6 May 2003 - Seoul
The cost of SARS
The cost of SARS
As you know, there was a drastic change in my travel plans when Beijing was declared to be a SARS-affected area and the WHO advised not travelling to and from there unless on urgent business. Instead, what I did was to fly from Ho Chi Minh to Seoul, and then to fly on to Ulan Batar. Although this has allowed me to travel with the minimum of interuptions to my plans, it has cost me plenty, both in money and in opportunity.
- The most obvious is the cost of travel itself. Originally, I was to take a train from Hanoi to Beijing. That would have cost me about USD400. The plane from Ho Chi Minh to Seoul to Ulan Batar costed me USD840.
- Accommodation is costly in Korea, especially Seoul. I was going to stay with a friend in Beijing and save some money that way. Even living in youth hostels is not cheap, anywhere from W17,000 to W22,000 per night in Seoul (but around W10,000 in Sokchon). The train journey would have also taken two nights and I would have left Vietnam two days earlier and saved two nights worth of hotel accommodation.
Cost: About USD150.
- I've had to go and see doctors to give me SARS-free certificates. These international clinics are not cheap, and these certificates only last 24 hours, so I need to get a new one everytime I fly.
Cost: About USD100.
- I think food costs about the same in Seoul and Beijing, but in Beijing I would have had my friend to guide me to all the good eating places. My mum would have been around as well, and I'm sure I would have picked up free buffet breakfasts in her hotel as well.
Cost: About USD40 in free breakfasts, and an undefinable amount as to the increased quality of food I would have enjoyed.
- I miss out on meeting my friend in Beijing, and all the fun there is in being shown around by a virtual local.
- I now will only be able to see the Great Wall of China from the air. I was really looking forward to that. And the Forbidden City too.
- Because I had to decide where to fly to Seoul from fairly early on, I decided to avoid Hanoi, since I thought they would be more fussy about SARS-carrying passengers from there. As a result, I missed going to Hanoi, seeing Uncle Ho's embalmed body and Hailong bay.
- My vision of an uniterrupted overland travel is now shattered. Gone. Finito. I have lost the whole raison d'etre of my taking this trip, the vision is no more.
So, I have lost out on about USD1000, which all adds to the final bill. I originally estimated a cost of between RM15,000-20,000 for the whole trip, and now it will cost me about 20-25% higher.
I also lost many opportunities, especially the ability to say at the end of it all, "I travelled overland between Singapore and London".
But I did all this for a reason. Let's look at the benefits as well:
- I had paid the deposit on the Siberian Express, and it may have not been refundable. I could have chaged the journey date at a loss of USD80 only, but the way I looked at it was that because it was unclear when Beijing would be declared safe to travel to, and because it takes between a fortnight to a month to reapply for the Russian visa, it would have effectively been a cancellation rather than a delay. I also would have to buy air tickets for Ho Chi Minh-Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur-Beijing.
Benefit: I don't lose USD550 in my deposit or I don't have to pay an extra USD1000 for all the air tickets to an fro. More importantly, I keep the opportunity to visit Ulan Batar, Lake Baikul and St Petersburg.
- I had bought an Eurail ticket and I have to use it by November. Also, it is an untransferrable ticket. If I flew to Europe and back just to use that ticket, it would have effectively cost me one journey to Europe. Of course, this is all moot if I managed to the catch the Trans-Siberian.
Benefit: I don't lose the USD700 I paid for the ticket or the USD500 or so it costs to fly to Europe.
- Because of the dip in the tourism industry earlier this year, it's actually better to travel now. Things are slightly cheaper, the crowds are fewer. This may be more true for South-East Asia than for Europe, but I'm sure there's a difference. I believe that tourism will pick up later this year, what with the end of the Iraqi war, and I may have been lucky enough to catch the shoulder as things build up again. Anyway, April to June has always been considered to be "just before peak Summer season", and although I'll catch some of the heavy season in June, it's still better than the worst of it, I'm sure. The alternative is to travel in September to November, but then I risk on missing out on glorious weather. And short-skirted girls.
Benefits: I still get to travel during arguablly the best time of the year and possibly up to 20% of savings in Europe.
- I've never been to Korea, and I understand that Seoraksan National park is absolutely beautiful. It may not have the grandeur of being one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, but it's probably prettier.
Benefits: I get to see Korea and all its efficient splendour, and possibly get to take a hike and some pretty pictures.
- When you look at it, time-wise, I've only changed about 10 days from my 80-day itinerary, which isn't so bad. Most of my trip still seems quite intact and I am still on schedule.
Benefit: No big changes to the overall trip.
So I actually paid an extra USD1000, to basically prevent a loss of about USD1300, which seems like smart economics to me. I'm also getting value for my USD1000, in terms of a trip to Korea, so it's not as if the money is going nowhere. And I get to still go to Russia and Europe in spring.
If you ask me, it sounds like a pretty good deal.
Labels: big trip
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