Korea has a wealth of tourist attractions all over the peninsula, and while the likes of Gyongbokgung Palace and Insadong are well worth visiting, sometimes you just want an experience that is a little more… unusual. Here are 10 of Korea’s stranger tourist attractions for you to visit while you’re here.
The theme park gained world-wide publicity last year for its unique content: a garden filled with huge statues shaped like poo, statues of people squatting, a cartoon poo mural and a toilet museum. In the suburbs of Suwon, the museum is the former home of Sim Jae-Duck, a.k.a. Mr Toilet, deceased former mayor of Suwon, toilet enthusiast and creator of the World Toilet Association. Born in the toilet of his parent’s home, in later life Sim was dedicated to improving the quality of sanitation and toilet facilities in Korea. He was so passionate about the subject that he had his house demolished and had a new one built in the shape of a giant toilet bowl in celebration of the birth of the World Toilet Association. The ‘Mr. Toilet House’ was turned into a museum after his death and is now filled with fun, well-presented information about toilets, sanitation and the life of a clearly fondly remembered Mr Toilet.
To be fair, Jeju-do could probably have its own top 10 weird tourist attractions as it is so covered in museums that people have decided to get incredibly creative with their content. Psyche World – transliterated in Korean as ‘pushikay world’- is home to a strangely diverse range of exhibits with no discernible relation to each other. It consists of a butterfly museum, two mazes, a building filled with cutesy clay models, a cuddly petting zoo area, a ‘Queen’s House’ of plastic costume jewellery and… an interactive CSI experience complete with a fake murder scene and a plastic murder victim. There is also ‘Parody World’, a section of Psyche World that contains dioramas showing preserved dead insects participating in human activities. These activities include acting out historical battles, visiting insect theme parks and playing insect American football. It’s anyone’s guess as to why.
Haesindang Park is located in the rural South of Samcheok City, Gangwon-do. The ‘Penis Park’ nickname is derived from the countless phallic statues that are scattered throughout. The reason for these statues is explained through local legend. A long time ago, a young woman from the village drowned after her fiancé left her on a rock and could not return before the tide came in. After her death, fish stopped coming to the nearby waters. The locals supposed that the girl’s ghost was vengeful because she died before she could marry and therefore lose her virginity. In order to appease her, they erected (ahem) several penis statues along the coastline. The ghost was pleased enough that fish returned to the waters and the villagers rejoiced, leaving the statues to both appease the ghost and entertain tourists.
Penis Park really delivers on its nickname. There are penis benches, squid penises, penises with ears, penises with breasts, penises with penises… There are so many creatively carved penis statues that you will almost definitely end up with a very questionable photo collection.
The park gives a beautiful view of the East Sea and the statues are spread out over a fairly wide (and steep) park area which makes for a pleasant phallus-filled walk.
One probably wonders why there would be enough chicken art to fill, let alone justify a museum dedicated to the topic. Admittedly a small museum, it is nestled in the hanok village in Bukchon. The owner, Kim Cho Gang, displays her life-long collection of chicken art alongside pieces lent or donated by artists. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, furniture, ornaments and other knick-knacks from around the world, all dedicated to the artistic representation of chickens. The staff are very knowledgeable and are happy to explain the strong symbolic meanings of chickens in art and culture in Korea and other parts of the world. There are a wide range of interesting chicken-related artefacts packed into the relatively small space so it is certainly worth the small fee of 3,000 won. The art is not for sale but visitors to the exhibition can buy chicken art related souvenirs and postcards. The exhibits on the second floor change seasonally, so it’s possible to see something new even if you’ve been before.
UPDATE: apparently the Chicken Art Museum has now moved to the city of Dongducheon.
A staple of the Korean diet, the nation’s favourite side dish is waiting to be learned about at the Kimchi Museum in Samseong. With a website full of surprisingly passionately written copy about kimchi, the museum offers the opportunity for everyone to learn a bit more about the history, production and culture surrounding kimchi and Korean food in general. There are historical artifacts and paintings related to the history of kimchi, there is an area dedicated to learning about and tasting different types of kimchi, there are even opportunities for you to make some yourself. If that’s not enough kimchi for your liking, there is also kimchi available to buy from the museum’s store.
