Sunday, June 22, 2014

How to Enjoy an Additional 9 Hours Stuck in Incheon

So, I'm off for the next week to visit the Tsataan reindeer herders northeast of Khuvsgul Lake.  It's a magical place that doesn't have this thing called In Ter Net, which means no blogging.  Alas, I have not left you comfortless.  I've been sitting on this particular post since Christmas (aka, the time of year when I plan how to get home with the maximum hours layed-over in Seoul to catch up with my peeps), because I knew that a time would come when I would need it.  That time is now.

I have waxed ecstatic on multiple occasions about how much I love Korea.  The main international airport, Incheon, is just one of the many, many reasons for that love, but considering how many times I've been through there, it's a big one.  Let's start the "How-do-I-love-thee-let-me-count-the-ways" game with the transportation.  There are fast trains that connect the airport with downtown Seoul.  If you want to go elsewhere and have to make more than one transfer to get there, there are the airport limo buses.  Personally the buses are my favorite way to go, because as often as not I am heading to Bundang to catch up with my Dark Lord and Master, and it takes a little more than an hour, I think.  They're more expensive than taking a train, but they're not called Limousine Buses for nothing - the seats are luxuriously big and comfortable, and I have yet to be on one that was packed, so you should have room to stretch out.  And from there, well, my friends, Seoul is your oyster.

But if you can't be bothered leaving the airport, no matter how hard I sell Korea to you, here are some things you can easily do without walking outside.

1. Pretend to be Kim, Yu-Na (without the whole Russian gold medal scandal):  That, ladies and gentlemen, is an ice skating rink.  Yes, there is an ice rink in Incheon airport.  You'll need to pass through immigration to get there, but the fact remains that you can rent a pair of skates and work on your triple lutzes while you're waiting for your connection.  This picture was taken in January, but it was still up in April, so as far as I know it's a year round thing.

2. Catch a movie:  Again, this is outside the secure area, but I have yet to undergo a full-body search no matter how many times I've been through Seoul.  Oh sure - you may be thinking you just spent 13 hours sitting and watching movies (or are about to - unless you're flying Delta, 'cause I had a trans-Pacific flight with them once that had NO seatback entertainment and let me tell you how much THAT sucked).  However, all those movies are OLD movies.  Also, there's something to be said for watching a movie in Korea.  It's an experience.  You get to choose your seat.  It's about as expensive as a movie back home, but nobody really cares if you bring your own snacks - although I wouldn't flaunt it, since it's been several years since I went to the theater in Korea.  And there are subtitles in Korean, which means that sometimes people talk during the movie - not necessarily a good thing, but one kind of interesting to experience.
3. Take in some art:  Back into the secure area, there's an art gallery.  The last show (possibly the permanent exhibition) was about the art of hangul - the Korean alphabet.  Ask any Korean who their most famous leader was and they will tell you King Sejong Daewon.  He decided that the literacy of his people was more important than written snobbery and invented Korea's alphabet to replace Chinese characters.  As someone who can read Korean but knows only two Chinese characters (love and mountain), I think the man had a point.  This art show is testament to the fact that Koreans generally agree.
4.  Make some art:  There's a couple of Korean culture centers in the airport, and they let you make crafts for free.  Whether or not you feel that you are a budding Picasso, you can't beat the price tag, and it's a nice way to take up a half-hour or so of your layover.  Last time I visited them and made a coffee tumbler that commemorated my visit to Seoul with my girl-crushes, Champ and Little Miss Catwalk.  This lady's doing printmaking, which seriously requires NO artistic talent, and has been an option as long as I can remember.
5.  Try some music that is NOT K-Pop:  The aforementioned culture centers also have music and dance performances, although you'll have to either be lucky or ask when they are happening.  And while you're making art and listening to music, you can admire Korea's traditional dress, the hanbok.
6.  Find out why Korea's internet is world-famous:  Not only is it fast, it's ubiquitous.  Some of the internet providers have even sponsored free internet cafes, so if you used up your battery on your flight and don't have time to wait for your laptop or iPad to power up, you can use one of their devices.  Is that cool or what?
7.  Free shower:  Are there any two sweeter sounding words when you've been on a flight for 13 hours and still have three more to go after your layover?  I think not.  This, good people, is the true genius of Incheon International Airport, and I think a large part of why it is a perennial rival to Hong Kong and Singapore for the World Airport Award.

Although the comfortable digs and plentiful power points don't hurt, either. 

And probably the Starbucks, Burger King, Kraze Burger, etc...the good restaurants might have something to do with it, too.  If you're flying to Mongolia, go through Seoul.  Seriously.  Because if you're going to get stuck, you'll have a much better time here than in Beijing.

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