Jeju Mysterious Road and Totem Pole Graveyard

By Michael Gakuran | | Adventure | 11 Comments |

A recent trip took me West of Kyushu to a small Korean island known as Jeju, famous for its three plentiful things – wind, women and rocks. What I wasn’t expecting to find was a stunning optical illusion and ghoulish graveyard ruin full of rotting totem poles!


Mysterious Road


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Slightly off the beaten path of luscious waterfalls and beautiful volcanic caves formed by ancient lava flows is an unusual tourist attraction that at first glance seemingly amounts to nothing more than just an ordinary road. But take a closer look and you’ll soon see why it has been dubbed as the ‘Mysterious Road’, or ‘Obake doro’ (お化け道路) – Ghost Road – in Japanese.

Our taxi driver stops the car, turns off the engine and flicks on his hazard lights.

“Watch” he says, grinning to us in the rearview mirror.

Slowly but surely, the stationary car begins to roll and we see the green trees aligning the side of the road creep past us.

“But this can’t be right?” I utter to myself. “We’re looking uphill. Cars don’t roll uphill!”

“Ah-ha” beams our taxi driver, a native of Jeju island. “They do on the ghost road!”

“It’s all to do with an optical illusion you see, the scenery…”

I’m still captivated by the sheer incredulity of the action and don’t really hear his explanation. The car really was rolling uphill! Soon after our driver pulls up the car and tells us to get out.

“Run backwards” he says. “You’ll see”.

Obligingly we do so and soon find that we are picking up speed. The slope is clearly going downhill.

Mysterious-Road

(Image Source: Trip to Korea)

Allegedly the illusion was first discovered by a taxi driver who was driving tourists around the island. One version of the story says that he pulled over the car in order to answer a call of nature, only to find his vehicle creeping away from him back up the hill! It seems to be a fairly popular destination now, with huge tour buses killing their engines to treat the passengers to the weird phenomenon. Here’s a video of the effect:


Totem Pole Graveyard


Tucked away just behind some rickety shacks just opposite the Mysterious Road is a overgrowing patch of grass with some wooden totem poles with twisted faces poking out. I guess it was originally some sort of walk around attraction to boost the attractiveness to tourists stopping by the freaky road, but now it lies rotting and disused. A mini haikyo of sorts.

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It was pouring with rain the day I visited, which only seemed to heighten the striking effect of the monstrous faces and peak my curiosity enough to venture down amongst them.

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A closer look really reveals the natural decay and consumption so very telling of haikyo. It’s almost as if this guy’s teeth are slowly dropping out one by one…

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A few were left standing majestically and eerily amongst a greyed and sombre sky. The only thing lacking was a crack of lightning and rumble of thunder to really seal the effect.

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And some were resting, gracefully being consumed by the surrounding foliage. It hasn’t seemed to have damped this fellow’s spirits though.

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Others were lurking in the background with faces quite horrifying. A sudden squawk and rustle from the tall grass nearby gave me a bit of a fright as the rain continued to pitter-patter upon my umbrella.

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I would be completely freaked out to have come across these in the dark. The eyes seemed to have a supernatural glow…

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What are your thoughts? Have you ever come across a ghost road yourself?

11 comments on “Jeju Mysterious Road and Totem Pole Graveyard
  1. kinmik says:

    there are two popular “ghost road” stories i heard as a child growing up in hawaii. “morgan’s corner” and the pali highway.
    supposedly, my mother was an eyewitness years ago to morgan’s corner. there are different takes on that story, which you can read for yourself on wikipedia (‘folklore in hawaii’), but she said she saw the hangman on the tree.
    as for the pali story, i have heard several first-hand accounts, mainly from tourist friends who didn’t know not to drive with pork through the tunnels.
    i have been engrossed with haikyo since my introduction to it some months ago, and your entries are wonderfully detailed and beautifully photographed. i hope to see more haikyo adventures from you!

  2. Gord Sellar says:

    I have no idea whether that park of jangseung was built as an attraction (though it’s likely; Jeju is full of tourist attractions), but you’re right that they’re supposed to be freaky: traditionally, they were posted as supernatural guardians at the gates of villages.

    Like so many things in Korea, they have been significantly cartoonified in the last decade or two.

