History of Abandoned Amusement Park Okpo Land
Much of the actual history of Okpo Land is shrouded in mystery and rumors. It’s not helped by the language barrier: again, I don’t speak Korean, and Google Translate apparently has a much harder time with Korean compared to Japanese (from Takakonuma Greenland). This includes things like the actual opening date of the park. While the closing date is consistent (1999), the internet disagrees on the opening date.
Nearly all of the articles about Okpo Land online are a form of internet telephone, simply copying the same story idea and embellishing it without any efforts at verification of fact. These rumors call the park once one of the most popular theme parks in Asia, which seems hard to swallow. Some claim the park had been operational for decades prior to its 1999 closure.
Okpo Land and South Korea’s Economic Crisis
However, the audience apparently wasn’t particularly interested in visiting Okpo Land. One of the news articles describes Okpo Land as having “sluggish business”. Another article describes the park as having an “operating deficit”. As lawinsider.com defines it: “insufficient cash flow from the Improvements to cover normal operating expenses and maintenance”. A third article blamed the “IMF cold wave”.
I’m not an economist, nor do I play one on TV. But from my understanding, this is how it went. See, in late 1997, there was a financial crisis in East and Southeast Asia, stemming from the financial collapse of the baht in Thailand, which spread and caused financial distress to a number of other countries. South Korea was one of the countries hardest hit by the crisis, and in December of 1997, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped in with a $58.4 billion dollar plan to help stabilize South Korea’s economy. In return, the country had to undergo financial restructuring. “IMF programmes normally seek to reduce current account deficits, keep inflation in check, and keep domestic demand constrained.”
The economy continued to shrink throughout 1998 but seemed to rebound in 1999, with President Kim Dae Jung declaring the crisis over in December 1999.
It was too late, however, for Okpo Land.
It’s clear that against this background of financial crisis, the people of Geoje probably didn’t have the means to be spending money, and if they did, they were going to go to a different, bigger park. Okpo Land, which seems to have been started in a time of financial prosperity in 1996 or earlier, most likely couldn’t draw the paying crowds it needed in the hard times of 1997 and 1998. Before the park could try again in the summer of 1999, it was too late.
The Geoje Times gives May of 1999 as the closure date for Okpo Land, and nearly every other source agrees with this year of 1999.
The Legend of Deaths at Okpo Land
Of course, what I haven’t told you at all is the dark side of the Okpo Land legend.
You know, all the deaths.
Many internet legends talk about the one or more deaths at the park in its early years. And almost all internet legends about Okpo Land talk about the final death, the death in 1999.
See, we haven’t really talked about the park itself – we’ll get there – but there was a duck ride. Not a rollercoaster, as many descriptions say, but a monorail sky cycle business, another of the fun two-person visitor-pedalled rides in the sky. This one had a duck theme, a horrifying, horrifying duck theme.
How can a duck theme be horrifying, you might ask?
The duck on the front of each pedal car had an overly large head, a wide gaping mouth, and two comically large cartoon anime eyes, each pupil staring vacantly in opposite direction. I’ve seen a lot of spine-tingling things in my fascination with abandoned theme parks, but the duck heads from Okpo Land still remain at the top of my “creepiest things” list.
Rides at Okpo Land
I’ve found a few park signs, but as I alluded to earlier, Google Translate has a harder time with Korean than it did with Japanese. However, I’ve spent some time with multiple images of the single park directional signs (two pink signs pointing one direction, two blue signs pointing another) and with the one image I’ve found of a park guide map, and I think I’ve gotten it mostly correct. (Unsurprisingly, AFTER I went through the trouble of sketching off a broken park version. Of course, you know I’ve sketched my own version of the park map to help you understand the layout of the park.
Going from least well-known to most well-known, let’s talk about the rides at Okpo Land.
Small Attractions at Okpo Land
There were these two large high top shoes. Not actually shoes, of course. These were miniature basketball hoops inside shoe facades, branded as “hightops”. It was an arcade game, classic and very cool, apparently manufactured by Skee Ball.
Of course there were basic arcade game staples like air hockey.
And then there was a motion simulator, a Doron Precision Systems SRV brand. Of course, the simulator at Okpo Land was not in such fine shape after its years of abandonment, covered with graffiti in the available images online.
Destroyed arcade games at Okpo Land. 2011.
image courtesy Jon Dunbar/daehanmindecline.com
In the park’s abandonment, all of these arcade games were outside in what appears to be an entrance plaza. This likely wasn’t their original home – the arcade building (labeled as “carnival” on the signs and map) seems to have been targeted by arsonists in June of 2011. However, that being said, these items have always been outside in the plaza in every image I’ve seen of the park, including the earliest images from 2007 and 2008, prior to the fires.
There was also once something called “battery”. I’ve checked and double-checked the translation, and Google’s so proud of this one, they give it a checkmark when I run it through the translation site. There can be seen two large foam-looking items sitting off in the vegetation under the coaster, adjacent to the green battery square. Perhaps this attraction was a gladiator type thing, where guests could put on giant foam fighting gloves of a sort and “batter” one another? I don’t really know. The other idea, based on the two sets of bumper cars and the stack of bumper cars adjacent to this area, is that originally this was also a battery-operated bumper car area.
