Wrapping up this blog series from somewhere over the pacific on the last leg of our trip home. We left Penang on Saturday morning, around 6am. After a quick stopover in Kuala Lumpur, we spent most of Saturday in the Hanoi airport.
The original plan had been to buy access to one of the basic lounges at Hanoi and chill there for our ~10 hour layover. First we had to clear immigration to reclaim our checked bags. We followed the AirAsia rules and checked our bags due to their weight. The internet is full of stories of AirAsia refusing to allow heavy carry-ons. In the end we didn’t see any sign of that – oh well, punished for rule-following yet again.
Unfortunately we needed printed boarding passes to re-enter airside, and there was nobody from Korean Airlines around to do that (they only have the one flight out of Hanoi each day). The Hanoi airport doesn’t support electronic boarding passes yet. This meant we were stuck in the arrivals area of the not very glamorous Hanoi airport.
We definitely could have stored our luggage and taken a car into the city, but we were both feeling pretty tired, so we decided to just make the best of it. We claimed a table overlooking the runway at one of the restaurants and settled in for the afternoon. Things turned around for us a bit once we were able to finally check-in, about 3 hours before our flight. For reasons I don’t understand (maybe because we’re Delta Gold / Sky priority?) they gave us both free passes to the fancier lounge in the airport. That meant we were able to take showers, change clothes, recharge devices, and load up on snacks. Lounge life is pretty sweet.
Our flight to Seoul left just before midnight on Saturday. It’s a pretty short trip – less than four hours, arriving to Seoul at 5am local time. It turned out to be a kind of bizarre flight. In my mind, a flight that takes off at midnight and lands at 5am is a flight in which your main focus is sleeping. It turned out that this isn’t an opinion shared by Korean Airlines staff or customers – they left the lights on during the whole flight and did a full meal service around 2am. Weird.
We made it to Seoul with a plan to grab a few hours of sleep in one of the nap pods. They were all full though (turns out other folks had the same idea) so we just claimed some rows of seats in a quiet corner and got a few hours of sleep. After a bit of sleep, we wanted to head into the city. This turned out to be substantially more complicated than expected. There are literally no exits in the Incheon international terminal. You leave on a plane or you don’t leave.
Thankfully, the airport information booth directed use to the Korean Airlines transfers desk. After inspecting our K-ETA paperwork (kinda like a visa), they stamped our boarding passes, then told us to take a special elevator to another security area. We showed those folks our new stamps, and they let us walk back out of the terminal through security (the wrong direction. At that point, we cleared immigration and customs and were finally in South Korea for real.
Seoul has an express train to the central station which takes a little less than an hour. From the central station, you can either set out on foot or use the extensive subway system to get around. I’d done some research in advance, and discovered a Sundays-only market on Insadong street, not far from the station. They close a few blocks of the street and food vendors, artists and local shops spill onto the street. Insadong is a historic street with charming little alleys winding off in all directions. We started with some lunch, then wandered the shops and got some more snacks.
This was our second visit to Seoul, but this time things just clicked – within an hour, we were totally falling in love. It’s such a cool mix of historic and modern structures, with the cleanliness and order of Tokyo but some unique cultural elements. South Korea definitely jumped up our list as a destination for a longer visit.
Our last stop of the day was a visit to the Seoul Museum of Craft Art, which has some permanent exhibits about traditional South Korean crafts, and is currently featuring a special exhibit about South Korean fashion, with a particular focus on 1950s and 1960s domestic high fashion. It was a fun way to get another perspective on a place.
By 3:00, it was time to head for the train station and then back to the airport. Along the way we discovered Seoullo, a “sky garden” – a lot like the high line in New York, it’s an elevated walkway with lots of plants, artwork, and other fun stuff, along with a panoramic view of the city. Just one more tick in the box for Seoul.
Getting back to the airport was fast and efficient – we picked up our bags from luggage storage, then settled into the sweet predictable embrace of Delta for the trip home. Whew.