We recently went on a road trip to the western region of South Korea and made some story-worthy discoveries along the way. This is one of many.
Korea has big love for themed places, whether it’s a Cleopatra-themed motel room, a Charlie Brown café or even a penis park. One of the most remarkable accidental finds we stumbled across was the ruins of The Phoenix – a grand wedding hall and luxury restaurant built to scale as a giant, traditional European sailing vessel from the 18th century. Located on the edge of Jeonju, a town of 700,000 people in the southwestern province of North Jeolla, it’s quite the daunting sight as it towers out of overgrown brush and its four rusty masts stab towards the sky.
Spotted on our way to a hike with our good friends Krissy and Jason Lee, our curiosity got the best of us as as we screeched to a halt to check out this out-of-place relic in a town better known for traditional Korean culture. As we approached the stern, we discovered an abandoned black sedan with shattered windows squatting at the entrance. Through the wide open door lay a makeshift skateboarding ramp molded against a bare wall, likely by local teens looking for kicks and giggles in a creepy place. Out front, a winding metal staircase led upstairs to the boarding gangplank. The entire place was overrun by winding vines and canopy-like leaves, making us nervously joke about how velociraptors could jump out at any moment, just like in previous week’s release of Jurassic World. A quick search of the Korean blogosphere by Jason found a number of rumours surrounding the eerie place. The most impressive was the hushed discussions among local farmers about how the Phoenix looks like a flying ghost ship when the fog rolls in and surrounds the area.
As we debated holding the rust-encrusted guardrail, we stepped along the wooden gangplank gingerly and around several gaping holes caused by decay, while we winced at every groaning creak. We made our way inside the 2nd floor of the 3 storey ship. The place lay in a fire burnt ruin, with charred black everywhere we could see. Rotting rectangular sofas, peeling carpet and leftover menus with flame curled pages littered the entire floor. Shattered glass smothered everything and crunched under our shoes. The bathrooms had the toilets heaved off their foundations and broken tile was scattered all over. A well-decomposed crow lay out on the floor of the lobby, as if right out of an Edgar Allen Poe poem.
At the bow, there was still thick rope intact along the rigging, leading out along the nose and towards a crows nest. On the top deck, everything metal was crusted in a few layers of solid rust, forcing us to try and remember when we had last gotten a tetanus shot. We were amazed and creeped out by the discovery of two wedding dresses layed out on the deck, as well as an abandoned, weathered wedding album. We spent well over an hour with wide eyes and elaborate footwork to discover every part of our unexpected tour spot, and walked away with memories of the most perfect haunted house setting we had ever been to.