Friday, February 12, 2016

Airport Lounges and transit tours at Seoul Incheon International

After arriving to Seoul from JFK via Korean Air, we had over 13 hours to kill before our next flight.
It took us about 45 minutes to get off the plane, through immigration and into the arrivals hall.  Seoul Incheon International Airport is one of the top and cleanest airports in the world by many affiliations.  Although I've never seen it, I've heard there's a Golf course, ice skating rink and casino on the premise.  They also have lots of cultural exhibits and performances throughout the facility.

One of the best features includes the free transit tours offered to ticket holders with layovers in Seoul.  There are options for short 1 hour tours or city tours up to 5 hours.  You can mix and match and take as many tours as you want, as long as it fits within your layover time.  The The motor coach bus are spacious and comfortable and the tour guide speaks English.

Since we were Korean Air Prestige Class ticket holders, we had access to the club facilities at Olympus at the Grand Hyatt Incheon Hotel. The free shuttle ran every 20 minutes and it was only a short drive to the hotel.  We took the elevator and went up to the Olympus Spa where there was a fitness center, pool, and locker rooms equipped with steam rooms, rain showers and a nice vanity area.  There was plenty of good quality health and beauty to use but it was tricky figuring out what everything was since the bottles all looked alike and it had Korean labels on them. Luckily, there was a locker room attendant to assist.

After our shower, we met our tour group at the meeting point, which was the transit counter at door 8. We opted for the 5 hour Seoul City tour at 8:00 AM.  The tour really does start at 8 AM, we almost left 2 girls for being a couple minutes late from using the restrooms.  (Disclaimer: The 8 AM tour is an additional $10.00 Per person to cover the palace entrance fee and costs of local lunch)

After a stroll, through the airport, we boarded our motor coach.  There were plenty of seats available. The bus had loaner umbrellas in case of rain as well as loaner down jackets for the cold Seoul winter weather.

We hit a bit of rush hour traffic but we arrived at Gyeongbokgung Palace  within an hour.  The royal palace was built over 500 years ago and was the first palace built in the Joseon Dynasty to house the wives of the preceding kings.  Although it was raining, the weather was mild.  The tour guide said it was "in the teens" just a week ago.

Once we pulled in, there were hoards of other tour buses.  I was dreading the tour already.  We unloaded the bus and the tour guide gave us strict instructions to come back to the bus on time.  If we didn't listen, it would be a $100.00 cab ride back to the airport.

We had about 45 minutes to explore the palace at our own leisure.  The grounds were beautiful and the buildings were modest.  They were the complete opposite of what you would find in a Southeast Asian royal palace.

Gyeongbokgung Palace - Seoul Korea

After we were all accounted for on the bus, we drove a short distance to Isadong Street, a popular destination filled with eateries and small shops.

Although it was only 10:30, we would be having a Korean lunch.  We sat in tables and ate the condiments family style althugh we each had our own bowl of rice and entree.  Our choices were vegetarian bimbimbap or beef bulgogi.  We were all feeling carnivorous and went with the beef bulgogi.  The food was a bit cold but it was good and plentiful.

Beef bulgogi stew
After "lunch" we strolled around the street.  Many of the shops were just opening up so it wasn't as lively as anticipated.  I didn't see many street food options, just a few dessert stands and some fried food stalls.

When it was time to leave, we walked towards the bus and drove 45 minutes back to the airport.

We actually signed up for 2 tours but the rain got the best of us.  We still had 5 hours to before takeoff so we lounged hopped.  All of the lounges offers WIFI, food (or snacks) and some kind of alcohol.  Some include showers, business centers for web surfing or doing actual business work.

Here's a list of the lounges we visited.

Asiana Business Lounge
This was the best lounge overall.  The lounge was spacious and there were plenty of seats and separate areas to sit and unwind.  Although I didn't eat anything, the food looked OK.  There were some Korean instant noodles, a few pastries, some hot entrees and chips and processed cheese whiz.

Skyhub Lounge
This lounge was pretty empty and kinda "blah". Thank god for Priority Pass  because I would have NOT paid $45.00 to use it.  There were some questionable salads and soups.  The best thing was that they had cool lychee drinks and a soft serve ice cream.

Matina Lounge
Although the Matina Lounge was the smallest, it had the best selection of food. There was a fresh buffet serving of orange chicken that was good in texture and taste.  There was also fried rice, sandwiches, rice porridge and many other entrees.

Korean Air Prestige Lounge
By the time we visited Korean Air's Prestige Lounge, I was struggling to stay awake.  I didn't bother checking out the food situation and was practically in zombie mode.

Of course, the Mo took advantage of the self serve Remy XO (retails at $150.00 a bottle USD). In between drinks, he put together 2 chairs for a makeshift bed for me and I passed out until boarding time.

Adios Seoul! It's been real but it's time to go to Siem Reap!