Halloween 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 be spotted in storefronts while costumes can be purchased at supermarkets and specialty stores. Kindergarteners go trick-or-treating at their English hagwons and bars offer cash prizes to the best-dressed vampire, cartoon character or sexy bunny.
This year, there are a number of events going on in Seoul around the 31st (including a Halloween pub crawl, a Halloween booze cruise, a Rocky Horror Picture Show production, a pet costume contest, and Halloween parties at my favorite bars Southside Parlor and Mix & Malt) but if you’re like me, you simply cannot wait until the end of the month to start celebrating.
Check out my suggestions below on how to get into the Halloween spirit, Korean 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 or attraction brochures.
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.
The Dark Side tour has been in operation for a few years now, but it has already been rated one of the best city tours in Seoul, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Joe, who studied Korean history in university, is extremely knowledgeable about the lesser-known aspects of Seoul’s history and navigates the dimly-lit back alleys of the city like he’s lived here his entire life.
He also has a seemingly endless list of ghost stories and urban legends to tell tour participants and conveys them in an entertaining way.
When I joined the tour, our group had an unusual encounter when a fellow tour mate told us she was picking up a lot of energy. This energy, she said, came 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 Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8pm in October. For more information or to make a reservation, click here.
The Sinister Side of Seoul
After checking out the Dark Side of Seoul and exploring the haunted areas downtown, why not create your own horror tour itinerary and check out a few additional sinister spots around the city, including a prison where Japanese colonialists tortured Korean independence fighters and a mountain where one of the country’s most notorious serial killers buried his victims.
For a complete list of these darker corners of Seoul, click here.
Wax Museum Haunts
There’s something about wax museums that’s, well… creepy. I mean, just walking through the place makes you wonder if those eerily realistic, life-sized figures come to life when the lights go down and the doors are locked.
From October 14 to 21, visitors can get into the Halloween spirit all the while rocking out to Michael Jackson’s Halloween album “Scream.” This “thriller” of an event is only enhanced by fun augmented reality experiences that can be had throughout the museum.
On October 28 from 2 to 5pm, visitors of all ages can get a scary makeover, thanks to the Halloween makeup services on offer.
Walk Like a Zombie
Zombie Walk Seoul began in 2012 as the first international zombie walk parade in Korea. Last year, over 500 participants donned in tattered clothes and creepy makeup marched through the streets of Shinchon and Hongdae to frighten unsuspecting passers-by.
Now in its sixth year, it’s expected to be bigger and better than ever. Join Seoul’s undead for some Halloween fun on Saturday, November 4 at 3pm in Sinchon. For details, click here.
Lotte World Zombie Party
If you can’t make the Zombie Walk, or you just can’t get enough of zombies, stop by Lotte World in Jamsil in the evenings from now until November 5 for a show you’ll never forget. Zombies come to life to feast on unsuspecting visitors. Think chainsaws, Walking Dead-like zombie moves and makeup that’s the stuff of nightmares.
There are also plenty of spooky, Halloween-themed rides and experiences that are sure to give you the scare you seek in the evenings, while children can enjoy the park’s “Cute Halloween” events before sunset, including the Happy Halloween Parade.
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 “Blood City,” complete with over-sized jack-o-lantern decorations, a cute parade for children, and the Horror Village, the perfect place to get your Halloween chills and thrills. In 2017, it will operate from now until November 5.
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 creepy Korean ghosts and folktale creatures sneak around in the shadows, terrifying unknowing visitors.
There are two horror mazes (open 11am-7pm) in the village that require an additional fee (around 5,000 won) and a wait in a long line but are worth every won.
In Horror Maze 1, your group will be given only a single flashlight to navigate your way through a building constructed to look like a madman’s shed of mangled body parts and Frankenstein-like human experiments. Incredibly creepy but so much fun! (Tip: Tickets to the Horror Maze are limited so be sure to book your time as soon as you arrive at Everland.)
Additionally, a Horror Safari will take you on a wild ride through African terrain… infested with zombies. For more information on Everland, including admission costs and directions, click here.
Shots Served by Zombies
Still not enough zombie action for ya? Then why not have a few drinks at Noneun Zombie in Hongdae?
At this quirky pocha (a bar that requires the purchase of food), things seem pretty normal. That is, until the lights go out and the sirens sound…. and an army of zombies attack! Some may grab you and encourage you to down your Zombie Shot, others may dance to Big Bang tracks. Either way, it’s an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
The place gets pretty packed starting at 10pm, so consider arriving early.
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: CultureView.com]
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. Train to Busan is yet another favorite that follows a crowd of passengers on the KTX as they try to survive a zombie outbreak spreading quickly across Korea.
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. (Note: As of 2015, Blue Fairy Cafe is now closed.)
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.
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.