Sometimes, you’ve just got to get away from the norm. You’ve seen Gyeongbokgung Palace a half-dozen times, you’ve strolled down Insa-dong and bought gifts for friends back home, and you’ve partied in Hongdae. What’s next, the traveler inside you asks?
If you yearn for wacky, weird, or just plain bizarre places to go, I present to you the top 10 weirdest places in South Korea. These are selected from five years worth of traveling throughout Korea, and there are plenty more in the book Weird and Wonderful Korea (available in e-book or 330-page paperback). Without further ado:
#10 – the Suwon Toilet Museum (Suwon, Gyeonggi-do)
Interchangeably called Suwon Toilet Museum, 해우재 (Hae-woo-jae), or the Mr. Toilet House, the two-story toilet-bowl shaped museum tells the story of the man dubbed “Mr. Toilet,” Sim Jae Duck (심재덕). Don’t ask me why the poo is different colors – or why it’s smiling. Korea’s fascination with excrement (and the infamous 똥침) continues to astound me to no end. Also around are statues of various folks in that classic “gotta go” pose and portable toilets for men.
Suwon station, line 1, exit 2. Make a U-turn and walk toward the bus platforms Take bus 92 or 310 and ride to Dongwon High School (동원고 – Dong-won-go). Face the underpass and turn right at the intersection toward the high school – it’s about 500 meters and you’ll see it on the right.
#9 – Love Castle – the sex museum you’ve never heard about (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
Gyeongju is known for having plenty of touristy things to see within a bus ride’s distance. Bulguksa, Seokguram Grotto, and plenty of tombs make the area a worthy destination – but this one’s for the adults. You’ll go between outdoor and indoor exhibits – be sure to pull the penis in the second exhibition room to see what happens. There’s plenty of interactive and photo ops here, so don’t forget the camera!
From Gyeongju’s Express Bus Terminal, turn right and go around the corner for the intercity bus terminal. Look for yellow bus 10 or 11 and get off at the 하동점마을 (Ha-dong-jeom ma-eul) bus stop. A taxi from here costs about 17,000 won.
From Gyeongju train station, go out the exit and walk straight to the intersection. You’ll want to cross the LEFT crosswalk near the IBK bank. Walk 50 meters to the bus stop. Look for yellow bus 11 and get off at the 하동점마을 (Ha-dong-jeom ma-eul) bus stop.
#8 – Unjusa – where weird stone statues are more interesting than the temple’s buildings (Hwasun-gun, Jeollanam-do)
Korea has no shortage of temples, but few temples have remained a mystery despite four excavations and two academic studies done over seven years. One legend has to do with the Korean belief of geomancy (not unlike feng shui). It was believed the peninsula was unbalanced because the southwest area had fewer mountains than the southeast. A monk named Doseon then called down fairies/stone masons from heaven to build these pagodas and statues. Before they could be finished, however, the rooster crowed and the fairies/stone masons returned to the masons. One more likely theory is that this was a school to learn carving for Buddhist temples – whatever the case, it’s a one-of-a-kind temple worthy of a visit.
From Gwangju’s Express Bus Terminal, exit via gate 3 and walk straight to the bus platform. If you’re taking a train to Gwangju, take the city’s only subway line to Nongseong station (농성역), then take exit 5 to street level. Walk 300 meters and look for the bus terminal on your left. Either way, follow the arrows for bus 318 or 218 to the platform on the left and wait.
Jump on bus 318 for Jung-jang (중장) or 218 (IMPORTANT: only take buses with 운주사 (Un-ju-sa) sign for the 1 hour 30 minute ride). You may be in for a wait – the 218 comes every 45 minutes to an hour, while the 318 going all the way to 중장 a handful of times daily (6:50am, 9:57am, 1:32pm, 4:33pm, and 8:50pm, as of this post’s published date). Double-check with the bus driver before getting on to avoid getting stranded or stopping short!
