August 30, 2018
About 2 hours before landing we were served breakfast. Eric and I both got the cheese omelet with chicken sausage. I didn’t eat the sausage but the omelet was good. My fruit had mold on it though so that wasn’t very appetizing.
I checked the map before we landed and realized the Seoul airport is actually on an island. I had no idea!
We landed in Seoul, South Korea at 4:00 am and headed to the Korean Air transit desk to check in for our next flight.
When we got off the plane, there were signs for people with connecting flights directing them to go through a security check. I had pre-booked a free transit tour through the airport prior to our trip so I asked the lady at the counter whether we should go ahead through security or if we needed to go through immigration. She told us to go through security.
So we got through security in about 2 minutes and every single security person was overwhelmingly nice. Eric and I accidentally switched passports in our shuffle. When I got to the front of the line and showed it to the security guy he just made a joke about it and waved me through. In the US, I’m pretty sure I would have been taken to a back room somewhere for a “more thorough” screening.
Once we were through security we entered the most beautiful airport I’ve ever seen. We were in terminal 2 which just opened this year for the Olympics.
They did not hold back an ounce; everything inside was top of the line. They even had free nap areas for people who had to spend the night at the airport. Since we arrived at 4:00 am, the airport was creepy quiet. All of the nap areas were full when we went up to the floor where they all were and everyone was quiet as a mouse. We had to whisper IN THE AIRPORT. It was weird but sort of nice. I should mention these areas aren’t in a closed off room, they are just out in the open and have recliners, massage chairs, and lay flat bed type things. The airport turns off the lights at night so it makes for an easy place to sleep if you need it.
We were able to find two comfy chairs off to the side of the nap area and decided to park it there until 7:00 am.
Our transit tour wasn’t until 8:00 am but we still didn’t really know where to go for it. We saw a tour desk below the area we were in and it said someone would be there at 7:00 am.
A couple of minutes past 7:00 am we went down to the desk and no one was there. We waited and waited until a little lady showed up at 7:30 am. She asked us if we were doing a transit tour and I said yes the one at 8:00 am. Her eyes widened and her expression went from extremely happy to panic to the max. She basically told us we should have been at the desk as soon as the clock struck 7:00 am but she would do her best to get us to the tour desk on time.
We were both confused. Why would it take an hour for us to meet up with the group?
Here’s why: apparently the transit desk we were supposed to go to was on the other side of immigration. What we should have done when we arrived was just go straight through immigration instead of going in terminal 2 departures.
So she told us to run. Yes, we ran with our packs on behind this little Korean lady doing her best to help us, the idiot Americans, get to our tour.
We had to go back through security, but this time she just opened all these “DO NOT ENTER” gates and waved us through. Really tight security they have there.
We ran until we reached immigration and our little savior said, “Go to desk, tell you are transit tour, go to customs, check “no no no no” on all boxes, run to tour desk. BYE!” and she was gone.
So we did just that and made it to the tour desk with 5 minutes to spare sweaty, tired, and stressed. Love you little Korean hero airport lady!
We signed in at the desk, paid $10 each for the lunch they would be giving us on the tour, and then it was off to the bus!
Another issue we weren’t sure about was what the baggage situation would be like. Nothing on the website told us if they would be able to hold our bags or not. Luckily they were able to store them under the bus for the whole tour!
We settled in our seats on the bus and that’s when our tour guide Edward hopped on.
He was a goofy guy with great jokes and lots of love for his country. During the bus ride, he gave us a little background on the places we would be visiting. At one point he showed us a map of Korea and explained that it is the only country in the world split in two. I really wanted to ask him what his view on North Korea was, but I didn’t have to. He told us the people of South Korea have tremendous optimism and hope that their country is on the path to becoming whole again. I never got any sense of hate or anger, more so sadness of the divide.
The drive to our first destination was beautiful! I had no idea South Korea was so mountainous.
Our first stop was Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was built in 1395, destroyed in a war in the 1500’s, then rebuilt in the 1800’s. It is the largest and most northern palace in South Korea.
We wandered the grounds for a little less than an hour. I couldn’t believe we were actually there standing in a palace in South Korea!
At one point we were standing by one building in the palace compound and wanted to get our picture. We saw an American looking couple taking a selfie so we asked if they wanted us to take their picture. They were, in fact, American and said sure, then took one of us.
Right before we had to head back to the bus, we heard the sound of drums. We wandered to the front where we saw people lining up to watch the changing of the guard. This wasn’t a true changing of the guard, just a re-enactment since the palace was longer functioning.
It was so interesting to see an Asian changing of the guard. The uniforms, the marches, and instruments were all so different than any European guard changing.
Edward came around right before the ceremony was finished to let us know it was time to go. So we all shuffled back to the bus and made our way to Insa Dong (a street with shopping and restaurants).
