0500 – That was the time we had arrived at the Incheon International Airport in Seoul, Korea. We were on our way back from spending 10 days in the Philippines and I had purposefully inserted a 15 hour layover so that we could explore South Korea.
For travelers with long layovers, Incheon offers mostly free tours ranging from one hour to five hours. My goal here was to take two five-hour tours.
Upon arrival, head straight to Immigrations with your passport, arrival form (these are handed out on the plane, please have it filled out before you get to Immigration), arrival and departure boarding passes. Just let the officer know that you’re taking a tour during your layover. After you’ve cleared Immigrations, head towards gates 8-9 and then look for the D. (crickets) Yes, you will see the baggage claim area and look across the room for a big D above the exit door. Go out these doors and look for the Free Tours desk at your 1100 (that’s ninja assassin speak for look catty corner to your left). Tours are first come, first serve and they have one leaving every hour until 3pm.
We took the Seoul Tour 1 which encompassed Gyeongbokgung Palace and Insadong Street. There is a $10 charge for this tour and that pays for the entrance to the palace and lunch. We made it within five minutes of the tour commencing and so were whisked off onto a 60 seat charter bus. Note: our bus didn’t have a bathroom, so you may want to “go” before you go.
Roughly an hour later, we were at the palace! We arrived in January and it was CTAWT!!! Roaming around the palace grounds was only overshadowed by the fact that frostbite was a possibility. However, we still oohed and ahhed with frozen breath at the sites and the magnitude of the expanse of the grounds. Reece concurred with my comment about how fit the ushers would have been when they had to summon anyone to a particular area back in the day.
We had about an hour and half before our return to the bus and took advantage of some eats and a public bathroom. For you smokers, there are NO SMOKING signs everywhere! So plan accordingly or else you’ll be constantly chastised in broken English.
At Insadong Street, I was disappointed at how quiet it was. It was about 1030am and this wasn’t the hub of hubbub I was expecting. We later found out it was The People’s Republic Day, which is a national holiday in Korea. People wear traditional attire and there are celebrations at the different palaces along with other observances. We went down a cool side alley to have some bulgogi and other delicious sides for lunch. As we walked along quiet Insadong Street, I had some treats from the vendors that dotted our journey out and back to the bus.
On our journey back to the airport, I was already looking forward to the next tour. However, Reece wasn’t feeling well and wanted to find a quiet spot in the airport to relax. Being the good wife that I am, I agreed to hang with him and planned on taking a shorter tour by myself later.
Unfortunately, the afternoon held other plans for me. Reece was miserable as he couldn’t get warm and the lack of sleep on the red eye from Philippines to Seoul was taking its toll. I booked us a room at the Transit Hotel, located within the airport. For six hours and $73, we had our own hotel room complete with a full bath. We would have until 730pm to lounge, which was perfect since our flight left at 840pm.
My downfall was when I laid down with my husband and woke up at 5pm. Apparently, my body needed rest also and went into coma mode so that I missed any afternoon tours. Well, crap on a stick, I was so disappointed! Click here to see reviews on TripAdvisor regarding the Incheon International Airport tours.
This one day in Korea has left me wanting more. I plan on returning to make more of an excursion out of it. The people, the food, the sights, the traditions, and the food.
So what’s the difference between one day in Korea vs. one night in Bangkok? I don’t know, I’ve never been to Bangkok.
Much love and Aloha,
your clueless wanderer