South Korea has in recent years become one of the hottest travel destinations in the world, thanks to its gorgeous natural scenery, mouthwatering cuisine, and pop culture prowess. There are plenty of things to see and do around the peninsula, but if you’re looking for a more unique experience, you may want to get off the beaten path to explore the quirkier side of the country. Here are some of the best places to do so.
Park, Curiosity Museum, Museum of Sex
Situated in the small coastal city of Samcheok is Haeshindang Park (aka Penis Park), an outdoor space where visitors can explore South Korea’s folk phallicism. Having been “erected” to break an old folk curse, the collection of phalluses ranges from hanging displays to three-meter-tall trunks of wood sculpted by artisans to convey happiness, spirituality, or sexuality. The park also boasts a small museum that introduces the history of the fishing community, as well as penis-centric art throughout the ages.
Mr. Toilet House (해우재)
Calling itself the “world’s first toilet theme park,” the Haewoojae Museum (also known as the Mr. Toilet House) in Suwon is a public park and museum dedicated to, you guessed it – toilets. Here, visitors can find exhibitions on Roman-style loos, European bedpans, and ancient Korean flush toilets, as well as learn a wealth of information about poop. Established in 2007, the museum was built by Sim Jae-duck (Mr. Toilet), a former mayor of Suwon who was reportedly born in the toilet of his grandparents’ house. With a lifelong attachment to the bathroom fixture, Sim dedicated his career to improving the plumbing and public bathrooms of Korea. To mark the birth of the World Toilet Association, Sim had his home of 30 years demolished. In its place, he commissioned architect Go Gi-wong to construct a house in the shape of a toilet. Haewoojae, which means “a house to relive one’s concerns,” was, upon its completion, named the biggest toilet sculpture by the Korea Record Institute in 2007. It was then donated to the city in 2009 following Sim’s death. The cultural space regularly holds special exhibitions, educational events, and competitions, such as the Golden Poop Painting Contest.
Placenta Chambers for Princes of King Sejong the Great (성주세종대왕자태실)
Obscurely located in the small town of Seongju, some 130 kilometers outside of Daegu, is a rather unusual shrine that houses the tae, or placentas and umbilical cords, of the children of King Sejong, one of the country’s most beloved rulers. In ancient Korea, the tae of a child was considered to be most sacred, as it was not only a symbol of life, but also signified one’s destiny. After giving birth, the tae was not disposed of, but rather was washed and buried in a ritual called taejang. The shrine reflects the Korean people’s respect for life and holds a special place in South Korea’s cultural history, and is a must-visit for those seeking to find the more unusual of the country’s attractions.
Sun Cruise Resort & Yacht (썬크루즈)
It’s not uncommon to spot a cruise ship or two off the eastern coast of South Korea. But in the town of Jeongdongjin, visitors might be surprised to see one perched atop a rocky cliff. The Sun Cruise Resort and Yacht is the world’s first on-land cruise ship, and takes all the joy of being on board at sea, and combines it with the convenience of staying on land. With 211 rooms, six restaurants, a sculpture garden, a swimming pool, and a volleyball court, the upscale hotel is spread across 500 feet and stands nearly 150 feet tall. In addition to its eye-catching aesthetics, the resort plays the sounds of oceanic birds and waves, adding to the cruise-like experience, without any of the subsequent seasickness. Don’t miss the rotating bar, which offers panoramic views of spectacular sunsets.
Yongma Land (용마랜드)
A popular amusement park in the 1980s, Yongma Land – for one reason or another – fell into demise after attendance began dwindling in the early 2000s, and it shut down altogether in 2011. But unlike the majority of theme parks that have fallen into disuse, this one invites visitors to experience first-hand its slow and certain crumble. Today, the old Yongma Land is run by a local businessman. For a small fee of 5,000 won (US$4.75), one can roam the old, defunct rides. Or, for 30,000 won (US$28), the owner will switch on the lights of the now eerie merry-go-round after the sun goes down. The faded images of 1980s pop icons, brightly colored walls, and deteriorating rides make for a rather beautiful aesthetic. So, whether you’re a musician looking for a place to film your next music video, a photographer seeking inspiration, or an urban explorer with a curiosity for all things carney, Yongma Land should not be missed.
Poopoo Land (놀이똥산)
Quirky, bright, and delightfully bizarre, Poopoo Land delves deep into the world of fecal matter, flatulence, and everything in between. Spread over three floors, the cultural space invites visitors to get up close and personal with a wide variety of urinals, specialty toilet paper, and of course, colorful mounds of poop. Children and adults alike also have the opportunity to enjoy a journey through a simulated digestive system, or even partake in a poo poo obstacle course. In true Korean fashion, there is no shortage of photo ops, ranging from toilet-shaped chairs to trick art. Using the technique of trompe l’oeil, poop-centric drawings have been fabricated to create the illusion that the objects in the images are three dimensional. Poopoo Land leaves a lasting impression with its exit – a swirly slide that resembles an intestine.
Restaurant, Korean, Dessert, $$$
If you’re looking for a bit of naughty fun, there’s no better place to dine than Deulmusae, South Korea’s infamous penis-themed restaurant. When first opened in 1996, a monk declared the place as having too much female energy, or “yin.” In an effort to balance the chi, the owner began incorporating male genitalia into the décor, from the giant phalluses that tower tall at the eatery’s entrance to the cups, tableware, and blush-worthy fountains that decorate the courtyard. The food, which ranges from regional makgeolli (or rice wine) to fried pork cutlets, is mediocre at best, but let’s be honest, no one is coming here for the food. Be sure to pick up some penis-shaped soap – no worries, it smells like flowers – or a genital-themed tea set at the gift shop before you leave.
Owl Art & Craft Museum (부엉이박물관)
At the age of 15, Bae Myeong-hui collected his first piece of owl art. Over the years, his collection grew to include a whopping 2,300 owl-oriented objects – paintings, clocks, dishes, stamps and toys, among others – from some 70 countries including Egypt, Poland, China, Zimbabwe, and Japan. In 2003, Bae decided to share his collection with the public, and opened the Owl Art & Craft Museum in a converted private residence. Visitors can today take a tour of the museum (sometimes from Bae himself) to learn the origin of the most notable pieces, while enjoying a complimentary cup of tea. Even if you don’t give a hoot about birds, you might just fall in love with owls after visiting this highly unique and quirky attraction.