We arrived at Insa Dong and Edward walked us to a tiny alleyway where we found a little restaurant serving all the favorites like eel and chicken feet. Don’t worry, we had the safe tourist meal: bibimbap.
Eric and I sat down and a Chinese girl and her mother from our tour joined us. The pair spoke barely any English so we communicated with smiles and points. It was so interesting eating with them. The food was not very good, but they ate every single bite that was put in front of them. Even Eric didn’t finish his bowl and he always finishes his food. That’s when you know the food isn’t very great.
Once we finished, we headed out to explore the shops of Insa Dong. Normally in a big foreign city, you have to watch your every move, learn how to say “no” firmly, and expect to pay money to anyone you take a picture of. Not here; everyone was overly nice and welcoming. It was pretty evident that they didn’t get many tourists there other than the people that come from the airport tours. They were all very polite and not pushy.
We stopped at a stand where a guy was making a candy called dragon’s beard. I had recently seen this on YouTube and had to try it for myself! We walked up to the stand and the guy asked us if we wanted a demonstration. We said sure and before I could even ask if we could take pictures he said, “make sure you have your camera ready!”
The process of making the dragon’s beard candy was so cool to see in person. I was so glad we stopped! We ended up buying a box from him mostly to be kind because he was so nice to us. See, being nice and not pushy works, people!
We saw a small grocery store right across from the bus so we decided to stop to buy some bottled water before going to get back on. Right before we walked in, an Indian guy and his wife stopped us and asked if we’d take their picture. Not only did Eric have to take their picture, but they made Eric take a video of them. It was very weird.
The bus got us back to the airport around 12:00 pm. We were on our way to security when we saw a sign for the observation deck. We had 5 hours to kill so we decided to go up and check it out.
It was tucked back kind of far from everything else; it’s no wonder there was absolutely no one up there other than us. I can’t believe how much South Korea put into terminal 2. The observation deck obviously had big windows to watch the planes, but there were also 2 virtual reality “rides” that were completely free to use as well as a 3D rendering of the entire airport which took up an entire room. There was a bar up there as well just in case you got thirsty.
After that, we made our way through immigration and security and then found a lounge to chill in until it was time to board our flight.
While we were sitting there, a couple walked up and sat at the table right next to us. It was the couple we exchanged picture takings with from our tour earlier! We decided to say hi and ask where they were from.
They were Kristi and Kevin from Panama City and were on their way to Bali for their honeymoon. Kristi actually grew up in Woodstock, GA which is very close to where we grew up. Small world! We talked for probably an hour and found out they would still be in Bali when we got there. So we exchanged numbers and planned to meet up with them once we got there.
At 4:45 pm we decided to make our way to our gate for our final leg of the day to Bangkok. We still had no idea what we were going to do once we got there. Our plan was to either hop between lounges or get a room at the airport hotel. The only thing we weren’t sure about was how to check our bags for our flight to Cambodia.
The flight was awful. It was probably because we both were extremely tired and hadn’t slept much in the past 30 hours. But also because the Korean Air plane we were on was ancient.
We landed in Bangkok around 9:10 pm and started walking in the same direction as everyone else. We saw an information desk so we asked how it would work for us flying with Thai Smile airways but also wanting to stay the night at the airport hotel. Turns out we would have to go landside through immigration in order to check in to our flight and check our bags. He told us there was an airport hotel on that side too and suggested we do this now while it wasn’t so busy. So our plan was completely turned upside down.
We got through immigration and went to go look for a Thai Smile check-in counter to confirm what we needed to do the next day (with Thai Smile we couldn’t check in to our flight until 3 hours prior to take off).
The airport was PACKED. We fly out of Atlanta so we understand busy airports, but wow. People were sleeping everywhere. Under stairs, on chairs, under escalators all over the airport. It was a madhouse.
We reached the Thai Smile desk and they explained that we should come back at 4:30 am to check in to the flight. They also told us the airport hotel, The Novotel Bangkok Airport, was on the lower level (B1). So that’s where we went next. Exhausted reading this yet? Because I’ve never been so exhausted in my life.
The escalator walkway things going down to B1 were so confusing. You would think that one would go down and then just go around the corner to the next one going down. Nope. Sometimes one would go down and then we would have to walk over to the next bank of walkways to go down even further. It was confusing and we were so tired.
B1 was dark and there was no one around. We saw signs for the hotel so at least we knew we were going the right way.
We finally made it and checked in. We were concerned about them having availability but it wasn’t a problem at all. The hotel was huge! Once we found our room the stress of the day started to fade. I was just so excited to have our own shower and bed!
Five hours of sleep would be all we could get since we had to leave the hotel by 4:00 am to get to the check-in counter by 4:30 am. At least we were able to get some sleep though. Best $188 we’ve ever spent!