD) and included breakfast and dinner.
This turned out to be a great move, because the main options on the ship were ramen noodles or vending machine fried rice. Mmm…fried food from a vending machine…
Our first clue that we were headed back to Korea was the organized chaos among the passengers in the terminal. Hours before the departure gate opened, several ajummas began claiming their place in line by putting their luggage in front of the barrier. Half an hour before departure, it was madness. People were lining up all the way into the bathroom.
Seriously, into the hallway of the bathroom, stopping just short of the women’s entrance.
I’ve never understood this phenomenon of waiting in a line when you don’t have to; the same thing happens when boarding planes. My general strategy is to sit comfortably until the line is down to a few people, then get up.
We cleared immigration and made it onto the boat, where we picked up our separate room keys.
That’s right, separate. Unless you book a family suite, you’re divided into male and female dorms. At the time of booking, you have the option of a traditional Korean room (mats lined up bumper-to-bumper on the floor) or a western-style room with 4 berths.
Guess which one I chose.
The bunks were nice, with curtains and individual reading lamps, so I was pretty happy.
The ship had a GS25 convenience store, beer in vending machines, and a café where there was allegedly WiFi. My iPad never managed to connect, though I saw plenty of other people successfully getting online.
Dinner was a buffet affair, with plenty of rice and kimchi. There was also marinated pork and mini dessert puffs. I was satisfied, as I usually am at all-you-can-eat buffets.
The ferry passes beneath Akashi-Kaikyo, the world’s largest suspension bridge, which spans a distance of 4 kilometers to connect the mainland city of Kobe to Awaji Island.
So you can sort of pretend you’re on a proper cruise, except there are none of those bottomless frozen yogurt machines I hear so much about. And believe me, the Panstar is worse off for it.
On my way to my room after brushing my teeth, I was caught off guard by the evening entertainment. The stage in the dining area was lit up to showcase a Russian girl wearing spandex as she performed risqué rhythmic gymnastics with a ribbon. Her performance was oddly paired with “Roxanne” by The Police.
It was incredibly disturbing, but it also explained why there had been a westerner working the dinner buffet.
I was rooted to the spot, confused by this obviously not-suitable-for-children display. Eventually I gave up and went to bed. Through the walls I heard Celine Dion followed by Diana Ross, so it was clear I’d made the right choice.
Breakfast was served at 7:00 a.m. According to the on-ship brochure, this was a ‘Western breakfast,’ which meant that the rice and kimchi were complemented by scrambled eggs, watermelon, and cornflakes.
Three hours later, the ferry docked in Busan and that was it – the sun had set on our Japanese adventure.
(See below for photo to go with cheesy clichéd ending)