#7 – Amethyst Cavern Park – Ulsan
Simply calling it a kitschy cave doesn’t do justice to kitschiness. Or caves. A few of the surprises inside include faux skeletons in the Egypt Hall, an interesting evolution of humans (all nude, naturally), and at least one miner with a hand on his shoulder that’s not connected to anyone. It is a real cave (watch for drips from the ceiling), and some amethysts are scattered around. Oh yeah – don’t forget the large model of Dokdo’s islands and a few amusement park rides to fill out the afternoon.
From the Ulsan KTX station, take bus 323 to the park. This bus only comes once every 1 1/2 hours, so consider taking a taxi for the 20-minute ride. From the bus stop, walk to the first intersection and take a right, then stay straight through the second intersection and look for the entrance on the left. WARNING: the bus stop is over a kilometer from the entrance.
#6 – Namhae Treasure Island Garlic Land – a museum dedicated to garlic (Namhae-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do)
The museum claims this is the “The Only Garlic Exhibition Hall in the Nation,” which I believe. The first main hall talks about the history of garlic, its introduction to Korea, the varieties of garlic seen around the world, and so on. There’s a surprising amount of English here, and the Dangun myth is mentioned since garlic is a part of it.
You’re also a short bus ride away from the Namhae German Village – not as weird, but a beautiful area with authentic-looking German houses nonetheless.
From Namhae Bus Terminal, take a left out the terminal, then another left around the corner, and look for the bus stop. You’ll need to jump on a bus going towards 미조 (Mee-jo) – ask the bus driver or look at the front window of the bus. Ride to 다정마을 (Da-jeong-ma-eul), which is about 6 stops out. Once off the bus, keep walking about 350 meters in the same direction and you’ll see it on the right.
#5 – Yecheon Space Center – bounce on the moon, try the gyroscopic device, and watch dinosaurs? (Yecheon-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
It’s not just a fun field trip for elementary-schoolers – the Yecheon Space Center gives you the chance to feel some G’s, bounce like you’re on the moon, and more. The displays are a bit dated, and the planet models outside are showing their age, but jumping like you’re on the moon is awesome! The winch is raised to a person’s height, then the springs kick in. In the space simulator, your brain is tricked into thinking you’re going up thanks to a video and clever tilting. There’s almost no English around, but the staff are good about guiding you around.
From Dong Seoul Terminal, get to Yecheon Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, take a bus for Gamcheon (감천), Oncheon (온천), Beolbang (벌방), or Punggi (풍기). These don’t come very often – about every 1 1/2 hours – so consider getting a taxi for the 15 minute ride.
#4 – Bugok Hawaii AKA Buddhist hell – where water park meets Buddhist hell (Changnyeong-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do)
Opened in 1983, Bugok Hawaii is one part hot springs resort, one part amusement park, one part outdoor attractions, and one part a display of Buddhist hell. Wait, what? Don’t ask me how all of these parts came together, as I genuinely do not know. As you enter the hotel/indoor hot springs area, you might pass by the life-size models of creatures from Predator and Alien. You’ll need to head up the hill behind the hot springs to discover the rather graphic stone statues – between hands being cut off and being caught in a huge masher (like you see above), it’s a bit brutal.
From Daegu’s Seobu Bus Terminal (Seongdangmot station, line 1, exit 3) or Busan’s Seobu Bus Terminal (Sasang station, line 2). 14 buses a day make the 1 hour 10 minute trip to Bugok.
From Seoul’s Nambu Bus Terminal, (Nambu terminal station, line 3), 4 buses a day make the 4 1/2 hour trip to Bugok. Note that there may be a stop along the way to Changnyeong.
Once at Bugok’s Bus Terminal, exit and make two quick lefts. Bugok Hawaii should be in front of you and one of the largest buildings around. Walk to the right for the entrance.
