9 hours in South Korea

I was fighting sleep when the pilot announced our descent into Incheon Airport. I had spent most of the flight watching movies and wanted to stay sprawled out on the empty row I had to myself for a little while longer. Groggily, I sat up, adjusted my seat, and rested my head on the window pane to see the landing view.

I had no idea that Incheon airport was on a man-made island sandwiched between two islands, so I was pleasantly surprised at the blues and greens of the ocean and surrounding islands. I expected to see a skyline filled with high-rises.

A few minutes later, I stood at immigration, gave my passport and fingerprint and was handed a white print out with my name, date of entry, and the amount of time I was allowed to spend in South Korea – 30 days. There was no opening of my passport to a random page to stamp it, and if the immigration officer noticed the confused look on my face, he didn’t show it. I was waved through casually to allow for the next visitor.

Outside of immigration, I picked up a fresh smoothie made with ginger and carrots and walked across the hall to the free tour stand. There were at least 10 tours offered by the airport, featuring experiences across South Korea – most within an hour from the airport to prevent missed connections.

My connecting flight to San Francisco was scheduled to leave at 3pm, so I had a full 8hrs to spend as I liked. I started out with two early morning tours to a temple and South Korea’s identically named iteration of Central Park in NYC.

Buddhist Temple, Incheon City The Buddhist temples are open to people of any faith to come and pray for both the living and the dead. The ornate architecture here is stunning. 

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Central Park, Songdo City – Songdo’s Central Park is more vibrant – especially this time of year- but several acres smaller than its predecessor in New YorkProcessed with VSCO with a6 presetProcessed with VSCO with c8 presetProcessed with VSCO with fv5 presetProcessed with VSCO with fv5 presetProcessed with VSCO with fv5 presetProcessed with VSCO with fv5 presetProcessed with VSCO with fv5 presetProcessed with VSCO with ka1 preset

4hrs later, I found myself back at the airport with a few more hours to spare. Restless, I decided not to wait it out inside. At the tourist information booth, a helpful concierge talked me through which neighborhoods in Seoul were the best to visit in my short time frame – accounting for the total almost 2hr commute to and from Seoul- and showed me exactly how to get to them. “This airport wins for efficiency,” I thought to myself.

Based on recommendations from the concierge, I settled on a trip to Hongdae, a university neighborhood with varied options for food, shopping, and art.Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

On the busy streets, I chatted with a few Korean girls who told me that Sunday was a good day to be in the district, but looked disappointed when I said I would only be around a few hours.

Regardless, they pointed me in the direction of good food spots and streets to shop on. I stocked up on Korean snacks and K beauty items and tried street food from a random stall tucked into a small opening in front of a building. “One Chungdun please”, I said. The vendor smiled in response and proceeded to deep fry a hot dog and cover it in sugar; one bite confirmed it was as delicious as I imagined. I had forgotten the term for thank you but I clapped both palms together like the praying emoji, bowed my head and smiled. She responded with an even bigger smile.Processed with VSCO with av8 presetProcessed with VSCO with 7 presetProcessed with VSCO with av4 presetProcessed with VSCO with fr4 preset I walked leisurely around the district, stopping to take photos and duck into stores whose fronts appealed to me. As my hands started to fill up with bags, I remembered that I only had a carry on; maybe it was time to head back to the airport. As if in support of my thoughts, a light drizzle started. I walked under it to the train station to catch my ride back to Incheon.


I take advantage of layovers where I can because I never know if and when I’ll get the opportunity to see a certain city. I choose one thing to do and focus on doing that in whatever time I have. For a 5hr layover in Madrid, I visited the Buen Retiro. For a 13hr overnight layover in Doha, I took a 2.5-hour city tour. Most recently, for a 9hr layover in Houston (my first time in the city) I got to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in over 7 years and have some stellar Latin American food.

In a perfect world, most airports would be lenient about transit visa requirements so that the color of your passport won’t determine whether or not you can visit a city. 


As always, 

thank you for reading!

All photos shot on iPhone 8+

Same footprints, Different Sands



  1. Chic Therapy says:

    Impressive! You did quite a lot for a layover. I am like that too. Any layover over 5 hours, I always have a detailed itinerary and try to see the city.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tiesé says:

      Yes! Sometimes I book with layovers intentionally and always plan how I’ll spend the time too. helps maximize the experience!!


  2. Louisa Anna says:

    Love all the photos you took! And good for using up your layover to see the city- you are so right you never know when or if you’ll be back to see that city.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tiesé says:

      Thanks so much, Louisa


  3. A deep-fried hot dog covered in sugar?? 😂 I can’t imagine how that would taste! Savoury and sweet? Soft, yet crunchy?

    And I’m super impressed that you got so much done during your layover! I usually end up getting an awkward amount of time for my layovers, where it’s not enough time to leave the airport, but it’s also too much time to just sit in the airport (if that makes any sense?)


    1. Tiesé says:

      It was all that you described haha! and it was so yummy. i was skeptical at first too. Yeah! i totally get that. sometimes I have awkward hours, and they just can’t be helped, but when i have more control over the travel timing, i prioritize lengthy layovers in certain cities! thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oohhh!!! This excites me so much! Currently trying to plan a trip to South Korea next year. Hongdae is definitely in my lists of places to visit and I practice all my useful phrases from time to time. How do you book with a layover though?


  5. LoriKemi says:

    You are the queen of layovers – I love reading about your layover experiences and the photos are always so beautiful! Thank you for sharing them and inspiring me to be more proactive about exploring cities whenever I am given the opportunity to do so! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tiesé says:

      Haha, I accept the title. Thanks so much, LK. I’m happy you enjoy them.


  6. Planning a trip to South Korea and remembered this trip from a few years ago… didn’t realize you did all this on a layover! What an excellent use of time! I certainly agree about transit visa requirements. I wish it was easier for “less favourable” passports like mine. Nonetheless, I’m excited about visiting soon, hopefully, there will be no need for lockdowns and quarantines by then – fingers crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tiesé says:

      Thank you, love! Yes, the restrictions are definitely a pain all round. I hope you get to visit, and I can wait to see when you do!.


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