South Korea is no stranger to theme parks. In fact, one of the major attractions in Seoul is Lotte World, a dizzying paradise of carnival fanfare and thrilling rides. Everland, famous for its gravity-defying rollercoaster made up of rickety wood, is also hugely popular with locals and tourists alike. But today, we’re not going to talk about these well-known theme parks. Rather, let’s delve into something more peculiar, something a little more bizarre, something a whole lot creepier – Okpo Land.
A Theme Park Silenced For Eternity
Situated in the outskirts of Okpo-dong in Geoje, South Korea lies Okpo Land. However, unlike Lotte World and Everland, you won’t find eager crowds here. Okpo Land has been deserted and left to decay at the hands of nature and time for almost two decades.
If you were to judge the theme park based on its appearance today, it’s difficult to imagine that this place ever used to bustle with energy and life. In fact, Okpo Land wasn’t just any theme park. Okpo Land used to be the epitome of popular back in its heyday.
Okpo Land – Fantastic Roots
Beginning with its much-anticipated opening, Okpo Land received overwhelming numbers of visitors on a daily basis. Not only was the theme park hugely popular amongst the locals, Okpo Land also received crazy amount of love from all over the world. In fact, Okpo Land used to one of Asia’s most famous theme parks. Furthermore, thanks to the international attention that shone down on South Korea after it held the prestigious 1988 Olympics, Okpo Land welcomed even more visitors from Asia and beyond. Additionally, Okpo Land was also situated close to major shipyards. After a tiring day of work, shipyard employees often flocked to Okpo Land for some much-needed entertainment.
The well-loved theme park was chock full of entertainment. Visitors could squeal themselves silly on all sorts of rides: Viking ships, pretty carousels, bumper cars, rocket ships, roller coasters… There was even some sort of Virtual Reality (VR) ride, making Okpo Land some good years ahead of its time! Besides rides, parkgoers could also pop into the iconic South Korean noraebang (karaoke!) to belt out their favourite songs. Talk about relieving stress!
Additionally, Okpo Land was equipped with games rooms for visitors to play their favourite arcade games. The list of amenities doesn’t end here! Okpo Land even had swimming pools and saunas! Visitors who were tired of queuing for crowded rides could simply switch into their swimming gear and enjoy a relaxing afternoon frolicking in water. Given its extensive list of facilities, its no wonder that Okpo Land was so attractive.
Simply put, Okpo Land was massively popular. And unlike most abandoned theme parks that often experience gradual drops in visitors before their eventual demise, Okpo Land remained hugely popular right until its abrupt closing. This certainly adds an additional burst of mystery to Okpo Land.
A Series Of Fatalities And Injuries
What caused the shut down of the beloved theme park? What heinous event could have possibly caused the owner to vanish into thin air?
The reason behind the demise of Okpo Land can be traced back to one central keyword: Duck. No, I’m not talking about the yellow feathered animal. I’m referring to the icon of tragedy and misfortune: the infamous duck ride of Okpo Land.
The bright yellow hues of this notorious Duck Ride almost come across like a disrespectful taunt. Like a mockery of its bloody history. Like a merciless slap across the cheek to grieving families of the victims of this ride.
Don’t be fooled by how cute this ride looks. Unlike its innocent and cheerful appearance, the duck ride is one of Okpo Land’s darkest stain.
A Death Is Hushed Up
In the early 1990s, right as Okpo Land was enjoying its peak in popularity thanks to greater exposure of South Korea after the hosting of the 1988 Olympics, tragedy struck. The Duck Ride, one of Okpo Land’s key attractions, suddenly derailed. The clunky ride crashed to the ground, injuring many and killing one. However, instead of quickly opening an investigation and fixing the ride, the incident was quickly hushed up. No public apology was made and no compensation was given. No explanation was ever given as well. It almost felt as if the entire accident never happened, as if the horrific accident was just a sick figment of imagination.
And so, with the accident swept under the rug, the duck ride continued to operate despite the gruesome tragedy. Of course, no inspections nor repairs were done to the duck ride. Naturally, rumors of the owner bribing local officials began to spread like wildfire. Yet, these rumors were somehow quashed… adding on (of course) to the hypothesis of under-the-table bribery
Okpo Land continued its operations without a hitch for several years after the first accident. All seemed fine and dandy until misfortune struck again.
A Second Fatality
In 1999, the same duck ride met an ugly accident again. But this time, the ride entirely capsized off the rail. Many fell to the ground and were grievously injured. The horrific scene saw a mess of mangled limbs. Crimson red blood oozed out of deep gashes. The anguished cries of agony were said to have reverberated throughout the park. Most tragically of all, the second accident, like the first, was fatal. Upon the crash, a little girl was thrown off the ride and died on the spot. The duck ride had claimed its second life.
This second high-profile accident triggered the immediate closure of Okpo Land. The owner vanished into thin air. No one really knows why. Was he trying to escape criminal conviction? Was he overwhelmed with fear and guilt? Where is he now? Is he wracked by guilt or does he live freely, once again choosing to simply brush the horrible accident under the rug? Is he able to sleep at night, knowing that his greed and irresponsibility robbed the lives of two innocent people?
Okpo Land – Bizarrely Frozen In Time Today
Stepping into Okpo Land today, it almost feels like you’ve stepped into a snapshot of the past. Some rides remain perched atop their rails, seemingly stopped mid-operation. Rides are left exactly as they were decades ago. You can sense the urgency that consumed the owner when he packed up his bags and took off, abandoning Okpo Land for good overnight.
Mother Nature has also reclaimed much of the park. Vines and roots snake around various rides, almost as if they wish to drag the pieces of metal back into the Earth. Rides that once saw gleeful children hop on only have weeds for company today. Pools that once entertained excited parkgoers stand vacant and dry.
Signs of decay are also readily apparent after the decades spent exposed to the ruthless elements. Once gleaming rides are now brown with rust and grime. Once vivid paint has now peeled and browned.
Most haunting of all, the notorious duck ride remains tipped over, in the exact same position of the horrifying accident years ago. The sight of the cherubic bright metal duck hanging over the edge of the rails is instantly chilling. Some who have paid the deserted park a visit claim to feel a sense of dread when they reach this spot.
An Attraction Of Another Kind
Surprisingly afterward, Okpo Land once again began to receive increasingly more attention. However, no, it was not due to a sudden reopening. Urban explorers with a penchant for adventure took quite a liking to Okpo Land. Many have traveled to Geoje just to explore the derelict remains of the theme park for themselves. Graffiti artists also love using the theme park as a platform to express themselves.
What Does The Future Hold For Okpo Land?
Okpo Land remained abandoned long after its closure in 1999. It was only in 2011 that it was demolished. Currently, construction works are underway to build a hotel in that location. I don’t know how great an idea this is. Sounds like a typical premise for a horror movie, if you ask me.
People would definitely remember the painful and tragic history that occurred at the soils of this location. One wonders how that might affect the popularity of the upcoming hotel.
Final Thoughts on Okpo Land
The story behind Okpo Land’s abandonment is a tragic tale of greed, irresponsibility and corruption. The tiny but lively theme park had so much to offer. It could have had been a place where intimate relationships were forged, where fond memories were created.
However, a place that was meant for fun and happiness soon descended into a horrific hotbed of grief and sorrow.
It’s heart-wrenching and anger-inducing. One can only hope that the irresponsible owner has atoned for his sins – some way or another.
For the families of the victims, the world prays that they find peace and closure.
How ever the land is developed in the future, the tragedy of Okpo Land would remain deeply etched in the collective memory of many.