Just because Koreans don’t celebrate Halloween on a grand scale, doesn’t mean you can’t have your own creep-fest. We have all the haunted places, terrifying movies, and crazy urban legends to give your dark little heart the Korean Halloween it’s been craving! So turn off the lights, put on your favorite horror playlist, and let’s get spooky.
Korean Halloween Spots: The most haunted places in the country
Gonjiam is an old abandoned psychiatric hospital in Gyeonggi-do. There are so many stories about why the place shut down, including the head doctor having fled to the US after rumours surfaced about grisly patient experiments, but nobody really knows what happened. Whatever it was, the hospital was abandoned in the 90’s with everything still in it, including equipment and furniture, making it one of the creepiest places in Korea. It earned its place as the most haunted building in Korea, and eventhough it was illegal to visit, hundreds of people a year still snuck past the police to take a trip on the creepy side. Unfortunately, I heard that the building was demolished in May 2018, but you can still enjoy this video giving a nicely creepy tour of Gonjiam.
5000 won gets you in to this Korean halloween classic: the abandoned theme park in North-East Seoul, Yongma Land. No one is sure why the theme park closed down, but all the rides are still up, and you can wander around to your heart’s content and fulfill all your creepy fantasies! Dressing up for a Halloween photo shoot here would be amazing.
This beautiful traditional village in Gyeonggi-do is known for more than its quaint architecture and picturesque views. The village is reportedly home to a number of Cheonyeo Gwishin, or virgin ghosts. Historically, it was a disgrace for a woman to die without being married, and so Korean legend is full of virgin ghosts who show up to haunt their old villages. You’ll know they are around by the sharp drop in temperature and, of course, by their long white dresses and dark hair. If you want to fulfill your Supernatural girl in the white dress nightmares, this is the place to do it!
Korean Halloween Dark Tourism
Dark tourism has been around a while, but lately is has been booming, even warranting a Netflix documentary series. But what is dark tourism and is it okay to take part in?
Dark tourism is the label given to tourism involving places that are famous because of a disaster or atrocity that took place in the area. If you think of visiting Auschwitz, the 9/11 memorial, or even the remains of Pompeii after Mount Vesuvius erupted, you are in fact thinking of taking part in some dark tourism. Chernobyl, Fukushima, Rwanda, and even North Korea are seeing a huge increase in the number of tourists visiting each year, and it is a really interesting phenomenon.
Humans have been both horrified by, and attracted to death for a really long time, and maybe the first dark tourists were those watching public executions in London, or even people traveling to the Colosseum to watch the death sports. This awesome National Geographic article on dark tourism is a great read, I especially like the sentiment that “When we touch the memory of people who’ve gone what we’re looking at is ourselves. That could have been us in that bombing or atrocity. We make relevant our own mortality.”
Peter Hohenhaus, who runs Dark-Tourism.com, argues that it’s even more important now for us to visit these sites so that we can learn to recognize when history begins to repeat itself. It’s easy to see what he means in an era of rising neo-nazism and Trump. I know that my own visit to a work camp outside Hamburg was the most intensely emotional experience I’ve had on a trip, one that reinforced my commitment to human rights.
So what are the rules when it comes to dark tourism? Hohenhaus tells us we should be respectful and restrained, and show a genuine interest. Dark tourism isn’t necessarily about taking selfies and getting the best Instagram shots. Also don’t put yourself in immediate danger, or visit places where the tragedy has occurred too recently.
Dark tourism is very different to what Hohenhaus calls ‘slum tourism’, which is needlessly voyeuristic and privileged. Dark tourism can really help the people of the area rebuild and thrive, and it should never make anyone feel as if they are in a zoo. Read more from Hohenhaus in his dark tourism article for The Independent. You can also read about our own experiences with dark tourism, visiting the Trunyan village burial grounds in Bali.
Korean Halloween Dark Tourism Spots
Yeongpyeong Island is on the border between North and South Korea and has been disputed territory since the 50’s. The last invasion by the North meant that the island was abandoned, but you can catch a ferry to visit if you are brave enough. Although there are no reported sightings of supernatural activity, it is a really cool place to explore as it is filled with abandoned buildings with bullet hole ridden walls.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
A very popular destination at the moment is taking part in a tour of the DMZ on the border between North and South Korea. This is a really interesting experience especially now as the Koreas are making their tentative first footsteps towards peace. You can only go with approved tour companies, but I would highly recomend taking a tour that includes a talk by a North Korean defector, as there really is so much to be understood about the conflict and how it has ripped families apart. Take a look at the available DMZ tours.
Normally known as the Hawaii of Korea, Jeju has a darker history that not a lot of visitors are aware of. In 1948 there were violent pro-communist protests on the island, culminating in an April 3rd uprising that saw rebels attacking police stations, killing officers, and burning polling stations for the upcoming elections. In retaliation, the government declared martial law and militias began a widespread and brutal crackdown that would last until the end of the Korean War.
