Expat

Long layovers in Korea and Bangkok

Hawaii. The goal. The destination tantalizes to travel far and wide.
Hawaii. The goal. The destination tantalizes us to travel far and wide. [North Shore, Oahu, 2015]
When I first booked my ticket back home to Hawaii, I was apprehensive about the long layovers I had both in Incheon Airport (Seoul) and Suvarnabhumi (Bangkok). Korean Air is known for 12 hour layovers to Hawaii from Thailand and as a result they have lost some customers along the way. I know I have passed them over before due to this.

Now, many in Asia know that Incheon Airport is one the best in the world. It’s spacious, modern and offers amenities like cultural activities, live music, and of course, shopping. But my ticket agent told me that Incheon offers free city tours, as well and since I like Korean Air, I thought I’d take advantage of such an undertaking.

There was only one blog that recently talked about the tour and there were many complimentary recommendations on Trip Advisor.  But I wasn’t aware that there was an online reservation system until I got deeper into the Inter-web.

Apparently these transit tours (as they are called) are rather popular so the tour I wanted was already booked. So I signed up for a shorter tour, but when I landed I discovered that I could change tours and got the one I wanted. The guy next to me on the plane ride over (who also is from Hawaii – isn’t it crazy when these things happen?) learned about the tour from me and was able to walk right up and get on the same tour.

So, I’m not sure what is the lesson/protocol here, but I’d still book in advance.

The Seoul City Tour was just right because it started at 10am which allowed me 2 comfortable hours to stand it the longest Passport Control line, get oriented, eat and cleaned up for 5 hours outside of the airport. The day I was there it was FREEZING and rainy and I was not prepared for such weather even though I had checked the weather online and was wearing leggings, flats with socks and a fleece jacket. And I thought over-preparing with a scarf was good enough. Nope.

It’s an hour drive to Seoul so 2 hours of the tour you are on the bus. We also spent a fair amount of time in traffic, so that combined with the rain, wind and cold made the trip rushed and unpleasant. All of the tours are FREE, but the Seoul City Tour is 10 USD as there is a $3 fee for the Gyeongbokgung Palace and $7 for lunch. Both affairs were disappointing I’m sorry to say.

[Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul, 2015]
Crowded, confusing, cold. [Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul, 2015]
Regardless, I’m not turned off by the tours or Korea. I’d be curious to try the other tours (if I pass through again) before I permit final judgment.

Here’s where it gets better. On the second floor of the main international terminal there is a whole lovely area for weary travelers. Just take the escalators up to this quiet level where they have: a spa, free showers (YES), computers, lounge area, massage chairs, little art displays, paid lounges and power stations for recharging your devices.

The showers are popular and a godsend. On my journey to Hawaii, there was no soap or shampoo, but on my way back to Thailand there was. There are a couple of these lounge areas on either end of the terminal and on my longer layover I took a look at both and they were generally the same except the art display was different. They both give you the tiniest towel for the shower so if you have a travel towel, it might be worth packing.

Another thing I love about Incheon is free Wi-Fi throughout the airport. In Bangkok, you only get 2 hours of Internet and you have to create an account. In Honolulu, you have to pay. (Sheesh. C’mon people. Get it together!)

After showering (and getting to change out of wet rainy clothes and shoes!), I saw a bit of the classic concert and did a painting at the “Traditional Korean Cultural Center”. On my return I had no time to explore, but I was able to take a hot shower after my long flight (over 10 hours) from Hawaii before catching another long flight to Suvarnabhumi.

Traditional Korean Culture Center, Incheon Airport.
Traditional Korean Culture Center, Incheon Airport.

Since Korea is known for its stellar airport, I feared what Bangkok would be like since I was arriving around midnight. I had about a 6 hour layover before catching the first flight back to Chiang Rai. Mostly, I feared that everything would be closed, but this was not the case.

First of all, I would not recommend heading into the city because it’s far, traffic is prevalent and unpredictable. But I would leave the airport just to get back in so you can take advantage of open restaurants, places to rest and queuing up when ticket counters open. There is no other way to do this unless you are there during normal hours.

The time went by quickly, somehow. I guess because I was trying to get oriented and decide what to do as Suvarnabhumi is a massive beast and unless you talk to someone behind an “information counter”, it’s confusing, too. The airport as a 500 baht lounge on the same floor as the food, but I would not recommend it. You can’t lie down, sleep, enjoy the food they advertise because there is only water, but you can sit in a room with softer furniture for 2 hours.

Instead I opted for a 1 hour massage (so restorative) and a hot bowl of jok (rice porridge) to help settle my stomach.  And by the time I got checked in and through the passport and baggage maze, I had only an hour to go – this was when I decided to use my precious 2 hours of Internet. Smart phones. What a great thing to have when traveling.

But boy am I glad to be back home in my apartment, my routine and schedule again. Yes, Hawaii was great and more on that soon, but traveling sure does take it out of you.

Wasted when traveling. Caution: contents in overhead bin may have shifted.
Does not travel well. Caution: contents in the overhead bin may have shifted.

Have you had a long layover in Seoul or Bangkok? What do you do during long layovers?

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31 thoughts on “Long layovers in Korea and Bangkok

  1. Airports…I really do not like them as you never feel comfortable. In Helsinki Aiport they have a lounge but only for certain airlines and of course first class /Business class (at least few years back). Then there is a lack of restaurants, only a couple of places where to buy food and it always appears that these places are competing who got the highest price 😛

    At least internet is free there 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! “Places are competing for the highest price” – ain’t that the truth! I’ve since stopped fretting over airport food prices. It’s like *hangs head* Okay, just let me hand over my biggest bill for a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup.

