The first time I heard about Yongma Land I was drunk. I can’t remember who 0r where I had the conversation. All I remember was someone telling me about an old abandoned amusement park left in the hills of northern Seoul. And then I forgot about it for months, nearly years. Like a dream.
Finding Yongma Land turned out to be easier than I expected. I did a search on Naver and Google that, predictably, gave no directions. Eventually I turned up a subway station (Mangu Station, 망우역). From there it was the simple matter of catching a taxi and pronouncing “Yongma Land” with a thick Korean accent. It was a six minute taxi ride to the foot of a hill that looks about as interesting and unassuming as you can get. A further walk in revealed an abandoned structure, a parking lot, and grave sites which aren’t rare at all in Korea (hell, my own family’s grave site is located across the street from an abandoned hotel). And then about five minutes later…
Getting in was easy. There were signs posted everywhere in Korean and English saying the exact same thing, “Call 010-xxxx-xxxx”. A phone call and a short wait later, I handed a kindly little old man 10,000 Won (5,000 Won per head) and he let us in. He pointed out the still-active office building, gave us directions to the bathroom and told us to be careful. All the rides were still in good shape but a few looked rickety. Even though all the rides have been deactivated for quite some time and everything showed signs of age up close, it still gave you the feeling of being in an amusement park all by yourself. My girlfriend and I were climbing all over the place and sitting in the rides having a giddy time of it all.
The Grand Carousel sat in the center and was the main attraction of the park. It’s the first thing you see enter and definitely one of the rides that you’ll spend the most time photographing. But the hidden graveyard was the real hidden beauty of the park. You can find it on the third level past a set of stone steps and sloping walkway behind the pink/tan building that still housed the park office. Here there was a graveyard of the leftover coin-operated rides that once decorated the park like Christmas lights. Leaves littered the ground and the rides have been long since left to rust; it was, in a word, magical.
Once the sun begins to set though, all bets are off. We left just as the light was beginning to go and I have to say, the feeling of the park begins to change. Once the day’s last light hits the park, it looks like more of a rotting time capsule left open like a memorial, a poorly kept memorial. The larger rides have been left as is without the comforting flow of electricity and smaller rides litter the park like refuse left by an inconsiderate child, or a hurricane. Eventually, even the carousel in all its magic looks just like a bundle of tattered tarp, broken bars and marred mirrors. I’m guessing at night it looks like the entrance to the Joker’s lair.
At the end of the day we left the park exhausted. It wasn’t just the climbing on and off the rides or the walking on uneven terrain, it was the entire exciting and amazing experience. I guess the best way to see the park is sort of like something from a Tim Burton film once you wash away all the style and pomp to look at what you’re left with, the core and remnants of a dream.