Airport Is a Hub for New Sights and SoundsIncheon Offers Direct Access to Some of Korea’s Most Interesting Sites
Surrounded by reclaimed land and mud flats, the new Incheon International Airport may at first glance seem to be an island of its own with little diversion outside of the airport for either tired passengers in need of respite from the confines of air terminals or the curious soul wishing to explore a new land. But a closer look into Yeongjong Island, where the airport is located, or across the sea in Inchon, presents a different picture with colorful options. Not only are romantic cruises available, but tranquil beaches, restaurants, cafes, and shopping malls offer a chance to stretch the legs and fill the stomach outside the airport confines. And if this is not enough to meet your desire for a cultural experience in Korea and you have more time to spare, several tours are available from the airport and in Seoul for those wishing to explore the bustling city or travel around the country.
INFORMATION AT THE AIRPORT
Tourists should start planning their trip at the Tourist Information Desk on the first floor of the airport, where valuable information and services are offered. The Korea National Tourism Organization provides information on accommodations, restaurants, shopping, transportation, cultural events and conventions. Reservations for hotels and events can be made from the desk. For the independent traveler looking for specific information quickly, the 60 user-friendly computer kiosks located throughout the airport may be more convenient. Each kiosk provides information in voice and on screen on lodging, transportation, shopping areas, restaurants and famous attractions, including mountain, sea, ski and hot spa resorts in Seoul and throughout Korea. Information is provided in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. The Internet is also accessible from the kiosks.
For transit passengers with a few hours to spare, a tour of Yeongjong Island is a good place to start. The island, still sparsely populated, may lack convenient facilities, but it offers several scenic natural sites that are worth taking a few hours to see. From the airport, take a cab (Tel: 032-886-8857) south for 10-20 minutes along the narrow two-lane road and you will reach the southern border of the island where several beaches, though not yet fully developed for foreign tourists and somewhat small, are found. The closest is the Masiran Beach that stretches along a dense forest and quietly faces the ocean. It is renowned for its clean sandy beach but lacks facilities. Further down the road, Yongyu Beach, boasts breathtaking scenery and shallow water from which to collect shells. For fresh seafood and modern accommodations with a view to the ocean, Eulwang Beach, the most renowned, is a better choice. Many affordable local seafood restaurants to satiate your appetite can be found in the area. If you are too hungry and tired to venture too far to find clean and modern facilities, drive 5 minutes northeast of the airport to Haesoopia (032-886-5800), which has the country's largest seawater swimming pool. There you will find an affordable Korean food restaurant and a fast food counter. In addition to the pool, indoor hot seawater bath tubs and three saunas - yellow earth, jade and charcoal - may be enjoyed for only 6,000 won ($4.60) for adults. Buses are available to and from Yeongjong wharf every 20-30 minutes.
Tourists with a day to spare should take a ferry trip to Wolmi Island (tourist information: 032- 765-4169) in Inchon. Ferries (032-762-8880; Korean only) depart from Yeongjong wharf, 20 minutes northeast of the airport, every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. till 9 p.m. to Wolmi Island and return from 6:30 a.m. till 21:30 p.m. Each trip lasts 10 minutes and costs 1,300 won ($1) per adult. Amusement facilities and a bustling "culture" street along the sea front lined with trendy cafes and restaurants draw tourists to the island. Excursion cruises (032-764-1171; Korean only) at 10,000 won ($7.60) sail through the sea from Wolmi wharf for an hour tour every 90 minutes; they are an enchanting way to breathe in the scent of the sea. A tourist information center is found on the culture street.
For a historical tour of Inchon, where U.S. General Douglas MacArthur carried out his Inchon Landing Operation during the Korean War, take bus 2, 23 or 45 into downtown Inchon and get off at the Inchon subway station, where a tourist information center is located. Up a slope, you will come across Chinatown, the only Chinese enclave in Korea, where you can savor authentic Chinese cuisine and breads. The 30-year-old Jagumseong restaurant and the 100-year-old Bokraechun store are the most renowned. A few steps further up the hill is Jayu Park, the first modern park in Korea built in 1897, which was renamed after a statue of General MacArthur was erected at the heart of the park to pay tribute to his successful battle. The hill offers a view of downtown, the harbor and the ocean. For a shopping experience in Korea that is not to be missed, be it window shopping, bargain hunting or a search for luxury items, walk a few blocks further downtown from the eastern edge of the park, to Sinpo shopping town (tourist information: 032-773-3900). Discount clothes of the latest trend to luxurious items in boutiques can be purchased on Rodeo boulevard, at the underground arcades or the Inchon and New Core department stores. If you prefer the informality and interaction of a traditional market, drop by the Sinpo market, where everything from snacks to blankets can be bargained for. For further tourist information on Inchon, including Yeongjong Island, contact 032-421-5628.
Tours from the airport arranged by travel agencies are provided only in Japanese and Chinese. For day tours in Japanese to Inchon (Jayu Park and UN Cemetery) or Seoul (Gyeongbok Palace, Itaewon, Secret Garden, Namsan Tower, Deoksu Palace), contact Fumi Travel at 02-777-0261~5. Reservations must be made 4 days in advance. For a 1-3 day Seoul tour (Gyeongbok Palace, Namsan Tour, Lotte World, Blue House, Itaewon and Dongdaemun Market, among others) or a 4-7 day (Pusan, Kyungju, Cheju Island) tour throughout the country in Chinese, contact BIE at 02-773-0411 at least a day in advance of scheduled departure. Otherwise, a variety of tour packages are available once in Seoul. Travel agencies in Seoul offer half-day, fullday and night tours through the royal Gyeongbok Palace, Folk Village, Everland Amusement Park, Namdaemun Market and the Demilitarized Zone, among the many sites worth visiting. They also provide 2-3 day tours to Kyongju, the ancient capital city of Shilla, the picturesque Mt. Sorak and Cheju Island. Major travel agencies are Good Morning Tours (www.goodmorningtours.com) 02-757- 1232, Korea Travel Bureau (www.ktbonline.com), 02-778-0150, Kim's Travel (www.kimstravel.com), 02-572-9998, and Star Travel (www.startravel.co.kr), 02-569-8114. Bon Voyage.
by Kwon Chee-min