We were very excited to find out that Seoul, South Korea's Incheon International Airport is ranked one of the the top airports in the world. When airline tickets connecting through Tokyo skyrocketed we began to look at alternative routes. Having flown in and out of airports all over Asia including Tokyo, Taiwan, Bangkok and Singapore, we wanted to find a different connecting city.
We also knew that connecting through Hong Kong meant trouble for our budgets and personal desire to spend an extensive amount of time there, so connecting via Hong Kong was out of the question unless it meant another week of traveling. Therefor we settled for Seoul, South Korea and its mandatory 10 hour layover. We were excited about getting an opportunity to check out what Seoul has to offer.
Our midnight flight got us into Seoul's Incheon Airport around 6am. Luckily as US Citizens no visas are needed. We just head through customs/immigration and started mapping out your 10 hours. Our first glimpse of the caliber of Seoul's Incheon Airport was when we were filling out our customs/immigration paperwork. These little beauties were provided just in case you needed some assistance, along with pens that actually work.
After easily making our way through customs/immigration we headed down into the main terminal where we heard our airline Asiana arranged free shuttles and tours into the heart of downtown Seoul. We wanted to maximize our time in Seoul and had done research on areas to tackle, where good food could be found and maybe if we were up for it some temple sightseeing. It turns out the tours were organized on a very tight schedule, so all our research was a bit in vain, but the tour did involve historical sites, a temple, a free lunch and some shopping. Win, win, win for all and we happily piled into a comfy tour bus for the 90 minute bus ride into downtown.
We were constantly reminded by our cute little tour guide Amy that if we wandered from the group and missed the our ride back to the airport it would cost us 80,000 Korean Won to catch a taxi to the airport, that's $80! Thankfully the group was small and easy for Amy and us to manage.
Seoul was very cold, especially compared to the 90 degree temperatures we had in Vietnam, but fortunate for us we were well prepared and knew to pack our winter clothes.
First stop was the Presidential Blue House, named for the blue roof tiles. As you can imagine we simply walked around the main tourist area since the Presidential residence is off limits to the general public. It wasn't particularly exciting, but people are always proud of their political figures and like to show off the grandeur of their compounds. We were more interested in the fact that there was actual snow on the ground and we were mesmerized by the traffic controllers. Their uniforms were very ornate and they should be if they were going to be on display like this.
Before we knew it, it was time to head to the next sight, a large palace compound, but mostly we milled around the front gate area, which had this incredibly intricate roof and mural on the ceiling.
We didn't get a chance to wander far into the compound because we were on a tight schedule, but that didn't matter since we were more interested in the mundane aspects of life in Seoul, such as the handlebar hand warmers on the bicycle and scooters! HANDLEBAR HAND WARMERS - brillant!
We were also enthralled by the full body down jackets all the grounds staff wore. They sure looked warm.
Enough time to take some pictures and we were off to the only Buddhist Temple in Seoul.
The only buddhist temple in Seoul meant it was going to be crowded. There are many buddhist shrines, but this was the main temple. It was beautiful. Located smack dab in the middle of the city with shiny skyscrapers in the background the temple couldn't help but be a hive of activity.
The interior of the temple was just as ornate and packed with worshippers.
We really enjoy the beauty and serenity of buddhist temples. We find buddhist temples to be wonderfully informal and personal. We could have easily spent more time at this incredibly ornate wooden temple with so many details, we rushed around hoping to capture as much of it as possible.
Many people come to just pay respects to the Happy Buddha or leave a prayer at the tiered temple representing the ascent into nirvana or light a candle as an offering.
This temple had so many interesting features and wonderfully colorful panels that contrasted with the surrounding modern buildings. We could have spent much more time here and in fact were the last to arrive at the bus, we were absolutely mesmerized by the beautiful temple.
Soon we were back on the bus and heading for some quick shopping before heading back to the airport. It was a fast paced tour of Seoul and we didn't get to wander around in the neighborhoods which we love to do in foreign cities, but we did manage to capture some of Seoul's everyday life, even if it was from the window of a tour bus.