When we found out we’d be moving back to the US, I had about three weeks to get my act together before my flight. Kyle left early to get ready to start his new job, and I stayed behind to wrap up all of things that need taking care of when you’re leaving a foreign country. The only things I knew for sure then were: I had an eight hour layover in korea, and I’d be damned if I was going to spend it sitting in the airport!
One five hour middle of the night flight later, I landed in Seoul. If you’ve never been through Incheon International Airport, let me tell you – it is, by far, the most beautiful airport you’ll ever have the pleasure of flying through. It’s relatively new, and they’ve basically thought of everything the frazzled international traveller will need. There’s a lounge with showers and comfortable chairs for napping. There’s a shopping mall’s worth of restaurants and stores. There’s museums and cultural entertainment. The water fountains have automatic sensors, and the toilets literally have a control panel. It’s like living in the future. But the best thing of all, for people like me with long waits until their connecting flight, are the free transit tours.
I’d heard about the transit tours from our friend Lisa, who runs Thai Freedom House in Chiang Mai where we volunteered. I had it all planned out – I was going to do the five hour Discover Seoul tour (it was called something like that) that left an hour after I landed and gave me two hours to get back to my gate before my plane to LA left. It was perfectly timed.
Except I screwed it up.
Of course, I got lost trying to find the transit tour booth – turns out, you have to go through immigration and out to the main arrival part of the airport (past security) to find it. So I missed the tour by like 10 minutes. I jumped on the next tour, which was the slightly less exciting Temple Tour (I mean, I had not 24 hours before left a country where you basically can’t walk down the street without passing one awesome temple or another). But I was determined to see at least a tiny piece of Korea, so I waited an hour, got the rest of my Thai Baht changed into Won, and hopped on the van to go see the temples.
We stopped at a temple in Incheon about a 40 minute drive from the airport after crossing, according to our guide, the longest bridge in Korea. It was all a bit rushed, since it was a two hour two door to door from the airport. After the temple we went to see a Korean War memorial, complete with photo ops in the form of cardboard cutouts you could stick your head through or statues you could pose with to pretend that you, too, had been part of the battalion that saved South Korea from invasion. But hey, it was free, and I now have a Korea stamp in my passport!
Back at the airport, I still had about four hours to kill. I decided to go the Korean Cultural Center that’s right in the middle of the airport. They have some art projects you can do, like ink blotting and painting, and at different times of the day there’s music and performances too. I made a tiger print, which was surprisingly time consuming because you can only use this little dobber with a little ink at a time or it gets all messed up.
The moral of the story is – don’t waste your Korean layover – there’s a ton to do and see if you plan it right, and don’t get lost on your way to the tour counter.