Before coming back to the reality of our life and adventures with friends here in the good ‘ol USA, I just had to sneak in one more quick post related to my trip to the Philippines that I thought was interesting.
My recent return flight to the states included an 11+ hour layover in Seoul, South Korea, and I feared I would be bored out of my mind sitting in the airport all that time. Luckily I overheard other passengers talking about a free tour of the area outside the airport, and that really piqued my interest.
I learned that Incheon International Airport provides a special service for transit passengers with layovers in excess of 3 hours. There were six tours to choose from, and with plenty of time to kill, I selected the 5-hour Seoul Culture Tour.
Being in a foreign country, of course, I had to deal with immigration in and out of the airport. What’s amazing is that even though this airport is one of the largest and busiest in the world, navigating the massive complex is easy and all of the workers speak English.
Our tour took us first to Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), the newest and most iconic landmark of the South Korean design industry. DDP is the world’s largest atypical architecture project, so large that I couldn’t capture it in a single frame. We walked under it and across its roof as we traversed to the restaurant for our lunch. See the red “Migliore” sign in the picture below? That was our first destination.
This building is a fashion hub and a popular tourist destination. It features a walkable park on its roof, large global exhibition spaces, futuristic retail stores and restored parts of the Seoul fortress. Koreans come here to bargain and shop till they drop.
After savoring an authentic Korean buffet, our next stop took us back to a time of kings and dynasties. We headed out to Changdeokgung Palace – the second grand palace of the Joseon Dynasty – built in 1405 by King Taejong (the 3rd king of the Joseon Dynasty). For 270 years, the palace was home to the Joseon government and was also the favored residence of many Joseon Dynasty kings. Unlike other palaces, Changdeokgung Palace is well-preserved and still has many of its original features. Between 1405 and its renovation in 1991, it had been destroyed by fire and painstakingly rebuilt several times.
South Korean palaces cover a large surface area and are made up of many buildings. These buildings are arranged with great sensitivity to the geographical features of the land.
A particular feature of Changdeokgung Palace is the way its buildings blend into the surrounding landscape. It is considered the best-preserved of the Joseon Dynasty’s five palaces, and as such was designated a UNESCO world cultural heritage location in 1996.
Our tour guide mentioned that colors and designs in the buildings are full of meaning and purpose. The main buildings of South Korean palaces feature “japsang”, which are small figurines of humans or animals displayed on the roof. These figurines serve as both ornaments and guardians of the building.
Roof tiles are decorated with the dragon and the phoenix, symbols of the king.
Dancheong, which literally means “red and green”, refers to traditional five-element designs found on the walls, pillars and eaves of South Korean wooden buildings.
All structures within the palace are painted with those colorful and vibrant combinations also believed to protect a building from evil spirits and emphasize the authority of its resident.
Given the limited time available, we did not see all of the buildings. The tour guide was sensitive to our various departure times and only briefly described the historical facts and significance of the buildings within the palace complex.
Although the tour was short, it gave me a glimpse of the traditional homes and political seat of South Korea’s royalty. It was also a good way to get a feel for the country’s culture.
It was about an hour from the airport to where we toured, so two hours were spent sitting on the bus, plus another hour for lunch. That left me plenty of time back at the airport to avail myself of another service available to transit passengers, a nice shower at one of the lounges. After that, I enjoyed a much-needed power nap before boarding the flight for my long flight back to the states.
Wow, that’s a long layover. What an interesting tour and the fact that you still had time to shower and nap is amazing…and must have made the last leg of your trip so much more comfortable!
I was already rested and wide awake in Seattle still I napped at the airport ( no tours there 🙂
I love the stunning architecture both new and old and the drastic and unique differences between the two. Time well spent 🙂
It was like night and day when I saw those architecture. I just wished I had more time, the tour was a little rush due to other passengers departure time.
So it pays to eavesdrop. What a brilliant way to spend your layover. Love that photo looking up at the roof
Ha ha you got that right Carol. This is my first very long lay over and glad I was eavesdropping 🙂
What beautiful very old and very modern architecture. The colors used in the palace buildings are beautiful…so vibrant! Thanks for sharing a place we will never be able to visit.
The palace’s building are all colorful and vibrant. The time and patience it took to finish ALL buildings ( this is just one of the 5 palaces in Seoul) is pretty much amazing.
Boy am I impressed with opportunities for layover passengers in Korea. Glad you got to take advantage. The US has nothing like that as far as I know. Simply gorgeous pictures of the fabulous palace Mona Liza. What a great contrast to the futuristic looking plaza.
I really like this airport more so now that I learned there are lots of amenities for transit passengers with long lay overs.
What a wonderful way to spend a layover at an airport. Your photos of the palace eaves and the roof lines are so cool. The colors are beautiful. An interesting tour, a Korean buffet, shower, and a nap! You did well, MonaLisa!! (I, for one, wouldn’t mind more posts like these. I bet you have lots more lore and photos to share!)
I certainly did well, thanks to other passengers who were discussing about it. Next trip, I already know what to do should i have another long lay over.
That is a very neat thing… to be able to tour during a long layover. Loved your photos, especially that great roof perspective!
I was really surprised and happy to learn about the tour. That was lay over time well spent.
What a wonderful way to ward off long hours sitting in an airport. Fascinating architecture!
I was fascinated by the contrast of the old and new but most especially the old with all those vibrant and colorful buildings.
This has been on our bucket list for some time.
Thought I’d try commenting with my new email address and see if that works 😉
Such a smart idea for the airport to offer these tours. Gives people a glimpse into Korea that they might otherwise not get. I love the colorful details on the temple. And that staircase inside the DDP is quite a statement feature.
Incheon International Airport has been my favorite stop, more so now that I learned about their tours and amenities.
So glad you had the opportunity to visit South Korea while on layover. That is such a nice feature to offer travelers. That silver building sure is futuristic and amazing! But I loved the designs and colors of the older buildings. Thanks for the close ups of the intricate features:)
Maybe one day I will go back there with a one day layover. There is so much to see and learn another country especially Seoul.
I agree, such a wonderful way to be able to use your time during a layover instead of just stuck inside of an airport! I find the modern architecture fascinating, but the ancient architecture is so rich and gorgeous.
Very sweet layover! Next time I fly to Philippines, I’ll purposely choose a flight with a layover here. Ahihihi. 😀 The DDP looks wicked awesome! The Japsang figurines remind me of His Lai Temple in LA and the building looks like the Korean Bell of Friendship in San Pedro.
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