I LOVE creepy and scary places. I love horror movies, suspense thrillers, anything that has a dark undertone to it. And since I travel a lot, I like to fit in some visits to creepy places if I am anywhere near them. Granted, most creepy places seem to be off the beaten track and are not that easy to get to. But when the opportunity presents itself, I have a hard time saying no. I first learned about Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital last year when my photography instructor alerted our class and wanted to organize a group trip down there to practice photography. I of course jumped on that, figuring it would be easier to get to in a group, plus there is the whole safety in numbers concept. Alas the group trip fell through, but I vowed that I would visit Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital before I left Korea last year.
After some hemming and hawing (not because I was scared, but more because it is a bit more of a pain to get to on your own without a car), I finally committed myself one weekend to going. It helped that I told an acquaintance I was going, so I wanted a story to tell on Monday. While Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital is pretty easy to get to in a car, being only a 40 minute drive south of Seoul, it is a bit more complicated to get via public transportation. But it can be done as I demonstrated.
Most people I know don’t do a whole lot of traveling on their own, and I know none of them who would go visit an abandoned psychiatric hospital on their own, particularly one that often makes the list as one of the creepiest places on Earth. But hey, it’s one of those things where I knew if I waited for someone to go with me, I would never go. So I resolved to go on my own.
I researched the hell out of this trip before I went alone. I read nearly every newspaper article and blog post about it (there aren’t THAT many) to fully understand how to get there. Because the hospital is located in a residential area (though a reasonably isolated one), and the hospital has such a creepy reputation, I read that the locals aren’t that forthcoming with the directions. Luckily for me, I found one blog that gave pretty good directions to the hospital (as good as you can give), along with the most helpful thing- the Google navigation coordinates and those would prove immensely helpful for me when I was actually navigating there.
There are a couple of ways to get to Gonjiam, and getting to the town itself is not that difficult. I chose to take Bus 1113-1 from Gangbyeon Station, Exit #1. The ride itself will take around an hour, maybe more depending on traffic. This humid, overcast August Sunday was fairly sparse for traffic, so it didn’t take too long. The hardest part was to know which stop to get off. None of the directions gave a specific bus stop, just started their directions from the center of town. So I sort of miscalculated where to get off, and ended up getting off at a bus stop on the way out of town. This is when the Google coordinates saved my trip, because I honestly never would have found the hospital without them. I can’t give really good directions only because I didn’t follow a straightforward path.
Because I was basically cold navigating off Google Maps, it took a bit more time to find my way there, but soon I saw the directions in the blog posts I researched and knew I was on the right track. And then- BAM! There it was off to my right, the entrance to the hospital road. It is completely gated off with concertina, CCTV cameras and signs in Hangul and English warning trespassers off. However, I knew from my research that it’s not like there were security guards on site to enforce this.
Now here is where I SHOULD have rechecked the blog posts for specific directions on how to get into the hospital, but I foolishly thought I remembered everything so I set out walking. I had the basic idea right, but remembered the specifics wrong. I knew I had to walk past the gate and then turn up and walk around. However for some reason, I thought I had to walk farther than I really did, so I ended up wasting at least 30 minutes wandering around in the woods looking for an entrance before giving up and deciding to go back to the gate. By this time, I decided to recheck the blog posts, because I knew I must have missed something. Thankfully Korea is well covered in 4G network for me to access the Internet.
So I read just how to get past the gate and felt like an idiot, because it was literally 20-30 meters up the road. Per that trip saving blog post, once at the gate, “continue down the road past the fence for about 20 to 30 meters, you’ll come to a light-coloured building on the roadside. Walk around this building and into its backyard area, following the concrete structure uphill into the woods where a trail will appear. Keep along the trail and, just like the movies tell you not to, you can easily walk through the gaps in the fence.” It is literally that easy and I didn’t run into anyone to stop me.
Once you walk through the gap in the fence, you are on the hospital road behind the gate and it is simply a matter of walking a few minutes up the hill to the hospital. It is amazing how the hospital really does look like what you would imagine a creepy, abandoned hospital to be in a horror movie. You just needed some spooky music to complete the tableau. And since I was out there alone, I kept imagining I was in a horror movie, only on my own rather than with a group of clueless friends who are about to get themselves killed.
I arrived at the hospital and then spent some time walking around outside the hospital to find the way in, and getting a clue into how nature has started to reclaim the hospital. It has been abandoned since 1995, and while urban legend will have it attributed to being haunted from ghosts, other killjoy sites will say it was abandoned for more mundane reasons, such as a problem with the sewer system or it was a financial failure. But since I have a dark imagination, I would rather think that the hospital suffered a rash of mysterious deaths in the mid 90s because the clinically insane owner tormented patients and their spirits haunt the hospital to this day.
