Getting Into the Halloween Spirit, Seoul Style

Printer-friendly versionHalloween isn't a traditional holiday here in Korea but over the past decade or so, it has begun to slowly seep into the nation's culture.  In Seoul, decorations can occasionally be spotted in store fronts and costumes can be purchased at super-centers like E-Mart and Home Plus.  Kindergartners go trick-or-treating at their English hagwons and bars offer cash prizes to the best-dressed vampire, cartoon character, or sexy bunny.

There are a number of events going on in Seoul around the 31st (including a Halloween booze cruise and a Freak or Treat Marathon) but if you're like me, you just can't wait until the end of the month to start celebrating.  Check my suggestions below on how to get into the Halloween spirit, Seoul style.

The Dark Side of Seoul

The Korean capital is a beautiful city with lots to see: sparkling skyscrapers, majestic mountains, and peaceful palace gardens.  Surprisingly (or not), the city has a dark history that very few visitors ever learn about, one that is often not advertised in guidebooks, attraction brochures, or by tour guides. Enter Joe McPherson, founder of ZenKimchi Food Journal and guide of the Dark Side of Seoul walking tour.  Modeled after the ghost tours of other big cities, the tour aims to showcase stories of hauntings, murder, and sex scandals of the past.

I joined Joe last week for the tour along with a few other expats and tourists.  The Dark Side tour has been in operation for just over a year now, but it has already been rated one of the best city tours in Seoul, and it didn't take long after the tour started for me to realize why.  Joe, who studied Korean history in college, was extremely knowledgeable about the lesser-known aspects of Seoul's history and navigated the dimly lit back alleys like he had lived in the city his entire life.

The Dark Side of Seoul tour takes participants to some of Seoul's most sinister locales.

Joe had a seemingly endless list of ghost stories and urban legends to tell us and conveyed them in an entertaining way.   At our final stop, we had an unusual encounter when one of the girls on the tour told us she was picking up a lot of energy from a female spirit who followed us up the steps of the palace we visited but refused to go in.  As it turns out, what she felt exactly matched Joe's version of the story.  The following night, a few people on the tour picked up light orbs with their cameras in the same place.  Creepy.

Join the Dark Side of Seoul Tour, which is held on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights in October.  For more information or to make a reservation, visit the ZenKimchi website.

Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi entertains participants with his interesting and comical Korean ghost stories.

After checking out the Dark Side of Seoul and exploring the haunted areas downtown, why not create your own ghost tour itinerary and check out a few additional sinister spots around the city, including a prison where the Japanese tortured Korean independence fighters and a mountain where one of the country's most notorious serial killers buried his victims.

Everland Horror Village 

Just an hour outside of Seoul is Everland, Korea's answer to Disney World.  During the month of October, the entire theme park is transformed into a Halloween wonderland, complete with over-sized jack-o-lantern decorations, a cute parade for children, and a Horror Village, the perfect place to get your Halloween fix.

The whimsical decorations, performances, and parades at Everland are the perfect way to get into the Halloween spirit.  [Photo:] 

The Horror Village area of the park is open all day but is most fun at night, when a convincing cast of vampires, witches, and seriously freaky female ghosts sneak around in the shadows, terrifying unsuspecting visitors.

There are two horror mazes in the village that require an additional fee (5,000 won) but are well worth it.  I opted for Horror Maze 1 at the recommendation of the ticket vendor on my visit this past weekend and was not let down.  Given only a single flash light, my group navigated our way through a building constructed to look like a madman's shed of mangled body parts and Frankenstein-like human experiments.  I managed not to wet my pants as ghosts grabbed my feet and severed arms hung in my face.

Don't miss Everland's Horror Maze I to get your adrenaline pumping.

The Horror Club Fest was also a highlight.  On Saturday nights, DJs spin on a skull-adorned stage atop a hill while twenty-somethings (and costumed nurses and doctors) dance below.  There's a "Nurse's Blood Pub" where beer and snacks can be purchased as well as a face painting booth where visitors can be transformed into zombies with special effects makeup.

DJs spin, zombies dance, and everyone has a good time at the Horror Club Fest.

For more information on Everland, including admission costs and directions, click here.

Horror Movies

If a good horror movie is what it takes to get you into the spirit, you're in luck.  In my opinion, Korea does horror movies much better than Hollywood and there are plenty available on the internet with English subtitles.

Check out Death Bell, a classic horror flick set in a high school college exam prep class. A group of elite students are killed off in order of their class rank by a vengeful murderer who promises to continue to take the students' lives one by one unless they answer a set of questions correctly.   The students fight eagerly to discover the motive and the mastermind behind the killings.

Death by fishtank is only one of the famous scenes in Death Bell, a favorite Korean horror flick. [Photo:]

Another personal favorite is A Tale of Two Sisters, a brilliant psychological thriller about suicide, murder, and revenge that will keep you on the edge of your seat (and scratching your head at times) with ingenious plot twists and great cinematography.  Doll Master, a film about possessed dolls, is a flick that lacks quality special effects but has a creepy, well executed story.  Be sure to visit Hapjeong's Blue Fairy Cafe after watching it for even more creepiness.

Sweet Treats

No Halloween is complete without sweet treats and there are plenty of places in Seoul to pig out on cute, sugar-coated ghoulish goodies.

Monster Cupcakes, located near the main entrance of Gyeongridan, is the place for cupcake fanatics to satisfy their sweet tooth with adorably decorated treats.  Try the tasty Tombstone Tiramisu or the Eyeball Lemon and enjoy the monster-themed cafe decor.

For more traditional treats, head up the road to Alice in Fruitland (map/info) and chose from a variety of caramel apples and enjoy the taste of childhood in autumn.  They also serve up Halloween-themed cakepops and will package your purchases in fun trick-or-treat boxes.

If you can't make it out to Itaewon, visit your local Krispy Kreme for some spooky donuts.  Their Real Pumpkin is a cute frosted jack-o-lantern and is stuffed with a sweet pumpkin filling.

Pirates, eyeballs, and Frankenstein cake pops... oh my! (Photo: Alice in Fruitland)

No matter how you celebrate Halloween this year, have fun doing it!! And be sure to watch out for the ghosts and goblins haunting the seemingly serene parks and palaces of the city.  Muahhhhhahahaha.

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