    I know it was a long time ago, but I bet you also saw some stone “grandpa statues” (like these fellas) on the island, right? They’re a bit more special to Jeju, where I think the jangseung totems were common all over the peninsula too.

    I also agree with Jason that, as far as Korea-experiences go, Jeju is very pleasant and scenic…

  3. senritsu says:

    there’s at least three of the optical illusion hills in california that i can think of
    and to add to the “intrigue” local kids came up with ghost stories to go along with them
    usually involving a busload of dead students that were hit by a train or something
    and “supposedly if your car is dusty you’ll see children’s hand prints on the back of your car”
    more ghost stories around here than i can count

  4. Irene says:

    I have been on one of those roads near Moncton, New Brunswick (Canada). It's called “Magnetic Hill” but there is nothing magnetic or ghostly about it. It's just an optical illusion.
    When you put the car on neutral, it will roll backwards as if going uphill. It's due to the road and what's on the side of the road sloping in opposite directions.
    If you google” magnetic hill”, you'll see they are all over the world.
    I find your photos of abandoned places and your stories fascinating. I went inside the Hotel Lexington in Chicago just before it was torn down. This is the place where Al Capone had his headquarters. It was like being in a haunted house.

  5. Gakuranman says:

    Interesting to hear that you lived there Jason! Unfortunately I didn't get to the South areas and haven't seen the cliffs and waterfalls yet. We had terrible weather the whole time I was there, including the one full day I spent touring. Definitely a place to hop back to in the summer methinks :)

    Shooting all these photos with a 40mm equivalent (20mm f1.7 on the micro 4/3 mount). Unfortunately there are no good, bright telephoto lenses out for micro 4/3 yet and using an old manual focus lens is just not on most of the time, especially when I'm rushed and bothered by rain like I was here. I wish they would hurry up and start releasing some better lenses ^^;

  6. Jason Collin says:

    I lived on Jeju for a few months a decade ago. It is by far the best place in Korea. Great atmosphere on that island. I liked it a lot. I did not notice a surplus of women though. Will you post the waterfalls and cliffs in the south? Best scenery in all of Korea.

    I still use as my beach towel a Jeju souvenir towel I bought in 2000. Would not part with it.

    Shooting all these shots with a wide angle lens? Do you have a telephoto? Would help you use DoF more to define your subject (poles) from the background more.

  7. Gakuranman says:

    Although it isn't so much the case now, previously there were many women left on the island because young males left for mainland Korea to earn a living. Jeju is also famed for its women surface divers who dive down holding their breath for up to 2 minutes in order to catch food from the sea :)

    P.S Will repsond to your other comments on the 'On Becoming Japanese' post soon.

  8. Gakuranman says:

    Interesting to you that you lived there Jason! Unfortunately I didn't get to the South areas and haven't seen the cliffs and waterfalls yet. We had terrible weather the whole time I was there, including the one full day I spent touring. Definitely a place to hop back to in the summer methinks :)

    Shooting all these photos with a 40mm equivalent (20mm f1.7 on the micro 4/3 mount). Unfortunately there are no good, bright telephoto lenses out for micro 4/3 yet and using an old manual focus lens is just not on most of the time, especially when I'm rushed and bothered by rain like I was here. I wish they would hurry up and start releasing some better lenses ^^;

  9. Jason Collin says:

    I lived on Jeju for a few months a decade ago. It is by far the best place in Korea. Great atmosphere on that island. I liked it a lot. I did not notice a surplus of women though. Will you post the waterfalls and cliffs in the south? Best scenery in all of Korea.

    I still use as my beach towel a Jeju souvenir towel I bought in 2000. Would not part with it.

    Shooting all these shots with a wide angle lens? Do you have a telephoto? Would help you use DoF more to define your subject (poles) from the background more.

  10. Gakuranman says:

    Although it isn't so much the case now, previously there were many women left on the island because young males left for mainland Korea to earn a living. Jeju is also famed for its women surface divers who dive down holding their breath for up to 2 minutes in order to catch food from the sea :)

    P.S Will repsond to your other comments on the 'On Becoming Japanese' post soon.

  11. superyossy says:

    Wind and rock…ok but why women? :-D

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