More recently a truth commission reported that government forces were involved in a number of atrocities, including burning around 70% of villages on Jeju and killing 10% of the population, 30 000 people. Social justice activists are trying to bring attention to the tragedy, and encourage people to visit the area and learn more about what happened.
There is a tour of the area that includes the site of alleged executions, a mass grave, and caves where locals took refuge from government forces. Although the topic remains somewhat taboo in Korea, the government has recently begun to apologize for its role in the tragedy. You can read more about the uprising and the tour with this Jeju uprising article.
Modern Korean Halloween Activities
If history is not getting your heart pumping, there are a number of other Korean halloween activities to take part in that will be sure to give you the shivers. Each year there are a number of Zombie Runs that take place, culminating in a Halloween fright night you probably won’t forget. We attended the Daegu Zombie Run last year and it was so much scary fun! You can find out more details about this year’s runs on the Zombie Run website.
As Korean halloween isn’t as big as it is in the west, it’s a good idea to check out what local expat groups have organized for the event. Adventure Korea hosts an annual Halloween cruise that looks like a load of creepy fun, and The Seoul Times has a great list of Korean halloween activities and parties that you can check out too.
An amazing tour that we loved and even recommended to our parents, is the Dark Side of Seoul Tour. This walking tour takes you through Seoul at night, and covers a range of terrifying topics, some of which are ghostly, and some that are just plain dark. Our feet were dead after the tour, but it was one of the most fun things I’ve done in Korea so far. Check out the Dark Side of Seoul tour, and even consider booking their special halloween edition that includes seeing a ghostly girl scare the bejeebies out of people all night.
If you’re more a stay-at-home-halloweener like us, then why not check out some frightfully good Korean halloween horror films? Fans of zombie movies should check out Train to Busan, an original and epic take on the zombie apocalypse theme that is definitely worth a look. More classic options include Whispering Corridors, a really intense look at school culture with a supernatural twist, or The Wailing, a supernatural mystery film sure to get you running to turn the lights on.
Korean Halloween Urban Legends
Of course no October is complete without needlessly creeping yourself out with a couple of urban legends, and Korea has some pretty good ones. Whether or not you believe in them, it’s always a lot of fun to be a little creeped out!
The Girl with the Sunglasses
On a stretch of highway between Goyang and Paju called Jayuro, there is often a terrible fog that settles in and causes tons of road accidents every year. The locals, however, will tell you that it isn’t really the fog at all. Drivers report seeing a young woman in a white dress and sunglasses standing close to the highway. It’s only when they drive closer that they see she doesn’t have sunglasses on at all. Her eyes are gouged out.
The Slit-mouthed Woman
In a society as obsessed with plastic surgery as Korea, it’s not surprising that things can sometimes go wrong. The legend goes that a young woman awoke from her surgery to find that the doctor had cruelly disfigured her, cutting her mouth from ear to ear. It is said that she now wonders the streets at night wearing a red surgical mask. She approaches young men and asks them simply if they think she is beautiful. If they say yes, she reveals her mouth, calls them a liar, and slashes them open with a scalpel. Saying no doesn’t help either, as it earns you a slashed throat. Perhaps the best answer is none at all!
Speaking of no right answers, another Korean halloween legend involves a ghost trapping you in a toilet cubicle and forcing you to choose between red or blue toilet paper. Choose red and the ghost cuts you open, leaving you n a pool of blood. Choose blue and it suffocates you. I guess the answer might be yellow? Or just not to use public restroom anymore…
Sesame Seed Bath
Another poor girl in Korea was said to have been so obsessed with becoming beautiful that she tried any outlandish thing that came her way. Having been told that bathing with sesame seeds would be good for her skin, she sat for hours in the bathtub filled with sesame seeds. Becoming concerned for her daughter, her mother burst into the bathroom, only to find her daughter crying and frantically picking at her skin with a toothpick trying to remove the sesame seeds now lodged deeply in her pores.
One of the most disturbing for a bug-phobe like me is the story of a young man with terrible acne scarring. He even visited a fortune teller to try to find out what he could do to get rid of his scars. The fortune teller told him that if he could catch a cockroach and go to sleep with it on his pillow, his scars would disappear. Desperate, the young man listened to the fortune teller and followed her instructions exactly. In the morning he was shocked to see his scars had in fact disappeared! However, on closer inspection he found that they were simply filled with cockroach eggs…
Korean Halloween is what you make it.
I hope you are inspired for your month of creepiness, or at least mildly freaked out by some awesome urban legends. Korean halloween may not be as big as it is in the States, but with some looking around you can definitely find some fun things to do. This year even Starbucks is getting in on the trend and offering some gruesome creations! If you try one, let me know how it is. For more Korean inspiration, check out our post on Fall in Korea.
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