I knew from my research that there wasn’t a straightforward way into the hospital. It was not simply a matter of walking in the front door, because it was locked up pretty tight. However, previous trespassers had left ways of getting into the hospital. The most recent posts said that there was a ladder that went to an open second floor window. However, that ladder is really no longer necessary. Much to my surprise, you can practically walk through the front door. Or should I say crawl through the front door. The main entrance is covered in rebar, but there is a section on the bottom that allows a human to squeeze through it.
I took one final picture of me outside and posted it on social media, so in case I was killed by vengeful spirits of former patients or by a psycho killer hiding on the premises, at least there would be a record of where to find my body. Considering how difficult it was for me to find the actual hospital, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it was for me to actually get into the hospital. I also saw plenty of graffiti, both in Korean and English, from the thousands of trespassers who blazed the trail for me over the past 20 years.
Once inside, I started to explore. There was plenty of sunlight by the entrance, but the farther down the hall I went, the darker and spookier it got. I came equipped with a flashlight and it helped me peer into the open rooms. It was strange to see evidence of the fact that the hospital was abandoned 19 years prior, such as a calendar from 1995.
Even if this hospital isn’t truly haunted, it is still a fascinating study of what happens when man made structures are abandoned and returned to nature. Man may be able to do amazing things, but nature is one powerful beast that will overtake anything given enough time. I mean, nature has reclaimed whole ancient civilizations and buried them under desert sands or lush jungle forests. So in the space of 20 years, nature has invaded Gonjiam hospital and is slowly taking it back from man.
The hospital has multiple floors, but the ground floor was the darkest and the spookiest in many ways. Even if the hospital was abandoned deliberately for practical reasons, it still seemed eerie to see how disheveled the hospital was. I mean, it’s not like this place was cleaned out in an orderly fashion and all you are seeing are empty rooms. Nope, plenty of furniture was left in the rooms, particularly on the ground floor. I found room after room where mattresses were stacked, wooden furniture was shoved, old blankets were stuffed, all of it slowly rotting from the influx of weather.
In some rooms, it looked they were still set up for patients, only now nearly 20 years had passed. A good chunk of the windows were broken and there was glass everywhere. So, even if it wasn’t the case, it definitely looked like the hospital was abandoned in a hurry, thus lending credence to the idea the hospital was overrun with ghosts. And since this was a former psychiatric hospital, you know that any ghosts that could reside here would be even creepier, because they would be the ghosts of former, mentally ill patients.
Undoubtedly the first floor was the creepiest for me to explore, because it was darker and disheveled. The farther down the hallway I went, the darker it got. I was acutely aware I was alone and every sound was heightened in my senses. Even if I didn’t think there were actual ghosts that would attack me, I kept thinking of live serial killers lurking in the rooms waiting to jump out and kill me. It’s one of those times I felt rather vulnerable and did feel like I was in a horror movie. I kept looking back to the entrance way with the bright sun shining in, like if I could see the light, that would protect me against psycho killers, like the one that inhabited American Horror Story: Asylum.
I went to the second and third floor, though they were not as creepy as the first. Higher floors had more light, so it didn’t feel quite so spooky. Most of those rooms were also empty, so it just felt like I was in an empty building. I did get genuinely spooked a couple times, because I ran into the local cat. I mean, when you are in a creepy, abandoned psychiatric hospital, you do NOT want to hear unfamiliar noises that sound like someone is walking in the same building as you.
The hospital ends in a roof that opens up to the lush view of the forest around me. The whole setup is in one of those rural looking areas that are within walking distance of the town.
Once I satisfied my ghoulish curiosity, I crawled out from where I came and walked back to town to catch a bus back to Seoul. All in all, it was a satisfying trip.
Now, of course, the most important thing: how to get there. There is more than one bus that goes from Seoul to the town of Gonjiam. As I stated earlier, I chose to take 1113-1 bus from Gangbyeon Station, Exit #1, because it was the most convenient for me. But there are other buses that go to the town of Gonjiam, like Bus 500-2 from Gangnam Station, Exit #7, and pretty much any of them will get you where you want to go. Now, unfortunately I don’t have the exact stop to take, since I overshot the bus stop and had to backtrack back. But getting off in the center of town will make it a shorter walk. The directions I read from another blog post was” from the center of town, cross a little bridge and turn right and keep going up the narrow road. The path starts a ways up just after you pass a 2 story brick house.” Yes, that is true, though I can’t find the actual street names I wrote down when I did this trip to make it easier. So the MOST IMPORTANT thing you need for a trip to Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital is the Google coordinates: “37.362433, 127.33474”. These coordinates were a life saver for me. Thank you smart maps and 4G cell networks.
If you like creepy places, have a sense of adventure, and are in the neighborhood around Seoul, definitely take some time to visit Gonjiam Psychiatric Hospital.