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How to Make the Most of Your Long Layover

Multi-hour transits don’t have to be a drag—squeeze in a little extra sightseeing with free transit tours offered by some of Asia’s busiest airports. By Eloise Basuki

Published on Jan 14, 2019

Get a culture dose on one of two halfday outings offered by Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. The morning tour visits the intricately carved Qingshui Zushi Temple and the preserved Qing Dynasty–era Sanxia Old Street. Travelers will also get the chance to visit Yingge Ceramics Old Street, famous for its centuries-old pottery workshops. Afternoon tours will visit the wooden Dalongdong Baoan Temple or the Taipei Confucius Temple, plus stop for a snap of the city’s landmark building, the 508-meter-tall Taipei 101.; layover must be between seven and 24 hours.

South Korea

A pavilion at Gyeongbokgung Palace, in Seoul.

There’s no excuse for social-media scrolling at Incheon Airport—here you can choose from nine different excursions to explore Seoul. Stretch your legs on the one-hour seaside tour that stops at either Eurwangni or Masirang Beach. Visit historic Seoul on the five-hour Traditional tour that stops at Gyeongbokgung Palace and art-district Insadong, or pick up souvenirs on the Shopping tour through bustling Myeongdong district and Namdaemun market. All trips come with English guides and you can take multiple tours if time allows. Visit to book online at least 48 hours in advance; layover must be no more than 24 hours.

The city-state has two tours for visitors with a few hours to spare in Changi. The Heritage tour offers travelers a look at Singapore’s colonial and cultural districts like Chinatown, Little India and the vibrant laneways of Kampong Glam, plus a chance to snap a photo of the symbolic Merlion. The City Sights tour is all about taking in the modern skyline by night—from Merlion Park, see the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands and The Esplanade Theater. This tour also stops at Gardens by the Bay where guests can explore the Avatar-like Supertrees.; layovers must be between 5½ and 24 hours.


Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Saigon.

International passengers flying on Vietnam Airlines have the chance to explore Hanoi or Saigon during their stopovers. In the capital there’s a choice of a city tour that visits Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake, or longer trips to Van Phuc silk village or Bat Trang pottery village. In Saigon, choose a trip to Thien Hau Pagoda and Cholon (Chinatown), or a city tour to see the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the colonial-era Central Post Office, Opera House and City People’s Committee Building. Depending on your length of layover, meal plans and a hotel stay are also included.; layover must be a minimum of six hours in Saigon, or a minimum of eight hours in Hanoi.

Narita Airport treats passengers to four cultural outings, including a visit to Shinshoji Temple and traditional Omotesando Street, with the option to enjoy a tea ceremony; or visit the rice fields and tour the local villages of Tako Town by electric bike. Longer bus tours are available at a cost, and seasonal events are also offered—spot plum blossoms in spring and attend the rice harvest festival in autumn. Tour guiding courtesy of an English-speaking volunteer is free, but you’ll need to pay for transport, entry tickets and food. Bonus: even if you’re staying the night in Narita, you can still take up these tours. Visit narita-transitprogram. jp to book online.

China’s 72-hour transit rules make it easier to explore the country without a visa, and China Southern passengers on flights stopping in Guangzhou can take on the city in two ways. If you prefer to sightsee independently, the Metro tour offers a 24-hour metro card, plus entry tickets to Chen Clan’s Ancestral Temple and the Museum of the Nanyue King Mausoleum. In a group, the bus tour makes stops at the Statue of Five Rams, Flower City Square, Guangzhou Opera House, Canton Tower and more, and includes a dim sum lunch. global.; 72-hour visa-free transit must have an onward journey to a third country and is only available to some nationalities, so check with your consulate before booking.

Good news: lay-flat beds aren’t just for business-class highflyers. Some airlines will sell you a whole row in coach to convert to a couch, helping you rest easier without breaking the bank.

What is it? It differs slightly depending on the airline, and not all airlines offer it, but, essentially, it’s an upgrade option that lets passengers reserve an entire row in economy so they can lie flat at a cheaper fee than booking three individual seats or, obviously, a business-class ticket. On Air New Zealand, it’s known as a Skycouch, while Air Astana calls it the Economy Sleeper. Both transform three seats into a flatbed by raising a foot-rest to seat level. Then, they add a small mattress on top of the newly widened row, and toss in linens and pillows. It’s available as an add-on for parties of one to three people traveling together; snuggling couples will love it (though their neighbors might not), and it’s also a convenient option for parents with small children.

For tighter budgets, some airlines offer the chance to purchase any remaining empty seats beside you for what can be surprisingly low fees, within a certain window of time preflight. These include Scoot’s MaxYourSpace, and airlines connected to travel-revenue partner Optiontown—such as Vietnam Airlines, Air Asia, Jetstar and Cambodia Angkor Air—which offers the Extra Seat Option (ESO).

How do I book?
If Skycouch or Economy Sleeper are available for your flight, you’ll see the option when you reserve your tickets on or, respectively. For ESO , you need to sign up for the offer via Optiontown after buying your economy flight; you’re essentially putting in a bid on the extra seats, and hoping you win if the flight isn’t full. For MaxYourSpace, Scoot will send an email to offer the deal close to departure, or you can check availability at

How much does it cost?
On Air New Zealand, upgrading to the Skycouch starts from S$200 for three passengers, S$499 for couples and S$999 for single passengers. Air Astana is more expensive, costing almost double the price of an economy ticket, per person. Optiontown users and Scoot passengers won’t get an actual bed, so the nominal fee per extra seat starts from just US $7 on Vietnam Airlines and US $15 on Scoot. Not bad for some extra elbow room. – E.B.


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