Southeast Asia. Minus Singapore or Bangkok, there are very few ways to get here that do not require a change of planes. From both North America and Europe, getting to this part of the world is a long flight, followed by another long(ish) flight. So why not break it up and see another city instead of just changing planes at the airport there?
I purposely built a 12 hour layover in Seoul into my Southeast Asia plans. Asiana Airlines, a member of my airline alliance of choice, offered either a 2 hour change of planes in their hub city or a 14 hour one. Not even thinking that my flight could easily be delayed and I could miss my connection to Phnom Penh, I chose the option that gave me 14 hours in Seoul. Though I’ve been to Korea, it was only in transit before, so it did not count. Not only did I want to see Seoul, but a long stop over is a nice way to tick off another country in the race to 100.
With only 12 hours (10, to get back to the airport on time), trying to see it ALL was not an option. And although Asiana offers tours of Seoul for a long stopover, that did not interest me either. Instead, I planned my day around a few things that I love: hipster coffee, wandering around the center, and a good mirador. With just a little research before arriving, I was ready to take on Seoul in 12 hours. My flight was a bit delayed, but I still had plenty of time.
Upon arrival into Incheon, I made a beeline for the airport limousine bus to the Hongdae neighborhood, a university area in Seoul ripe with street art, fashion trends, university students, and of course good coffee. For the equivalent of around $8 USD, the bus had me there in around one hour. From there, I dashed first to an ATM, as I forgot to get Won at the airport, and then in search of coffee. Being a university area, the coffee choices were plenty. I decided on a little place called Coffee Brown, on the top floor of small Korean style building. From there I could enjoy my liquid crack and have a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood.
Sufficiently caffeinated, I wandered around Hongdae taking in the neighborhood, the sights, and of course the street art. Once I had enough of the hipster part of town, I hopped on the famous Seoul subway headed towards City Hall, where I was told there was a (free) mirador of the city from the top floor. Immediately after coming up from the station, I was treated to the changing of the guard ceremony at Deoksugung Palace, an unexpected treat! From there it was off to City Hall to take the elevator up to get a nice view of Seoul. The weather was perfect, and even through the windows, the view was amazing.
By the time I left City Hall, I was hungry. So I wandered around Central Seoul looking for vegetarian options. Relaxing over a delicious meal (Late lunch? Early dinner? Who knows, by then jetlag was starting to win), I made the decision to explore the city on foot post-feeding. In my opinion, seeing a city on foot is the best way to see a city. The heat and humidity were bothersome, but not enough to squash my sense of adventure and wanderlust. Headed to Seoul Station, where I’d catch a train back to the airport, I took in the sights and sounds of Seoul, a working city.
After one final stop for more coffee, I arrived at Seoul Station where I was able to check into my onward flight to Phnom Penh. I opted for the express train back to Incheon, favoring a different method of transportation that I used to get into the city. In exactly 47 minutes, I was back at Incheon after a very efficient train ride. I stamped out of South Korea and was at my boarding gate to Phnom Penh in no time.
All in all, my day in Seoul cost me about $25 USD, including food, transportation, and coffee. Worth every dollar I spent to see a city I had only flown over previously. And although I hardly “know” Seoul, I was able to see the sights that were important to me. So much better than drinking overpriced coffee at the airport for 12 hours!
The journey is often said to be half the fun. Sitting on an airplane for 14 hours is never really fun, but building in a stopover to break up the long flight is! I truly believe that a multi hour stopover, with enough time to explore a new city, is a globetrotter’s best friend!
Want more of my travel tips and tricks? Reach out to me and I can help you plan your perfect experience abroad.