7 Tips for Visiting South Korea in 12 Hours or Less

The land of Korean telenovelas, K-Pop, castles, kimchi and Korean barbecue! I am not really a fan of K-Pop and koreanovelas, but I love the sense of history of the place and the clash or coexistence between contemporary and historical.

You can visit South Korea visa-free!

Yes that is true if you have a US visa or a green card, together with an onward ticket from or back to the USA can enjoy a short visa-free stay in South Korea! I was surprised to learn this, but it was definitely a welcome development.

After my short trip to Mongolia, then to Malaysia, I planned a 12-hour layover at the Incheon airport so I could visit Seoul for just a few minutes. Thankfully, a friend of mine was there at the time. Another friend visiting from Manila joined us.

If you have a 4 to 12-hour layover, make sure to exit the airport through passport control. Don’t go to the gate of your next flight. I was so set on needing to take a shower after my flight from Kuala Lumpur. I explored Kuala Lumpur the day before and I was so sweaty and feeling icky that I felt like I needed a shower first!

When I arrived at the Incheon International airport, I went to the transfer gates, and went to a lounge to get a shower. But when I asked a personnel at Delta airlines about going out to visit the city, they told me that I cannot get out of the airport unless an attendant guides me through the process.

Thankfully, the flight attendants at Delta were very helpful. As soon as they finished the boarding process for an outgoing flight, one of them helped me go through passport control so I could visit my friend and explore South Korea. It didn’t take long for the immigration officer to stamp my passport. She just took note of my US visa, my boarding pass and let me out.

Plan your trip carefully.

Before heading to Seoul, identify 1 or 2 places you want to visit. If you only have 12 hours or less, you should just visit a maximum of three places, preferably those that are close to each other. My friend asked me if I wanted to have a historical tour, a food tour, or a K-Pop tour. So I told her that as long as I get to see something historical (a castle maybe), eat delicious Korean food and make it back to the airport 2 hours before my flight, I’m good!

Take the Express Train from the airport to travel to downtown Seoul.

It’s not very expensive and it was fast! Within 40 minutes, I arrived in Seoul. A few minutes later, I found my friend and off we went to our first stop–food!

Eat good Korean food!

My wife’s sister and her husband, worked in South Korea for about 3 years. When they came back to the Philippines, they introduced us to samyupsal, kimchi, and other Korean goodness! My wife and I love Korean food. Thankfully, my friend Joy who had been staying there for a couple of years knew the best places to eat. I let her do the ordering. My Bad Tourist self kicked in. I didn’t even take note of the names of the food she ordered for us. All I know was I loved them all. She also ordered some sort of Korean rice wine.

with my friends, Marrick and Joy.

Make sure to visit and learn a little bit about Korean history.

Joy brought us to the Gyeongbokgung Palace and we saw some traditional Korean architecture and art. We also saw the ritual of the changing of the guards, or it may have been a more significant ritual than that. It felt like we were transported to a bygone era.

After visiting the palace, we walked in Seoul’s main street and saw the monument of King Sejong who established the Korean alphabet and encouraged the development of science and technology during his reign.

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Before I knew it, my time was up. I boarded a bus in downtown Seoul and after an hour, I was back at the Incheon airport.

Explore the Incheon Airport, you may hear cool music or art. The Incheon airport looks a lot like contemporary airports. But if you walk around you’ll notice some art there, or you may get to hear some awesome music.

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