Free! Cultural Experience in Seoul

Free!  Cultural Experience in Seoul

For over 10 years running, the Seoul Incheon Airport has been voted world’s best airport, and for a good reason.  Before booking our trip, we had heard that when you have long layovers in Seoul, that not only are there plenty of things for you to do inside the airport, but that you can actually book a tour to leave the airport and go and explore the city itself. 

Introduction
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Star Alliance Lounge Los Angeles
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Virgin Australia Lounge Brisbane
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Virgin Australia First Class from Cairns (CNS) to Melbourne (MEL)
Westin Melbourne and the Press Club
Garuda Indonesia Business Class from Melbourne (MEL) to Denpasar, Bali (DPS)
Sheraton Kuta, Bali (Wow, Wow, Wow!!)
Korean Air Business Class from Denpasar (DPS) to Seoul (ICN)
Korean Air Lounge, Seoul
Free! Cultural Experience in Seoul
Korean Air Business Class from Seoul (ICN) to Seattle (SEA)

A quick google search revealed that indeed, the “Free! Korea Transit Tour” was an option, and the only thing you had to do was book ahead.  There was also a $10 Visa Waiver fee to be paid upon arrival, but no one asked for our $10 and no signs said pay here, so it truly was “Free!”

As we arrived a little after 9am, we missed some of the 10am tours and 11am tours, and instead opted for a 1pm tour.  We figured this would give us time to go to the lounge, shower, get some breakfast, and refresh a bit, and also experience some of the cultural activities inside the airport.

We’ll review the lounge later in a more comprehensive post, but suffice it to say that it was one of the larger lounges that we’ve seen, and the experience in and of itself was quite the cultural experience 🙂

Upon arrival, we showed up to the cultural experience desk, and they informed us to be back at 12-12:15 to checkin for our experience, as it was way too early to do it at this point.  We took the three extra hours we had to explore around the airport, and go a taste of why the ICN airport is voted the best, and certainly not just for its interesting shopping options! 

Kolon Sport?

Kolon Sport?

Teenie Weenie Store?

Teenie Weenie Store?

The airport is bright, open, airy, and signs are everywhere making navigation easy.  There are moving sidewalks to help make it easier, and large departure/arrival boards in both Korean and English. 

Arrivals and Departures

Arrivals and Departures

Bright Open Airy ICN

About 10 minutes into our stroll down the main terminal we heard what sounded like an orchestra playing music, so we went a bit further down and found that indeed, a string quartet was set up and playing a set!  They actually play 5 times throughout the day, for 30 minutes at a time.  You’re encouraged to pull up a seat and listen to the music.  The selections varied from John Denver to Billy Joel to Cold Play.

Seoul Airport Concert

Seoul Airport Concert

After a quick stop to look at Duty Free options (K-pop Cookies) we heard what sounded like drums and chanting.  Looking behind us, we found the “royal family” having a procession down the main terminal.  Called “The Walk of the Royal Family,” it was a reenactment of the lives of the royal court.  Present were the King, Queen, Prince and Princess, along with the royal guard, attendants, and servants.  After sneaking a quick photo with the royal guard…  we headed through customs and immigration out to the bus waiting for us and the Cultural Tour.  Quick note.  If you’re in a rush and want to get through customs quickly and there is a line (as was in our case) there are 6 stations open and available, but most people only queue up in stations 1-3.  We walked to our right faaaaaar down the immigration hallway and found all stations open and no passengers, just sad, lonely and bored faces of immigration officers with nothing to do.  After a quick peek at the passports we were on our way to the cultural tour. 

K Pop cookies

K Pop cookies

Korean Royal Family Procession

Korean Royal Family Procession

Korean Royal Family Procession

Korean Royal Family Procession

The Free cultural tours have their own buses and you are indeed guided by a tour guide, I would assume to make sure that you don’t veer off course.  Also at each and every stop there is a headcount and all must be present to continue.   The first stop was Heungryunsa Temple. 

Not ADA friendly, for sure

Not ADA friendly, for sure

Free Transit Tour Bus

Free Transit Tour Bus

Awesome tour guide

Awesome tour guide

After that we continued on towards to The Memorial Hall for Incheon Landing Operation, where I am convinced that those missiles are pointed towards North Korea. 

Where are those missiles pointing?

Where are those missiles pointing?

We headed back to the airport and before continuing to the lounge, we stopped off at the Korean Cultural Center to paint our own souvenirs.  A free experience for all tourists that have a non Korean passport, you can choose from one of two activities.  We chose to paint our own magnets and the experience was truly unique.  All in all it took about 45 minutes, and we left with two hand crafted souvenirs!  Including making a new friend and the obligatory selfie.

We are constantly photo bombed!

We are constantly photo bombed!

Enjoying craft experience

Enjoying craft experience

Painted souvenirs

Painted souvenirs

From this point it was off to the lounge for about an hour or so of more relaxing before we headed to our 10 hour flight back to Seattle.

Just remember that these tours CAN fill up, so make sure to go ahead and get your tour booked beforehand.  It’s free so make sure to take advantage on your next long layover.  You can find more information about the tours here.

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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