#3 – Modo Sculpture Park – a beach full of erotic sculptures (Incheon)
Requiring at least four different forms of transportation to reach, the 모도조각공원 (mo-do jo-gak gong-won) is the final resting places of Lee Il-ho’s art. His sculptures were exhibited in New York and Miami in the late 1990’s, though several dozen of them have found their way back here. A small cafe has an art guide along with coffee and bagels, while a hotel lets you stay by the art and beach. This is not a swimmable beach, however – you’ll sink into the mud, which makes it quite difficult to get in or out of the water.
Take the AREX (Airport Express) line to Unseo station on Yeongjong-do (the same island as Incheon International Airport). Take the only exit to street level, then walk down the main road away from the train station. You’ll see the Lotte Mart on your left. Cross the road, and take a left. Hop on bus 710, ride for about 20 minutes, then get off at the dock (삼목선착장 – Sam-mok-seon-chak-jang). Ferries go to Sindo (신도) once an hour at 10 minutes past the hour. Once on Sindo Island, get on the only bus around – the schedule is coordinated with the ferry schedule, so it’ll leave shortly after the ferry arrives. The bus takes about 15 minutes to the turnaround point – get off there. From the bus stop, it’s about a kilometer walk to the sculpture park – follow the road to the T, turn right, and follow the road some more.
#2 – Great Stone Face Sculpture Park (Eumseong-gun, Chungcheongbuk-do)
Thank Jeong Geun-hui (정근회) for his efforts to help rehabilitate people with mental issues. He established Eumseong Mental Hospital, and in 1991, completed work at the Great Stone Face Sculpture Park. The project put 400 sculpture artists to work, and has filled a 170,000 pyeong park (about 561,000 square meters) with over 1,000 statues of people – and another 700 or so of animals. It makes for an easy and surprisingly obscure day trip from Seoul. Bonus points if you keep score in the “who’s that?” game or the “what do these people have in common?” game.
From Seoul’s Dong Seoul Bus Terminal, take a bus to Saenggeuk – they come about once an hour and take 1 hour and 20 minutes. From elsewhere in Korea, get to Cheongju’s Bus Terminal and take a frequent bus to Saenggeuk. Either way, be aware that it’s one of several stops the bus will make – be looking out the window and ensure you get off at the right bus stop!
Once at Saenggeuk Bus Terminal, you can either catch a shuttle bus that goes to the aforementioned hospital (which is in the center of it all) or take a taxi. It’s about a 10 minute ride either way. The shuttle bus comes once an hour, at 20 past most hours, while the taxi costs about 7,000 won.
And my number one, weirdest place in Korea is…?
#1 – The umbilical cord shrine for King Sejong’s children (Seongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
The middle of nowhere seems the perfect place to keep these… interesting… parts of long-dead royalty. You already know King Sejong from legend – during his reign, he collected the taeshil (umbilical cords and placentas) of his children and moved them from Gyeongbokgung palace to their present-day location of Seongju. This took from 1438 to 1442 (no KTX trains back in the day, apparently). Between a friendly tour guide and a large sign displaying the different layers, you’ll get a sense of what’s going on without too much trouble. Walk a few minutes to the nearby temple Seonseoksa (선석사). First built in 692 AD and moved here in 1361, it became the guardian temple for the umbilical cords.
From Dongdaegu train station or any of the Daegu Express Bus Terminals, hop on the Daegu subway to Seongdangmot station on line 1. Take exit 3 to street level, then look behind you for the 서부정류장 (seo-bu-jeong-ryu-jang), or the Seobu intercity bus terminal. Hop on a bus to Seongju (성주 – direct buses go from Seoul’s Nambu Bus Terminal to Seongju, but only 4 times a day). Once at Seongju, you’ll need to get on a local bus heading towards Chojeon (초전). Check the terminal’s wall for departure times. Tell the bus driver you’re going to 세종대왕 자태실 (Se-jong-dae-wang ja-tae-shil). Alternatively, a taxi from Seongju bus terminal would take about 20 minutes – grab his card and call him back when you’re ready to move on!