When alone in nature, your world is at peace. Everything is calm, and the forest is your friend because you feel as if you’re the only person to have ever walked the path before you.

When alone in an abandoned building, those feelings are reversed. Why is this building here, why is it abandoned, who might still be lurking in the dark shadows? There’s something sinister about a structure that was obviously erected at great expense, then simply left unused.

An abandoned hotel movie set

On the island of Jeju, the ‘Hawaii of South Korea,’ I heard about an abandoned hotel movie set. I couldn’t resist checking it out for myself. Excitedly, a few friends and I bundled into the back of a minivan and went in search of this elusive structure. A short while later, we spied a grand castle-like building from the main road. Could this really be it?

Dodging some barbed-wire fencing and pushing our way through thick foliage, we made our way towards the towering, elaborate beast. What we found blew our minds. We were greeted by a structure adorned with fine detailing, and on the grounds were both water features and a swimming pool.

Like kids on Halloween, we rushed around, drinking in the visual candy. One of the doors was open, so we took this as an opportunity to explore inside. There we found pianos, beds, a bar, and one hell of a lot of everything else. Lighting equipment worth thousands of dollars had simply been left behind, and the whole space could’ve served as a real hotel if there’d been staff…until we realised the towers were mock features with no access, there were no actual bedrooms, and some doors opened onto nothing. I felt like a ghost exploring a sacred and hostile place — no one knew we were there, no one else existed in the world.

Our first view of the abandoned hotel movie set. The creators even took the time to install water features.

The interior of the movie set.

You can be forgiven for believing that the dining room is still functional.

An abandoned circus

Because of this experience, my appetite was whetted. I wanted to see more places like this, to feel that same rush of excitement you feel when you have something amazing all to yourself. The next place we found was an abandoned circus. A circus is a creepy place at the best of times, but devoid of humans and lighting, even more so.

We walked into the deserted arena, hallucinating dark shapes around us until our eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. I could imagine clowns and horses dancing across the stage many years ago. With tentative steps, we explored every room, every corridor, curious and wary of what we might find. Then I came across a box that delighted me: Inside was a dragon head and clown costumes! Alone, I slipped on the headpiece and an electric blue clown outfit to hide my own clothing. Then I marched across the arena in the darkness, not responding to the calls of my friends, with the full intention of terrifying them. It made them suitably uncomfortable.

The view of the circus arena from the stands.

Playing dragon dress-up after using the costume to scare people.

An abandoned school

The next building we found was an abandoned school. Once again, it had been allowed to fall into disrepair, but unlike the other buildings, it had suffered huge amounts of vandalism. Every window had been broken. Was this a sign of past students wanting revenge? South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in all the world, and the intense education system is a major cause of this.

Inside one of the rooms in the school, there were signs that someone had been living there and keeping large birds. This was our creepy cue to leave the place.

The main view of the abandoned school.

The room in which someone has been living and keeping birds.

From the roof of the school, you can see Hallasan, the largest mountain in Korea.

Paradise no more

The most recent abandoned building I’ve found is the jewel in the crown of discoveries. Named Paradise Hotel, it’s a luxury resort complete with spa, sauna, and outdoor swimming pools. Although all of the doors were open, we entered through the basement and found ourselves plunged into darkness amidst a maze of twisting corridors and impenetrable blackness. We had only one phone screen between us to use as a light source, and it offered little information about our surroundings.

Leaving the basement, we explored the bar, the dining room, the ballroom, and the reception area before moving on to the bedrooms. Here we found price lists. A regular room cost $370 a night while the deluxe rooms were $800 a night. This wasn’t a cheap place to stay. The rooms themselves were being invaded by nature as it battled to reclaim land it once owned, but the resort was so large that it’ll still be standing for many decades or centuries.

Entering an open door to the roof, my friend and I stood to take a harmless photo of ourselves wearing smoke masks we’d found in the hotel. A security guard appeared below and begun shouting at us. We quickly put back the smoke masks and disappeared without a trace, our adventure over for the day.

In the basement, we could see almost nothing.

Only with the magic of the camera restoring lost details were we able to see the mould and destruction around us.

The reception desk and breakfast dining area.

The view of the swimming pools and sea from the roof.

Why so many abandoned buildings?

I started to become curious about why there were so many abandoned buildings. The general consensus was that Jeju is a lucrative tourist island, so presumably many people invested lots of money building structures, only to find their ventures unsuccessful. As no one else is willing to take over an unsuccessful business, the buildings are simply left to be taken over by nature. Each individual building has its own story, and I can’t wait to find more.

My only sadness is this: I can’t help but wonder about these structures. Couldn’t they be put to better use than just sitting around doing nothing? Could you house homeless people in them (or the deprived people of North Korea, so very close at hand), make them something to be proud of? Or will they sit there unused with security guards who chase you away forever? I hope someone comes up with a good idea to reinvent these fantastic structures.

Rules for exploring abandoned buildings
  • Don’t steal anything. It’s not yours and theft is not okay.
  • Leave it as you found it. Don’t break anything — you’re only a guest.
  • Don’t force entry. If you do, you’re trespassing, and this is illegal.