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  2. Sounds like you had quite an adventure during the airport layovers. Interesting to hear you showered at the airport. I know a lot of travelers do and it’ s a common thing, but I always wondered if the showers are actually clean. I’m sure the cleaners to keep them spick and span…but I worry that suds and stuff and hairs get stuck everywhere…yes, you can call me anal. Then again, there’s nothing nicer than a long shower after a bit of a flight.

    I’ve never had lengthy layovers. Always have been lucky enough to wait no more than four hours for a connecting flight. Then again, maybe I haven’t traveled enough 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, I’m a clean freak too, but I never really thought about how dirty they were. I guess because they were fine enough and I was so eager to shower.

      After my return-trip shower, the cleaning lady was in there doing her thing. And that time was probably the messiest it was b/c the girl before dripped all over the floor and her hair was everywhere.

      This sounds gross, but I have to say, I’ve seen much worse showers in people’s homes. Ha! How about that, eh?

      I’m recovering from jetlag so I’m done with adventures for now, thank you 😉

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      1. Come to think of it, many of the airports I’ve been too I found the toilets not crowded and spacious and there’s always a cleaner nearby.

        If I felt very sticky and dirty overall, then I would be like you and take the plunge to shower in a public place. I do think airport showers are much cleaner than those in swimming places.

        Looking forward to more posts from you soon 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We have had long layovers at BKK, but they have been during the day so we always take the opportunity to go to MBK and shop.
    I have yet to go through incheon though I hope I get to. 🙂
    Glad you are back in the land of smiles and I can’t wait to read about your trip to Hawaii!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, good idea. Did you take a taxi or did you use the BTS to head into the city?

      Thanks for the warm welcome. I have so many blog post ideas in my notebook, I don’t know where to begin!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hope you had a good trip to Hawai’i. Looking forward to your posts on this.

    No long layovers in Korea recently [though we did fly Korean Air on our trip to Thailand in December 2014, and we did change planes in Seoul]. That Seoul city tour you took sounded interesting, even though your personal experience was disappointing.

    We almost always have the 6-hour layover in Bangkok/Suvarnabhumi. Year ago we tried the “taxi-into-the-city/get-a-hotel” break, but it was just too hectic, and not restful at all. Nowadays, I just wander around the airport and look at what’s on display, go to Family Mart for coffee, or take pictures and read.

    It would be great if Suvarnabhumi had showers and WiFi. In fact, it would be wonderful if the airport had comfortable chairs, instead of those hard wooden benches in Domestic Departures. But, it’s hard to complain about being in Thailand…

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  5. When I know that I will have a couple of flights and long layovers ahead (anytime I go between Portland and Caracas every summer for example), I make sure to have a fully charged ipad (mostly to read books) and an external charger for when that dies and everyone else is already hogging the charging stations. Sometimes I will also journal for a bit to get my thoughts down on paper before I forget everything. I don’t really recommend exploring the Caracas airport looking for anything like you have mentioned above (though you might find an affordable massage), it is just not a very safe place.

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    1. Yeah, my long layover in Bogota was NOT pleasant and it was a surprisingly small airport if I’m remembering my airports correctly. Absolutely no amenities and those German Shepards and AK-47s or whatever the dang things were – was an unpleasant reminder that South Am. can be a dangerous place.

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  6. looking forward to your article on Hawaii. i am guessing it was full of mixed feelings. we return to our girlhood town only to discover it was not the town we were looking for but our girlhood(paraphrased and changed from boyhood).

    I have been traveling, too (Cha Am, Hua Hin, Patong, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Singapore, Kuta and Ubud in Bali, in the Philippines currently, landed in Manila, several days in Cebu, and headed for Davao today).

    What is absolutely amazing to me is how Airasia manages to delay every flight. That cannot be easy to do, lol.

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    1. 555+ Soooooo true. But don’t think the higher end flights like Thai Airways don’t, cause they do as well. I was not expecting that. Why the premium price for the constant delays?

      You have been jetsetting. Wooo. How do you do it? I’m still on jetlag time and I’ve been back a few days now.

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  7. We had a 12 hour layover once and after researching before we left we chose to reserve a room in the airport with shower and bed! We were toast and while it was expensive, we were rested for our next leg which was just as long by the time we hit our next bed! Traveling is a bear! I love your picture about “The contents of overhead bin may have shifted!” Welcome Home!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did some research on those hotels/rooms in the airports and they were WAY out of my budget. But with the two of you it probably was more economical.

      I agree, traveling is a bear. It’s been a long journey and I have fresh new respect for those who do it. I had forgotten how hard it was…

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  8. Free showers and activities on the airport? Best airport ever, then! I think I have only been once in Incheon and I didn’t see any of that, snif snif. (Anyway I was going to Seoul from Beijing and it is less than 2 hours flight, so I didn’t really need a shower or anything, haha).

    I know the Istanbul airport also offers city tours for long layovers but I have never tried, usually I only have like 3 hours stopover.

    In Madrid airport you only have 15 minutes free wifi and you have to pay for the luggage carts. It is really embarrasing.

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  9. Lani, I’ve been through Incheon so much they once asked me to pay rent…jk. I didn’t know that they offered showers, though. I love an airport that offers showers. Isn’t the painting fun! Great tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My partner spent several days in Seoul. He enjoyed it a lot. Yes, he was looking at the city core from standpoint of walkability and cycleability.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a long journey! I’m certain the ultimate destination was well worth the trip. Was nice that you were able to see some things along the way other than just the inside of airports. Looking forward to hearing about your Hawaiian vacation.

    Liked by 1 person

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