Things That Go: Train, Bumper Cars, Rocket Ship at Okpo Land
Of course there was a miniature train. It’s an episode of TAC, which of course is more likely to feature a train than a carousel.
Not much is known about the train. It ran in a small circular track roughly directly behind the main entrance, beneath the squirrel coaster. There are almost no pictures of it, but the train and the tracks were left to decay with the rest of the park. Jon Dunbar photographed a rusted shell of an engine on a rusted and overgrown train track during his last visit in 2011.
There were plenty of other things that go, as well.
There were bumper cars too. Actually, there were two sets of bumper cars. One was sort of your basic sleek bumper car. The other set had a more vintage, old-timey overlay. The sleek bumper cars originally ran on a circular area underneath the rocket ship ride, while the vintage looking cars were stored away under a tarp in a storage building. Based on the park map, there was only ever one bumper car area, so perhaps these sets of cars could be switched in and out as themeing dictated.
And then, making good use of the small land area, the flying rocket ship ride. The bumper cars were on a circular area at ground level, and the rockets sat on a circular platform above them, higher up in the air.
Carousel and Viking Ship at Okpo Land
The carousel at Okpo Land is actually right next to the entrance gate and ticket booth. It’s not particularly special, in my opinion. The carousel structure itself is nicely detailed, but the horses are rather horrifying. Most of them have red eyes and leering grins, and there’s not much in the way of other detailing. These are low-budget carousel horses, not made from a particularly nice mold.
Some say that one has only horses and the other has many animals. Others point to the spin direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) or whether the twinkle lights are clear or colored. No matter what the point of comparison, there are as many rides that break the “rules” as fit them. So choose whichever name you like.
Carousel or merry-go-round, it’s abandoned just the same. 2011.
image courtesy Jon Dunbar / daehanmindecline.com.
In the park’s abandonment, the horses are one of the more persistent amusements to be repurposed. They appear to have rusted out from the base carousel structure fairly quickly. Therefore, they were not only used for a photo prop in the standard way, but were carried around the park, placed in bumper cars, and general had a fun time with. Some were painted black, as if a vat of black paint were dropped over the top of them, and honestly it’s an improvement.
The abandoned carousel at Okpo Land is incredibly eerie – a rusting-out base, often filled with pools of water; tilting, fallen-over horses; knocked-in decorative panels; and still-bright, fiberglass decorations, broken but gleaming under the rust and creeping vegetation.
Swimming Pool and Other Buildings at Okpo Land
Before I get to the two “big” rides, let me talk about the swimming pool and the other buildings at Okpo Land.
Per the park map, there were a variety of other buildings in Okpo Land. In the park’s abandonment, this isn’t really clear – one completely graffiti and destroyed building without any remaining signage pretty much looks like another. But according to the map, there were multiple buildings labeled “store”, a place for karaoke, and several “restaurants” and “restrooms”. A fairly large building on the map that isn’t ever seen in the exploration photos is the roller skating rink, which would’ve been behind the Viking ship. Maybe it wasn’t a building but just a flat concrete area?
It’s really hard to accurately capture in any photo. But there was something called a “four seasons sliding range”, otherwise known as a long concrete slide down the hill, from the roller coaster area down by the swimming pool, all painted brilliant green, and perhaps originally covered in astro turf. Were there inner tubes or slick mats to slide down on? It’s not clear, and those small artifacts are long gone, or simply uninteresting, to any of the urbex photos available.
Squirrel Roller Coaster and Rok ‘n Roll at Okpo Land
Squirrel Coaster = Fantasy Express
The squirrel coaster is the park’s second-most famous ride. The RCDB doesn’t know the name of it, just calling it unknown coaster. It took me a long time to find a name for it – the map I found that once was displayed in the park has the coaster shown but not captioned! Can you believe that? It was a struggle, folks. But eventually I found another map with one additional line in the key, and the name: Fantasy Express. I love it. Squirrel coaster = Fantasy Express.
Anyhow, this is a cute little basic coaster. The track itself isn’t particularly noteworthy – just a simple shape without any inversions.
What IS noteworthy is the location (up on a hill, overlooking the harbor, adding to the thrill, and the theme. This coaster has a squirrel theme, or perhaps a chipmunk theme. A fat, gleefully chubby animal decorates the front of the car. He clutches what is presumably a nut or acorn in between his clasped hands. However, the casual glance makes it look perhaps a bit more salacious. I’ll leave it at that.
This coaster is also somewhat notable in that the coaster train (singular) is permanently stuck on the lift hill, unable to move either forward or back at the movement of explorers. This has led to some striking photos of Okpo Land taken from the top of the coaster’s lift hill, looking back down: a gleeful woodland animal smiling back up at you almost menacingly, halfway up the lift hill; the blue roofs of the pool and sauna complex glittering with reflected light from the nearby harbor on the left; and the green, tangled climbing vines on the right, taking back the coaster and the rest of Okpo Land.
