As mentioned in Buddha’s Birthday Part 1, the main purpose of our long-weekend excursion was to visit the (in)famous Haesindang Park, more popularly known as the Penis Park.
Now when I say that this is literally what it sounds like, it’s quite literally what it sounds like.
But why? WHY on earth is there a park full of penises in one of the most conservative countries in Asia?!
There is a story for it, and one that I’ve heard many versions of. So, just to set the record, I’m going to write what the official tourist brochure said which I was given by a kindly lady working at the information desk.
Legends of Aebawi (rock) and Haesindang (shrine)
[by Haesindang Park]
Once upon a time, in a coastal village there lived a beautiful girl who used to gather seaweed. In the distance there was a rock called Aebawi where plenty of seaweed grew. One day, this young girl was taken out to the rock by a man in a boat. The man, who had a pack [pact?] to marry her, promised to return to the rock to pick her up after she had collected seaweed there and he went back to the village. At dusk, she waited for the man to come and take her home, but he was unable to come and fetch her due to wild waves. That very night a terrible storm arose and a large wave struck the rock, drowning the ill-fated girl. From the time of her death, the fishing catches turned bad for the village and so a rumour started circulating among the villagers that it was due to the dead girl’s bitter soul. Finally, the people of the village decided to offer carved wooden phalluses as a sacrifice inside Haesindang to console the bitter soul of the unmarried girl. Mysteriously, after that, the village again enjoyed a good catch. The ceremony where wooden phallus are offered is still held even today on the first full moon of the lunar year.
In order to get there, we had to pack up all our camping gear before arriving, which unfortunately meant we were stuck carrying all our crap around for the entirety of our time there. Considering the blazing heat and cloudless skies, we were pretty certain this was going to be unbearable.
Much to our surprise, however, we discovered it was set up to be less like an amusement park (such as other Penis Parks around the country in Gyeonggi-do and Jeju-do) and more like a nature walk one might find constructed in the fashion of the Romantic Period with trees and shade everywhere, lush shrubberies, and rock walls with roses.
That is, with the unavoidably obvious difference that there are phallus totems and statues at every turn.
Despite the heat and the awkward, off-balance backpacks we were hauling around though, I still managed to take a fair few pictures, which I will now share with you without further ado.
The trail that we walked through was actually a lot smaller than it looked on the map and so we found ourselves speeding along. There were many paths you could take, some broader and more well-beaten, others more peaceful and through pond areas. We also happened to come across a steep stone stairway that had a sign next to the railing saying “18+”.
Obviously we had to go.
Carefully making our way down the steps (our bags were easily toppling us on flat surfaces never mind 45 degree makeshift rock stairs), we made it to a hut where we were met with this:
Needless to say this was a tad disappointing, but we moved on to the next window where we hoped to see some serious X-Rated shit worth our dangerous-descent while.
But next up were some drug fiends.
Finally we went to the third window.
I guess it was okay.
Alas, for a place of penises, we were a little let down – though I suppose this is pretty damn 18+ for a conservative country that blocks all porn websites.
Luckily the path leading up wasn’t too steep and was made of an actual path instead of a rocky mountain crag – and what was more, it led into an air conditioned building! We flung down our bags and relaxed on the benches for a while whilst taking in our surroundings.
It seemed this was the “serious” portion of the park wherein dioramas were installed to demonstrate the way of the fishing village lifestyle in historical vs. present times. Women used to be the primary divers because their lungs have a greater capacity for oxygen, which they used to do naked until colonials came and shamed them into wearing clothes (impeding their hydrodynamics beneath the waves).
Even today, women still dive and collect fish and other sea creatures for food on the ocean floor, diving up to 12m and staying under as long as 3 minutes. Most of the population who does this is quite elderly, however, as it is a tradition not upheld by the youth who have allowed modern fishing to take over.
There was also a lovely carving of the woman drowned at sea portrayed in a single-piece wood carving of her in a dugout canoe.
This museum section was really well put together, and for anyone with a depthless interest in fishing techniques of old, Korean pottery, and traditional seaside village ways, it is definitely not lacking in information. The only problem is that if you don’t read Korean, you won’t really be able to get much out of it as not all of it was translated.
It was still a lovely reprise from the noon day sun bearing down on us though, and offered lovely views of the Donghae Sea.
There wasn’t much more to the park after the museum except for some gift shops with novelty penis shot glasses and makkeoli cups, so we made our way out.
But we weren’t to be disappointed: we had one last glimpse of a penis, a beacon of light and hope for all lost wanderers on the sea.
In all, I really enjoyed my time here, even if it was a pain in the penis to get to. If I were to offer advice, I’d say don’t go when you’re carrying a ton of fucking bags!! There aren’t any storage lockers and the trail you “hike” leads you to a different point than where you start.
It’s also probably a good idea to go when it’s not high noon since not only will you be sweating, but the sun will throw off your photos by overexposing them – and let’s face it, why are you going if not to take photos?
Entrance was cheap – 3,000W/person, so you don’t really have to worry about that. If you take the bus from Samcheok, it only costs 1,800W and takes about 40-50 minutes depending on how break-neck your driver takes those curves.
I will say though that it’s not tremendously complicated getting to Haesindang Park, but it is inconvenient. Your best bet is if you or someone you can coerce into coming has a car. As we trekked to the bus stop on the side of the highway out the exit, we were definitely wishing we had one.
Otherwise, it was a really cool experience. I’m super happy I got to go before leaving Korea and can scratch that off my bucket list! Definitely take the opportunity if you can, especially if it’s on the way of your travels along the East coast.
Until next time!