I am a sucker for cheap plane tickets. A couple of weeks ago, I went to Vietnam for a beautiful wedding for one of my best friends, and the cheapest ticket option had an overnight layover in Korea. “What the heck, I’ve always wanted to go to Korea,” I thought, so I booked it to get a peek.
One of my friends also at the wedding had an overlapping layover so we hit the city together. While these layovers don’t give you nearly enough time to get situated in a city (I spent 3/4s of mine asleep, in a sketchy sex hotel, or trying to leave the airport but getting harassed by Kazakhstanis who had never seen a black person before), we still had a fun time!
Since this layover was totally unplanned and not researched, and since I was only there for a day, this is not an “ultimate guide on how to spend your layover”. This is just what we did, but it was a blast.
Maybe I live in a box, but something that surprised me about Korea (and actually also Japan), is that their baked good scene is on fleek. From fancy pastries to simple breads, everything we tried was like France and Italy level of delicious! A friend who had been here before recommended Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours as popular chain places.
The best baked good I had though was called a “Seoul Pie” from the train station of all places. We could have only found it through divine intervention. The smell of melted butter becoming one with sugar wafted towards us, and we followed it to a random stand.
My friend told the cashier, “We’re having two of whatever that smell is.” She handed us an egg tart (with perfect custard) that used a croissant as the crust. It was soooo good.
And of course, we had soup! At a restaurant where we kneeled at a short table to eat, we ordered gamjatang (a spicy pork soup) and received a multitude of banchan. Everything was just as tasty and flavorful as you would expect, the price was much cheaper than I was expecting, we had way too much food for two people, and the pork literally melted off the bone into your mouth.
Because of time limitations and laziness, we mostly used taxis to get around. I think most people actually order them through Kakao, but we had no issues just hailing the yellow ones and they were cheap (compared to Seattle).
First, because I used to work in skincare and love trying new products, we hit up Myeong-dong, which is the skincare district of Seoul (well if that’s not what it is officially, there are a ton of skin care shops). I loved this area because each brand had its own small, uniquely decorated store. There were a few places like Sephora that combine multiple brands- the one we went to was Olive Young. And all of the service workers we encountered were super polite and friendly!
Mixing the material with the cultural, we next took a taxi to Gyeongbokgung, one of Korea’s famous palaces. Well, we thought we did anyway.
When the taxi dropped us off, we walked through a cool maze of historical buildings, statues, and artifacts. As you walked down the path, you walked forward in time until you reached modern times. Being surrounded by these things really immersed me in the history. Something we noticed here was people were dressing up in traditional clothes and taking pictures through the exhibit. They were so beautiful!
I asked for their permission to take this picture, by the way.
At the end of the path was a free museum. I’m a sucker for history and art museums and this place had both! So we went in.
The first room was more modern- explaining the significance of color throughout Korea’s history and until now. Did you know blue, which in the West we associate with sadness, is associated with hope in East Asia?! Whoaaa!
The rest of the rooms were the usual “here’s what life was like in X BC/AD”, and you could tell the museum directors put a lot of thought in how things should be displayed and what should go where.
One last observation- though I understand why we do it, it’s a little sad that we don’t learn more about world history during history classes in the US. At least in my rural podunk elementary school, we were kind of taught that Europeans were the first people ever (which isn’t true), but because it was ingrained in me at such a young age, it’s always so interesting to read about people who have been around for just as long.
By the time we finished walking around the museum, it was time to go back to the airport! Nooooooo!!!! One cool thing about the airport is that they have a lot of cultural music, shows, and exhibits, (and free tours!) and we caught a dance and song performance that was beautiful to watch.
In the cheapest hotel ever by the Incheon airport, they took care of me well! They gave me indoor slippers, a bathrobe, and FREE BEAUTY PRODUCTS AS PART OF MY HOTEL WELCOME PACKAGE. Razors, tweezers, freaking essence (which was whitening, so I didn’t use it), and THE FIRST CLEANSER THAT ACTUALLY REMOVED MY BLACKHEADS. Wtf?!??! If this is what they have at the cheap hotels, I can only imagine what the nicer ones are like.
Sunrise in Incheon by my hotel.Transitioning from noisy countries to quieter countries is weird.