The flight departs at around 11:00 am and arrives the next day around 3:00 pm. It was a 12-hour flight. I was surprised at the route taken because it was almost straight across the Pacific (which is not usually the most efficient because it's longer distance-wise and usually against the prevailing wind; flights to nearby Tokyo fly up towards the Aleutians and then come down). But the flight left on time and arrived at the stated scheduled time.
My arrival plans were not typical for me. Prior to my trip, I had signed up for the Korean SES (Smart Entry System) privileges. this was a benefit of belonging to the U.S. Global Entry Program. The SES program would allow me to enter and depart Korea using the automated gates. So, after I cleared immigration and Customs the traditional way at Incheon International Airport, I headed up to the Departures Level to complete my registration at the Auto-Immigration office. It took very little time. Once I grabbed a number for the queue, I was called up tot he desk and they found my information online. They verified my passport, took my picture and digital fingerprints, had me test that I would be accepted by the system and then I was done.
That mission accomplished, I headed back down to the Arrival Level and found the Tourist Desk to purchase a 3-day transit pass (I would have liked a 4-day pass, but they didn't sell that denomination). Turns out that I could only pay cash for the pass, so I had to go find an ATM and take out some Korean won. Next, it was down to the train level. The pass would have been good for the local "all-stops" train, but not for the Express train. The Express takes 43 minutes and costs about $7 while the Local takes about 54 minutes and costs less than $4. It was late in the day and I didn't plan to do much riding around that evening, so I chose not to use my pass so that it would cover my 3 remaining days. But I did choose to take the Express train just for the experience (I planned take the local train back to the airport using my pass on my departure day).
The trains terminate at Seoul Station, which was conveniently located near my hotel. You have to come up several levels form the platform before you see daylight. I wasn't quite sure which direction I would need to go to walk to my hotel except I knew it was up a hill from the station. I figured I would be able to look up and see it somehow. I did spot an exit sign that directed me to a shuttle bus for the Hilton Hotel. So I got on the bus and after a few minutes (it's an hourly service leaving at the bottom of the hour) it left for the hotel. I discovered that airport trains let you off on a platform on the opposite side of a large train station from where, when you exit the station, you could see the Hilton. So, I was very glad I found the bus to take me directly there.
The hotel was nice enough and had an Executive Lounge. Checking in was easy. After settling a little bit, I grabbed some food that was to be my dinner from the Executive Lounge, and then headed out for a walk to dry-run getting to where I needed to be for the DMZ tour the next morning by walking, if it came to that. Turns out it was about a half-hour walk from my hotel, or a very easy subway ride. But it was not very obvious where in the Hotel Lotte I needed to go in to get to the meeting point. So I was glad I scoped it out beforehand. Along the way, I walked by this gate (Sungnyemun).
|Train into the intercept tunnel to get to the 3rd Tunnel|
We were then taken to another building and led to the border zone.