Yongma Land: South Korea’s Abandoned Amusement Park Still Has Much to Offer
After living in South Korea for more than nine years, I was surprised earlier this month when I learned for the first time about an abandoned amusement park that is only a short distance from my home. As someone who enjoys visiting abandoned places for their poignancy, withering beauty, and sometimes eeriness, I headed there two days later.
Seoul’s Yongma Land opened in 1980 as a family amusement park. What it used to offer seems to have been not too much different from the rides at Oregon’s Enchanted Forest and Oaks Amusement Park, two charming, popular smaller places that I visited when I lived in that state. The difference is that while those two places remain open, Yongma Land eventually ceased operations in 2011. It met with stiff, high-tech competition when Lotte World opened a much larger and more impressive amusement park in 1989, relatively nearby in Seoul.
Ever resourceful, Yongma Land’s current owner has found different ways to generate income, including arranging for popular Korean music videos and television shows to be shot there. He also allows visitors to explore the grounds and take photographs for 5,000 Korean won (about US $5.00) per person.
On the day I visited Yongma Land with my girlfriend, the place was closed because a wedding was being held there and the wedding party reserved the park for their private occasion. We told the owner that we understood and that we would come back the next day, but he kindly told us that we could take a quick tour without charge for 10 minutes, as long as we didn’t take photos of the wedding party and guests. This was an unexpected surprise, and free is always a great price, so we took him up on his offer.
Actually, 10 minutes was a bit rushed but we covered the main things I hoped to see: old rides, items in disrepair, and a look at Korean life as it was in the recent past. We went in the late afternoon, so there was no sense of spookiness or of the place being haunted, as some previous visitors have remarked about. (The only grounds that exist, as far as I have heard, for why Yongma Land would be haunted is a word-of-mouth tale of a young girl who died on one of the rides because it was poorly constructed. I have not found legitimate news coverage of this story, so until that turns up, I would imagine that this is merely an urban legend. Many people just like to imagine that older places are haunted. Naturally, such stories surely must also put a few extra Korean won in the owner’s pockets.) The merriment of the nearby wedding party also diffused any sense of creepiness. Visiting in the afternoon also meant that we would not see one of Yongma Land’s current popular features: for 25,000 Korean won (about US $25,00), the owner will turn on the merry-go-round’s lights at night. If he is in a generous mood, I have read, he will sometimes turn them on for free.
If I return to Yongma Land for another visit, I will wait until nightfall to do so, and probably in autumn or winter, to get a completely different feeling than what my girlfriend and I experienced on a rather carefree, sunny, hot day.
Yongma Land’s entrance is humble compared with modern amusement parks.
This weathered policeman used to greet large throngs of visitors before the elements got to him.
All aboard the Fire Brigade ride! Well, not anymore.
Vikings and other mascots that have seen better days keep watch over a circus ride for youngsters.
The Viking ride is popular at fairs, carnivals and amusement parks around the world.
Sights like this group of dinosaurs is one reason why I wanted to check out Yongma Land.
The Space Fighter was once a high-tech thrill ride.
Behind the scenes at Yongma Land is more of a draw for me than the main attractions.
I couldn’t get a better photo of this “Disco Pang Pang” attraction because of our proximity to the wedding party, but felt it was important to document that popular American music stars of the 1980s were featured on the art for this dizzying ride. The blue rings in front represent the Summer Olympics held in Seoul in 1988.
The rusted tentacles of The Octopus haven’t carried riders for about six years.
Although this merry-go-round is no longer fully functional, the owner will turn on its lights at night for photo opportunities, for customers willing to pay.
Joseph Perry is one of the hosts of When It Was Cool’s exclusive Uphill Both Ways podcast (whenitwascool.com/up-hill-both-ways-podcast/) and Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era podcast (decadesofhorror.com/category/classicera/).
He also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website and magazine (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique and pop culture magazines.
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