Layover at the Seoul Incheon International Airport, South Korea
The Transit Tour: Escaping the Airport with Ease
Layovers usually feel like wasted time. On the way home from Vietnam Ben and I had a 16 hour layover in Seoul. Neither of us have been to South Korea before so we planned on using the time for a quick trip into Seoul, though we were a little nervous about figuring out where to go and getting back to the airport with a really limited amount of time. After lots of google searching I found out that the airport has free transit tours to help you make the most of a layover, so we didn’t have to worry about getting around by ourselves–brilliant!
We booked a five-hour “Seoul City Tour” which took us on a nice comfy air-conditioned bus from the airport to the Gyeongbok Palace, the Jogyesa Temple, lunch and exploring on Insadong Street, and back to the airport. We paid $10 each for lunch when we booked the tour and didn’t have to worry about a thing on the tour except finding our way back to the bus at the right time. It was so easy and convenient.
The Gyeongbok Palace was built in the Joseon Dynasty in 1395, and later destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the late 1800s/early 1900s. I loved the contrast of the city skyscrapers behind the palace buildings.
The Jogyesa Temple was the second stop on our transit tour. It’s the headquarters of the main sect of Buddhism in Korea. The temple had a service going on when we visited, so we slipped in the back for a few minutes. Two sweet older ladies handed us hymnals in case we wanted to join the chanting. For some reason that surprised me, like I expected that all would be memorized but instead I got a hymnal that looked on the outside just like something that would be in a church pew in the US.
After we stepped outside the temple I made a recording of the sound:
After the temple we took the bus to Insadong Street for a quick lunch and exploring. According to the transit tour brochure, “Insa-dong is famous as the most traditional street, lined with a large number of antique shops and folk art galleries.” I realize that seeing one street is not representative of the whole city, but our tiny taste of Seoul seemed so clean and calm compared to Hanoi. I loved our quick adventure in Seoul but I have to say I missed the chaos of Hanoi.
Back at the Seoul airport we took free hotel-quality showers before our red-eye flight back to Seattle. Another reason the Seoul airport is awesome.
I didn’t know about the transit tours until we were on the way to Seoul, so after landing I found the transit tour information kiosk, which had been marked on the airport map in the Korean Air plane seat pocket magazine. We booked our spot on the tour as soon as the kiosk opened for the day. I have a friend in Japan right now (hey, Sonya!) who has a layover in Seoul too. I told her about the tour and she figured out that you can book online ahead of time, which is a great idea so you are sure to get a spot.
You do have to go back through immigration and customs at the airport. We didn’t have any trouble doing that and it was fun to add a stamp for South Korea to my passport 🙂
Now you know what to do with a long layover in Seoul! What has been your favorite airport experience?