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