5 months ago when we decided to take this trip, we began with a flight to New Zealand and a flight from Bangkok to Chicago. We had the opportunity to book a flight that required us to land in Seoul, South Korea for ten hours. We picked this flight so we could squeeze one more country into our trip.
That day had finally arrived, so we took our 2 am flight from Bangkok and landed 8 hours later with a time change in South Korea at 7 am. The airport is beautiful, they have a section in the airport specially set up for long layovers.
They have luggage storage, showers, comfy beds and movies. We checked our backpacks at the free storage desk and headed towards the exit. We first had to stop at the transfer desk to have our airline ticket stamped, so that immigration and customs would know we were leaving and coming back to the airport.
All of these steps were very easy and 40 minutes after landing we were standing in front of the bus ticket lines trying to figure out how to get to Soeul. The attendant helped us, took our $14 and gave us a bus ticket and bus number. The air conditioned coach pulled up about ten minutes later.
The bus into Seoul takes about 1 hour. We passed the time sleeping and chatting about what we should do in Seoul. We knew we (or I) needed coffee and food first and foremost. We followed our google maps gps locator to pinpoint when we should get off the bus and once we were close we instructed the driver.
When we stepped outside, it was immediately a breath of fresh air to be in a modern city, full of young professionals, dressed nicely with iced coffees in hand on their way back to work or lunch. It felt like New York a little but Asian and cleaner. The roads were wide, with traffic lights and cross walks and almost no motorbikes! It was much more Western than I had anticipated.
Remembering our New York City days, we followed our tradition of picking a neighborhood and just enjoyed the walk to and around it. In Seoul, we picked Insa-Dong. It was about a 30 minute walk and the last five were through narrow alleyways and interesting shops and restaurants.
Finally, we made it to the main drag which had a good mix of street vendors, great souvenir shops, and art galleries. After a little shopping we were beginning to run out of time and we had one last item on our Seoul checklist, Korean BBQ.
We had a recommendation for a place near the Sinchon subway stop which was perfectly between Insa-Dong and the airport. The recommendation didn’t have a name or address but instead instructions on how to find it.
One year earlier, we had a similar layover in Tokyo and went on a mission to find good sushi. We failed miserably, unbeknownst to us we arrived on a National Holiday called Sea Day. Everything was closed and we ended up with a poor excuse for sushi at a restaurant in the train station.
This time, despite some challenges, we were determined to succeed. We found the subway but figured out that they did not accept credit card when we tried to buy tickets. Our attempt to avoid a Korean cash withdrawal was foiled and we went searching for an ATM machine. After 30 minutes and several failed attempts at machines that only accepted domestic cards, we found one.
After initially typing in 30,000 Won (30 USD) and being denied on the basis that it was too much money, Nate figured that it multiplied the amount entered by 1,000. We tried again by typing 30 and hitting enter. Turns out they actually multiply by 10,000 and we ended up with $300 USD of Korean Currency for our last few hours.
We made a quick water purchase for some smaller bills and finally made it onto the subway.
We were down to the wire to find therecommended Korean Bbq joint. We followed the directions explicitly but after fifteen minutes of searching, we could not find the place. We cut our losses and walked into a random Korean BBQ place with only about 20 minutes left to enjoy a meal before getting on the bus to the airport.
Lucky for us the experience was fast and the owners were so helpful despite the fact that no one spoke English. They helped us pick the right meat and showed us how to cook it and prepare it with the many accoutrements that were on the table. Plus, the food was outstanding!
We quickly paid our tab with a fraction of our excess Korean cash and bolted out to find our bus stop. We spotted it and waited just a few minutes before it pulled up. Few! We were on the bus headed to the airport right on time.
We got back through security, customs and immigration and up to the transfer floor where we had left our bags. We each had time for a free shower before our final flight to the U. S. of A!!!
We excitedly boarded, ate, immediately fell asleep and soon enough we were decending into Chicago O’Hare. It was like waking up from a surreal dream.
We stepped off the plane, jet lagged but filled to the brim with memories of once in a lifetime experiences.
They say you should write your dreams down if you want to remember them. Thanks goodness for passport and chill.