When I landed at Incheon International Airport, South Korea, in the wee hours of the morning on my way home from Vietnam this past summer, I was absolutely dreading the 12-hour layover I had in front of me. I had plans to write, read and die a slow and painful layover death, but as I headed out of the international terminal, I passed a reservations desk for Transit Tours, which offered another solution for how to spend my day.
For anyone with a layover at Incheon, Transit Tours are the ideal way to leave the airport for a whirlwind tour of the surrounding town or nearby Seoul. Tour options in Incheon range from one to four hours in length, and those to Seoul require five to seven hours of time.
Once I stopped at the Transit Tours desk and picked up the brochure with the tour offerings, I had the wild idea to venture out on my own for the day, but the beauty of a pre-arranged tour during such a short duration of time is that I didn’t have to know where I wanted to go nor did I have to worry about getting back to the airport in time for my flight. On my own, I would have needed to do my own research on sites I could reach during my 12 hours while navigating the language barrier and figuring out how to deal with the public transportation options.
Located between gates 3 and 4, the main Transit Tours desk is well staffed with English-speaking locals who helped me figure out what tour was best for me. I wanted to make the most of my time, but, as I was a solo traveler, I also wanted to get the most bang for my buck, which required I go on a tour that had at least four people (including myself).
The company offers twelve tours from Incheon International Airport. Those located in Incheon are as simple as one- and two-hour tours that go from the airport to a nearby temple and a shopping mall (two separate tours, $5.00 per person). There is also a drama tour that includes stops at film locations, and there are a few city tours that hit some of the markets and parks significant to the city.
With extra time, visitors can make it all the way across the bridge to Seoul for a city tour. There are four city tours, and they hit a variety of temples, museums, markets and significant sites. One even includes a stop at a kimchi cooking school. All of the city tours have very different itineraries, but they all include meals and run $60.00 per person.For those with a bit more time, there is a tour that offers attraction stops around the DMZ.
I chose Seoul City Tour 1, which was a whirlwind tour of Gyeongbokgung (an ancient palace), the National Folk Museum, a walk along Insadong (a popular shopping district) and a traditional Korean lunch. Was it the ideal way to see the city? Not necessarily, but I definitely wouldn’t have done any better on my own (chances are good I never would have left the airport), and it was a great way to get a quick overview of Seoul, which happens to be one of my husband’s most favorite places in the world. In a way, I felt the $60.00 was a bit steep, but I was completely willing to fork over the cash given the fact that all of the details were taken care of and all I had to do was enjoy the ride and not worry about getting back to the airport on time.
The Transit Tours concept is absolutely brilliant, and I recommend that anyone with a long layover at Incheon International Airport consider signing up for a tour. I would love to see similar tour desks placed in other major international hubs. There’s no way a traveler can immerse himself into a culture in 12 short hours, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy what is located just beyond the airport runway.