A few weeks ago, Angelina and I made sudden changes to our Australia trip by adding a few nights in Tokyo before heading home. Given the short notice that we had, I was fortunate enough to be able to snag a last-minute seat in Asiana’s Business class from Sydney to ICN (Seoul) that included a nice 15-hour layover before continuing on to Tokyo in United Business class.
The award from SYD-ICN-NRT priced out at 40K United miles. I must say that Asiana Business class was an impressive experience. Lots of leg room, a flat bed, and the service and food were out of this world. I don’t recall my wine glass being empty at all during my 10 hour flight.
I landed at ICN at 6:48PM, and my next flight to Tokyo departed the following day at 12:13 pm. I had to quickly make a decision – stay overnight at the airport or go to Seoul. I chose to make the trek into Seoul, and I am glad I did.
I want to share an interesting alternative [as well as some tips] to make the most of your overnight layover in a unique and budget-friendly way.
Free Luggage Storage: You can store your belongings for free up to 24 hours in the storage lockers located on the third floor (near gate 25 or gate 29). Keep in mind that the free lockers are located inside the airport area for transit passengers. The key is that you have to go through the transit line and locate the information desk personnel to ask about the free locker storage benefit. They will hold a picture ID of yours and give you a locker key. Once you give back the key, you will get back your ID. After you store your luggage, go downstairs to immigration and tell them you are touring during your layover. If you go through immigration before opting to store your luggage, you will have to use a very pricey storage service instead.
Once I cleared through immigrations, I changed $40 USD at the foreign exchange counter and went down the stairs to catch the airport train.
Trains: There are 2 trains – the first is the airport train, which is an express option that gets to Seoul station in about 45 minutes (I believe this option costs 12000 Kwon). For a cheaper alternative, use the airport railroad train which is a commuter train. This option makes a total of 10 stops before reaching Seoul station and takes roughly 53 minutes… for a much lower pricer of 3400 Kwon. I bet you can guess which option I chose.
The train ticket machines are easy to use as they have English instructions. The instructions are as follows: simply spell the station you wish to travel to and then you will get a price quote. Train tickets are cheap; an average downtown fare is approximately 1650 Kwon (~$1.35).
My Itinerary: I took the airport railroad commuter train to Seoul Station, exited walked around a bit, then I went back to Seoul station and took the subway for two stops to Myeongdong station. Myeongdong station is lively a shoppers’ paradise, and crowded even at 10 pm. From Myeongdong station, I then took the train 3 stops and transferred to the 6 line, to Itaewon station. Itaewon station is the foreigners’ night-life happening place, and also the place for my Korean Spa experience.
You might be asking, with an overnight layover in Seoul, why go to a spa? First off, spas in Korea are an important part of the culture. Much like Turkish bath houses, they are often open all hours of the night and are a great place to spend a whole day. Here’s my logic: for about $19, not only do you get complete use of an authentic Korean Spa facility, but you also get a great place to sleep… in a private room – can’t beat that.
How to get to IItaewon-Land Spa:
Station stop Itaewon, exit 3, then walk straight for about 5 minutes and look right; you will see about 100 steps that will take you to the spa.
I believe if you arrive after 8:00 pm, you’ll pay 10,000 Kwon, and that includes use of spa, pajamas and sleep in open area. I chose the private room for 20,000 Kwon(~$19). They give you a key to put your shoes in a locker; the key also acts as a credit card, meaning you can buy food, massages, etc. by scanning it. After I was given pajamas, I was escorted to my private room. The room is clean, plain and simple and includes use of the spa. For just $19, it was a great place to sleep.
The next morning, I woke at 5 am, asked for a towel, took a shower, and tried the hot tub. Then I walked to the 3rd floor and had a beer. I left shortly after to do some touring before heading back to the airport. I had a chance to check out Gyeongbokgung Palace and City Hall before taking the commuter train back to the airport.