If you are flying between Asia and North America, consider flying with Korean Air and get a long layover in Seoul. When other airports only offer free wifi, Incheon Airport offered free tours. yes, you heard me right: free tours. The tours varies between 1 to 5 hours long and starts at different times of the day, so there is (almost) always something to suit everyone’s schedule.
There are 1, 2, 3, 3.5 and 5 hours tours leaving at different times throughout the day, but the tour has to be booked online if you want to secure your seat. Go to Incheon Airport’s website to find the tour that suits your schedule, then email them or visit their website to book your seat. I suggest that you book them as soon as possible as some of them are very popular. While the tours are free, entrance fees and lunch are not free and you have to pay them in the tour desk in Incheon Airport.
I was flying from Jakarta to Los Angeles. My plane landed at 7.05 AM in Incheon and my next flight would not be until 3 PM. I had 8 hours to kill so I took the 5 hours Seoul City Tour starting at 8 AM. The problem was that I had to be at the departure point 30 minutes before the tour starts, I had exactly 25 minutes to pass the immigration and find a cash machine to pay for my fees.
7.05 – 7.20 / Passing through the immigration
Thinking that I should rush from the landing gate to the tour desk, then pass through the immigration before finally reaching the second tour desk haunted me. What if I couldn’t find the tour desks? What if the immigration queue would be super long?
As you landed in Incheon, walk up to the immigration desk. On your way there, stop at the ‘Korea Free Transit Tour’ desk to confirm your seat in the tour. The lady at the desk told me that I had to find the second tour desk, which was the departure point, to pay for my lunch and entrance fees. I had to pay US$10, which could also be paid in the local currency.
Then I continued to the immigration desks, and to my delight, the lanes were empty. I was almost certain that the tour would leave without me. Surprisingly it all went smoothly!
7.20 – 7.35 / Paying the fees
I did have US dollars with me, but they didn’t have the change for me so I had to pay for it with an exact amount. I panicked, naturally. But the lady at the tour desk told me that I could exchange my money nearby (which was not a good idea, I wanted to exchange just US$20 but they won’t take my US$100 unless I exchanged them all) or use the cash machine to withdraw money in local currency. I figured that I would be charged for this, but it’s better than having US$100 worth Korean won that I will never use.
I went back to the tour desk, paid for my lunch, and I was told to wait for the tour to begin at 8. I has 25 minutes to freshen up in the toilet. At least I didn’t have to look like a hobo in all my photos for the next 5 hours.
8.00 – 9.00 / Incheon Airport to Gyeongbok Palace
There was 15 other people in the tour, all looking tired from their previous flights. On the air conditioned tour bus, the tour guide’s story and the bus’ soft rocking motion put me to sleep.
9.00 – 10.00 / Gyeongbok Palace
Gyeongbok Palace, was the main royal palce of Korean Joseon Dynasty. Built in 1395, it was one of the Five Grand Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty and it used to house the kings and the government.
10.00 – 10.20 / Jogyesa Temple
Jogyesa is the chief temple of Jogye Korean Buddhism. It was small, but it was colourful, and on the courtyard there was a sea of lotus plants. For a moment I forgot that I was in the heart of the busiest cities in Asia. We didn’t stay for so long in this temple as we had to head to Insadong Street for lunch.
10.30 – 12.00 / Insadong Street
We walked to Insadong street, a shopping street with shops mainly selling souvenirs, Korean beauty products and bakeries. We had lunch in a quiet restaurant tucked inside one of the lanes in Insadong. After lunch the tour guide let us off on our way before gathering up to return to the airport at 1 PM.
12.00 – 13.00 / Seoul to Incheon Airport
The tour ended on time. So you’ll be sure that you would not miss your next flight so long as you have planned plenty of time to pass through the immigration and find your departure gate.
13.00 – 14.00 / Long hot shower (!!!)
It was cloudy, but Seoul’s hot and humid air drenched me in sweat. Luckily, there were free shower facilities in Incheon Airport. Some airports would not even give you free wifi, but this airport was super generous with all its free facilities (they even have free live music show!). There were also plenty of shops and restaurants if you fancy a grub before your flight. If I had to give a star out of five, this airport would get a 7.
14.00 – 15.00 / Boarding the flight
While I waited to board my flight, I used the free wifi facilities to upload my photos to Facebook and let everyone wondering why the hell am I in South Korea when I am supposed to be in Los Angeles.