Rock ‘ n Roll OR Squirrel Buckets
Nestled up above the squirrel coaster by the Space Fighters and the ducks was another often photographed ride. This one probably has the best name of them all, and I double-checked my translations multiple times. That’s probably what made research for this episode take so long. Anyhow, Google Translate tells me the name of this ride is…Squirrel Buckets.
Yep, squirrel buckets. I don’t even know about the etymology of that one. This is a beautiful version of the classic Rock ‘n Roll / Looper ride that was popular a couple of decades ago. And of course, you can find an operational version of the ride at Knoebel’s in the US. Still not ringing a bell? Tuna cans on a carousel frame, and they all go round and round. I think it’s such a picturesque ride, but I would never ever ride this one.
In the park’s abandonment, climbing vines took over this ride most of all, and in many pictures, you can only see the decorative finial at the center post of the ride, surrounded by subtle mountains of green.
SQUIRREL BUCKETS. 2011.
image courtesy Jon Dunbar / daehanmindecline.com
Duck Sky Cycle at Okpo Land
Of course, the park’s most famous, or infamous, ride is one we’ve already touched on, so I’ve saved it for last. Referred to on the guide maps simply as “Sky Cycle”, this is the supposed killer ride, the eerie, duck-themed ride that still gives me the creeps every time I scroll past an image of that gaping duck mouth.
Why, why would someone ever make a ride with such an eerie, chilling duck-faced overlay? Why is something simple like a children’s themed duck ride so unsettling in a world of admittedly much worse horrors? I can’t explain it.
Whether or not the duck sky cycle actually killed someone, what IS clear is that one of the sky cycle trains is on the track … wrong.
Let’s back up a little. This is different from the sky cycle at Takakonuma Greenland. There, you had spindly little individual cars. Here at Okpo Land, the sky cycles have a solid overlay of duck theme. At first glance they appear to be connected in trains, but closer inspection of the photos indicates that the cars are separate, with bumpers on the front and back of individual cars to keep them from coming too close to one another.
Anyhow, there are many duck sky cycle cars in repose at the station at Okpo Land. It appears that there’s a side spur, where cars can be switched on and off the main track when higher capacity is needed.
All of the ducks face the same direction, going clockwise around the track.
Two cars, two ducks, face the opposite direction (counter-clockwise). The front car is on the station platform, and the back car is missing its’ duck head facade, dangling, chick butt facing the ground.
Let me stop and tell you right now. That story, about the car derailing and killing the girl, and being left to dangle in place in the spot where she died?
Let me tell you what I think, and fast forward if you’d rather I not squash your theories about the legend of Okpo Land.
There’s no possible way that a sky cycle car would be placed on the track going the wrong direction (counter-clockwise) when all the other sky cycle cars are going clockwise.
My hypothesis is that a person visiting the park in its abandonment decided, for whatever reason, to turn a car or two around. Is this possible?
The car clearly has two Miller patented underfriction wheels in front, the kind used on nearly every modern coaster to keep cars from flying off the track during fast turns. The wheels are meant to go on either side of the track, keeping the cars in place.
Their eyes are watching you.
image courtesy Jon Dunbar / daehanmindecline.com
In the back, however, from looking at other cars, we can see underneath the “duck butt” where passengers would sit and pedal, there are simply some flimsy-looking metal arms, guiding the car roughly on the track. Likely, the car’s weight and the passengers’ weight were presumed to keep the car in place.
I think what happened is that some people were having a good time and tried to turn two of the cars around. Or, perhaps not that, but were trying to “get the cars off the tracks” presumably to have fun with them in various places around the park. So these imaginary people lifted the backs of the cars up and wriggled and wrenched them until they could swing the cars around off the track.
Then what? You can’t carry them down the stairs – too heavy. So they pushed the cars backwards along the track and tried to push them over the edge of the station. But for whatever reason, they couldn’t, or didn’t, finish the task. So one car was left cockeyed at station level, and the other was left dangling over the edge by a single wheel. This one they tore the duck facade off.
From there, rumors could easily spread, as it is easy to imagine a horrific fate from such a wrenching-looking situation. But truly, the ride in operation would not have derailed this way, with all of the other cars the way they are.
This is only a theory about what happened to the sky cycle, but I’d say it’s a guess close to the truth.
A girl may have fallen off the duck ride and died, I don’t know about that – it is awfully high. But the car wasn’t left dangling in its place – that’s just not how the ride would be set up. The final, ominous positions of the broken duck cars were most certainly done after the fact.
Demolition of Okpo Land
It wasn’t until late 2011 that the park was actually demolished, over a decade after its closure.
In the meantime, plenty of urban explorers visited and photographed the park. You can find all kinds of photos and trip reports linked in my references section (below). Seemingly on each visit, the beheaded duck facade was in a different place – was it on a visitor this time, was it on a carousel horse, was it tucked away in the vines to try and spook someone?
Ultimately, it appears the park became a target of vandalism and arson until the city and the ownership companies couldn’t ignore it any longer. It was called the “city’s monster”, collecting trash and garbage, becoming increasingly rusted and blighted up on top of the hill right over the harbor.