One of three sex related theme parks in Jeju, it is perhaps the most popular and there are a very wide range of sculptures scattered across the park. Flocked to by many Korean and foreign tourists alike, it not only contains a sculpture garden filled with giant sex organs, copulating couples and erotically themed fountains but also a small sex shop and a gallery of sexual dioramas. There are even statues that you can pose with to make it look like you are getting down and dirty with them. Great for photo opportunities as long as you aren’t friends with your parents on facebook.
For a country that doesn’t feature a lot of cheese in its cuisine, it is surprising to know that there is a whole village in Korea dedicated to the production of the dairy product. About 30 minutes from Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do, Imsil cheese village was the brain child of a Belgian missionary. Since Father Didier Serstevens decided that Imsil’s main industry should be cheese production, it has flourished into a family-friendly tourist destination. Visitors to the cheese village can make cheese, ride a cultivator, make goat’s milk soap and partake in a variety of other activities. There is even a Cheese Theme Park. For those who don’t want to take the trip down to Jeonbuk, Imsil Cheese Pizza is a pizza delivery chain with branches all over the country. Ordering their pizzas will give you the opportunity to taste famous Korean cheese, even if you didn’t make it yourself.
Seojaedon Clinic, Seoul
Recently featured on a Vice documentary about Fashion Week, the cosmetic surgery clinic is a different kind of tourist destination. With the ubiquity of cosmetic surgery clinics, surgery patients and low prices in Korea, some people are flying over purely for affordable surgical procedures. Price is, however, not the only factor. Korea’s famous pop culture has also helped the medical tourist industry. In the documentary, surgeon Doctor Seo said: “Now because of Hallyu, people across Asia look at the celebrities and come to Korea in hopes of getting surgery to have a similar appearance and style.”
There are a large number of plastic surgery clinics and hospitals offering services for medical tourists, some of which are listed on the Korea Tourist Organisation’s website.
Located in Samcheok, Hwanseongul is the largest limestone cave in Korea. The cave is a stunning natural attraction, home to different pools, stalactites, stalagmites and waterfalls. What makes the experience particularly interesting are the LED lights and the names and descriptions that are given to different rock formations. These names and descriptions are written on placards that are placed along your route, likening different parts of the cave to samgyeopsal, “cave popcorn”, and- a personal favourite- “Moon Milk.” Names inside the cave start off fairly upbeat such as the ‘Palace of Dream’, but slowly they get a bit more cynical, like the ‘Pledge of Love (Corroded Hole).’ This is before you reach areas like the ‘Bridge of Repentance’ and the ‘Valley of Hell’. LED lights line the walkways, which offer for fantastic photo opportunities. There is also an LED rainbow inside. Where else in the world will you find that?
Heading to the boarder of two countries that are technically still at war is not your typical tourist experience. The Joint Security Area is located inside the DMZ and is the area in which talks are held between the two Koreas. A trip that many embark on with a sense of frivolity and some jokes about jumping the border into North Korea, the mood quickly changes once you start passing checkpoints. For most people, passing through dynamite-filled tunnels and checkpoints manned by heavily armed guards whilst being watched by a member of the US military are not activities that many associate with fun-filled day trips. After being told “Don’t touch anything, don’t point, don’t talk to anyone on the North side, sign this,” most end up feeling unexpectedly tense. A visit to the JSA really brings home the reality of the situation with North Korea that is strangely so easily ignored from other parts of the South. The tours provide a very informative and unique experience that will help you to understand a part of Korea’s history.
There you have it, 10 weird tourist attractions in South Korea. Have you been to any? Are there any you want to go to?
Written by Emma Sparkes.
Photographed by Emma Sparkes and Lee Klinger. Seojaedon pic a screenshot from VICE’s South Korea Fashion Week Internationale documentary.