Most travellers don’t like airline layovers, but I try to make the most of them.
On my latest trip to Asia, I had an 11 hour layover at modern Incheon Airport in South Korea, so what to do?
The arrival area had an information booth offering free tours ranging from 1 to 5 hours.
Upon closer investigation, there were actually several tour operators and airlines offering free transportation with tour guides. However, the fine print said small fees would be charged for lunch, insurance and applicable entrance fees.
It appears the South Korean government is actively promoting culture and tourism. There’s even a museum in the center of the departure hall.
To actually book a tour, you need to ask at an airline desk or at the non-airline booths in the public entrance area of the arrival hall.
I picked the 5 hour non-airline tour from the leftmost booth. Fees were $3 insurance, $3 Palace admission, and $7 lunch, total $13.
The tour guide had a heavy Korean accent, but was organized and knowledgeable.
The bus trip to downtown Seoul took an hour. South Korea is a beautiful, mountainous country with many scenic bridges, similar to Vancouver or Portland. The Incheon Bridge is one of the longest in the world at 14 miles.
We ate a delicious Korean meal at 인사동 지화자 좋다 (“Jihwaja Jola”) Restaurant/Bar on Jongro gu Insadong, Seoul (82-02-735-0236.) I was embarrassed to see that the Czech group refused to eat the delicious Korean kimchi and pickle plates in the center of each table. (And Europeans think Americans are Philistines!) 🙂
Golden Buddhas in Jogyesa Temple, Seoul
Some tour tips:
- the tour bus schedule is cast in stone based around airline schedules, so don’t expect the bus to wait for you.
- for each stop, request the finish time and next stop location, so if you miss a pickup near downtown Seoul, just grab a taxi to the next stop. Note that this will annoy the tour guide and other passengers.
- if the bus returns to the airport without you, use the Incheon Airport Express train which takes 43 minutes from downtown. Note that a taxi would be $200.00+ from downtown to Incheon Airport.
- the Gyeongbok Palace is a huge outdoor courtyard, so wear a hat and sun screen and beware of heat stroke. There’s 4 entrances (one at each compass point), so remember where your tour bus is parked.
- we stopped at the Jogyesa Korean Buddhist Temple downtown. This is a fantastic photo opportunity. From outside, use a medium lens to capture the giant gold buddhas. Wide for inside.
- Most stores and restaurants only accept Korean won, not dollars.
- If you have a long layover in Tokyo, Narita has a nice transit hotel, the Nikko Airport Rest House, with 2 excellent restaurants and a zen garden. In Taipei, the National Palace Museum has a fantastic jade display.