Stuck with a 10+ hour layover in the Incheon Airport in South Korea on my way home from Vietnam, I knew I had to find something to occupy my time. As I was wandering down the corridor after disembarking from the plane, I caught a sign out of the corner of my eye for a tour provider. The company, Transit Tours, which offers day trips out of the Incheon International Airport for those who have long layovers, had a selection of offerings to choose from. About an hour later, I was on my way to spend a day in Seoul.
I’ve traveled to South Korea before, but I’ve never spent any time on the mainland, and instead headed straight for the small island of Jeju. But my husband was an English teacher in Seoul and lived there for several weeks, and he’s often said that it’s one of his favorite cities in the world, so I was eager to check it out.
Many people don’t realize that Incheon International Airport, while located near Seoul, is actually on a small island of its own. The airport in Seoul is actually for domestic flights. The drive from Incheon to Seoul takes about 40 minutes.
The tour began at Gyeongbokgung, an ancient palace where the royal family lived. Built in 1395 and then reconstructed in 1867, the palace was all but destroyed in 1911 during the Japanese occupation of Korea. A major effort has been undertaken since 1989 to reconstruct the buildings again, and about 40 percent of the structures standing before the occupation have been rebuilt since then.
We got to Gyeongbokgung as the changing of the guards was taking place, and men dressed in colorful costumes were entertaining the crowd in the courtyard. There are several buildings sprawled across the compound and we had the chance to poke through a few of them, which were outfitted as though the royal family still met and lived there.
Within walking distance of Gyeongbokgung is the National Folk Museum, which has several wings devoted to the history and lifestyle of Korea. We had minimal time in the museum, so I chose to check out the section devoted to traditional culture. The small part of the museum I did get to see was fantastic, and I’d love to go back and spend more time there some day.
By this time it was about noon, so we piled back into the van and headed for Insadong, one of the most popular shopping streets for tourists in Seoul. I wasn’t in the market to buy anything, but I had a blast walking along the street, laughing and remembering all the quirky things I’d grown to love on Jeju. I snapped pictures of men dressed in business suits preparing to spend their lunch hour in the arcade and little anime creatures in storefront windows. I always liked the way the Korean language looked, so I savored a few moments just looking at the writing on the outside of the buildings. It was one of those moments of traveling where I really wished my husband could have been there with me, reliving the last time we had been in Korea.
For lunch we ate at a little mom-and-pop shop that served a traditional, family style meal of beef bulgogi! And seaweed! And bean sprouts! (There was kim chi too, but I still can’t find any love for it, so I passed on that.) It was a delicious meal … truly a great way to end a day trip in Seoul.
And then it was time to go. Back in the van we went, happy and fulfilled, for our trip back to Incheon. The day went by way too fast for me, and we just barely skimmed the surface of some of Seoul’s best sites, but now my interest in the city is definitely piqued.
Besides … it beat the heck out of sitting in the airport.