Seoul's Incheon Airport: A Tourist Destination On Its Own!

For pretty much every tourist, flying in to Korea means flying in to Incheon Airport, about an hour east of Seoul. My impression of airports is probably about the same as any other American. They're a hassle, they're expensive, they're out of the way, and while you have to get there early there's nothing to do at or near them.

Well, Incheon has a few of those things down quite well. It is a good bit out of the way (all major, modern airports are, I suppose), though the trains are very convenient to downtown Seoul. Food is a bit pricey, but souvenirs are unbelievably overpriced. And yes, there is that whole "Security" thing, and Customs and Immigration, though all three of those modern inconveniences are quickly expedited at Incheon.

But Incheon is a nice place to be!
 It starts with this spacious train terminal. There are souvenir shops and restaurants found here, as well as some money exchange counters. Before passing through security, there is some additional shopping and food places, of course. About three minutes away, at the Hyatt Regency, there's a casino for you to blow away that extra won burning a hole in your pocket.

Several restaurants and the free internet cafes are open 24 hours a day. There is a golf course and seven gardens located throughout the airport.
 Inside security, there are several other restaurants open 24 hours a day, including this franchise of the Charlie Brown Cafe. Luggage storage and lockers are relatively inexpensive. The airport has a skating rink and a spa, and for those with a limited amount of time in transit, there are tours lasting from one to eight hours.
 There are lots of lounges scattered around the airport, and they are placed in such a way that they're quite peaceful. This area was located upstairs off the main concourse, and was quiet and relatively secluded - the perfect place to take a nap (or spend the night if you're so unlucky).

I went up to that lounge area because I had some more time to kill and I saw a sign for a museum. That museum turned out to be brief, but informative.
 I like old maps, and this massive one of a palace is one of the first things I saw.
 Traditional clothing...
 This is the Pagoda of Sakyamuni, from Bulguksa Temple. It was built in the mid-8th century. Well, this isn't, it's a 1/3 scale replica. But for those who can't get to Gyeongju to see the original, it's a good cultural taste.
 More art!
 This wall is covered in Korean writing, called Hangul. It must say something important. There are several stations with audio-visual displays to see and hear traditional dances and instruments.
 This panorama shot came out fairly well!
 Bang a gong. I'm sure you could if you wanted to, but since I was the only person in the museum and it was quiet inside, I thought it might be a bit disruptive.

At the end of the museum, there are a few "hands on" experiences. I chose the paper rubbing and name writing using hangul characters. I tried on my own and was fairly close, though I probably should have asked for help to get it right! Oh well, next time.
Speaking of hands-on, the best part of Incheon Airport is the Traditional Cultural Experience centers. There are three locations, and I understand they offer different experiences at each center on any given day. The location I visited had two options, and I chose the option to make a paper mache box. They give you the hanji (traditional paper) pieces pre-cut, and a pressboard/cardboard box. You just need to use traditional glue made from potatoes - it's edible! - to put the colored pieces on the box.

It's simple and easy to do, which makes it fun! You don't have much opportunity to "customize" the box but I was okay with that - I'm good at procedures and directions. The best part: I did something fairly traditional, I got to experience something, and it was all free! Yes, free! They check your ticket to verify you have time and that you're actually leaving (you must be a foreigner) and give you the materials.

Other crafts projects include hanji making, Dancheong (painting), Najeon (mother of pearl work), making cell phone straps, fans, and square pincushions, and folk painting. Another blogger posted about painting and dressing traditional dolls and making woodblock prints. I'd love to try pretty much all of those!

In addition to the crafts, you might be able to try on traditional clothing and take a photo, or see a traditional music performance. You can also buy traditional goods made by master craftsmen.

Sure, the airport is the place you go to get away from somewhere. But I'll be sure to allow extra time on my next visit at the airport too!

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