Since taxi to Incheon from the center of Seoul is pretty expensive and my flight was early morning, I decided to go to the airport the night before - Incheon airport is one of the best airports in the whole world afterall, so why not spend more time there istead of rushing in the morning. On the photo below, you can see the ice skating ring - the only person skating was an employée though.
Where to spend the night though? Spa on Air!
Incheon airport deserves its title among other things thanks to its 24/7 jjimjilbang (Korean public bath/sleepover facility). It works quite simple - for 20 000 Won you can stay as long as you want, unless you leave the premises. For bathing, you go naked in separated parts. For sleeping, watching TV and socializing, you dress up and go into shared quarters. The price is very decent considering that they keep an eye on your luggage, you get clothes to change in, towels, access to free soap, shampoo, toner, lotion, hairstyling products, hairdryers, cosmetic necessities, 3 pools, showers, traditional showers (those where you sit on a stool), sauna, steam sauna, TV and sleeping room with mats and pillows. There are also plugs and tables for laptops, armchairs and sofas. Sleepover in a bathhouse in the center of Seoul is usually 15 000 or so, so the price difference is not that big.
You can find mixed reviews of the facility, but if you've ever been to a Japanese onsen or Korean jjimjilbang, your expectations will surely be met or exceeded - just don't expect traditional European spa facility.
I found the place overall very clean, with staff running around all the time refilling Q-tips and cosmetic pads and taking away dirty towels. Sure, people leave sample packaging in the showers or on the floor, but it is removed in decent amount of time. Otherwise you can clearly see that the place is maintained very well and cleaned often.
At most times, I was either alone in the pools and sauna or there were just a couple of other women. On the other hand, the sleeping rooms were full. If there are no more mats, just catch somebody from the staff and ask them to give you a set - they seem to have a lot of them in the off-limits rooms.
The mat and pillow are probably really uncomfortable for westerners - they're very hard, even harder than the traditional Korean bedding you get in hanok guesthouses - but you can bring a sweater and scarf to make it softer and to cover up. The staff makes sure the area is quiet enough for people to sleep.
And finally, if you're about to spend some 16 hours on and off planes, going to a jjimjilbang right before is a great way to relax, refresh and sooth muscles tired from hauling around heavy luggage.
In the morning, I took advantage of the free drink voucher that I got with my Starbucks tumbler. I really really dislike Starbucks, but they have pretty nice tumblers in Asia that are almost leak-proof. I thought soy milk latte was a smart choice for breakfast, but I ended up feeling a little funny.
A funny elevator.
Tax Refund at Incheon
So, the thing is - tax refund procedure always changes. As of summer 2014, it looks like this:
1) If you shop in a store that has tax refund written somewhere near the cashier or entrance and you spend over 30 000 Won, ask for a tax refund slip. According to the regulations, all of these items should be exported unopened and unused within 3 months from purchase.
2) Fill the slips - it's just a couple of lines, really.
3) Pack these things so that you can show them to the customs without having to toss out everything from your luggage. That's only theory though. Points 4 and 5 can be done in reverse order.
4) Once at the airport, go to the customs - located in 3F if I'm not mistaken. Give them the receipts and your passport. In theory they should also ask to see and inspect the items, but they didn't ask me or anybody else I saw queuing there for that matter. I guess you never know - but it seems more likely they don't really check. There was no queue late at night, but it may be busier during the day.
5) Go to a tax refund kiosk that is located very near the customs. It's basically just a flat screen, a little similar to the T-money charging machine. Scan your passport and receipts there and follow the instruction on screen. You will be able to see all the tax refunds you applied for, the status (processed by customs/waiting to be processed and approved/denied) and amount of money to be refunded.
6) Check in your luggage as usually.
7) Once you pass through the security and go in the duty free
paradise area, look for the same kiosks where you applied for tax refund. They seem to be located near gate 27/28. There you will scan your passport again (not sure if also the receipts, I forgot) and it will spit money at you in cash. There is an assistant that will help you do it super fast. The advantage is that the kiosk works for all tax refund companies, while if you go to the human-operated windows, you have to do each receipt at its own company. In general you can also have the moeny sent to your card, but I think cash is really easy, especially since you can spend it in the duty free area which is very affordable.
Example of affordable duty free items from Tony Moly: 70 make-up removing tissues for 4 USD and cream for 9 USD. I also got a Holika Holika eye liner for Chris for 9 USD and tons of snacks for my parents (around Lotte Mart at Seoul Station gift section price level).
And then it was time to board and a really nice surprise awaited me - I got somehow upgraded to business class for free! That's a really nice thing to happen for an 11-hour flight. The differences from economy class at CSA includes:
More leg room
Only two seats next to each other, most often the other will be unocupied
Drinks before take off
Extremely attentive, friendly, helpful and polite staff forcing you to eat and drink non stop
More travel neccessities provided as courtesy of CSA and the sponsor - in my case Clarins (cream, lipbalm etc.)
Seat smarter than me
Nicer food served in porcelain
It was a lovely experience, but no way would I pay extra for it - it's not that much more awesome than economy class.
Comparison: Economy class meal - bibimbap. I am very sure that most of the Czech people on board had no idea how to eat it (most just ate the veggies and rice separately without adding gochujang).
I didn't take pictures of my other meal because it was dark and I didn't want to disturb people by using flash.
After landing in Prague, I spent 3 hours with my parents and then took off to Copenhagen - thank god the flight took just one hour, because I was really unlucky, getting stuck next to a very invasive elderly man, whose elbows kept digging into my personal space. That's what I dislike about CSA - they don't let you check in until 30 hours before, the check-in online always crashes and you end up not being able to choose your seat unless you have access to a PC and tons of time to wait for the app to work. I totally preferred Emirates' option to choose seats way before actually checking in, therefore being able to choose seats that are very unlikely to be chosen by other people and especially families and couples. Wow, now I sound like a real misantrop I guess.