A Visit to South Korea’s Park of Giant Penises
I decided to visit South Korea on a whim. Besides their fascination with cheesy boy bands and an apparent aptitude for fried chicken I knew absolutely nothing about the country, but I was starting in Japan and finishing in Vietnam with plenty of time to kill in between so, geographically speaking, it was the logical choice. I jumped on Google and that’s where I found it, buried amongst the lists of obscure animal cafes and beautifully built temples, the great Haesindang Park.
“A beautiful site of phallic worship,” read one review. “A bunch of dicks on a cliff,” read another. I’d heard whispers of such a place, seen an article or two flash across my feeds, but never did I imagine that a visit to the infamous ‘Penis Park’ would be within my reach. I excitedly began to do my research. The park was four hours away from anything else monumental in a tiny, otherwise unexciting, fishing village that was quite difficult to get to, and in which cheap accommodation was scarce. Was I really going to make this arduous journey and blow my budget on a few carved penises? You bet your sweet bippy I was.
I had a pretty impressive itinerary drawn up for my three-month trek across Asia. I would be taking part in traditional ceremonies, visiting ancient temples, exploring natural landscapes, and eating my way through famous food markets. But when asked what I was most excited about I couldn’t help but smirk, because despite all the incredible experiences ahead Haesindang always sprung to mind. As I paid my entrance fee and wandered through the gates I was hit with a wave of dread. I’d spent months preparing for, and bragging about, this day, and really, it is just a bunch of dicks on a cliff. What if I had over-hyped it? But as I rounded the bend and the first giggle escaped me, I knew I had nothing to worry about.
Several wooden sculptures peered at me through the trees. Some had faces; exaggerated features carved into the dark wood, not unlike the totems used by the native Americans. Others were simpler, featuring feathered designs which curled around their length. But all of them had one feature in common; the unmistakable hood rounding out the top of each pole giving them their phallic nature. I stood laughing manically on the path for quite some time before moving to inspect them individually, giggling uncontrollably as I neared each one. How on earth did this place come to exist? I managed to quieten down long enough to take a few photos before, eager to learn more, I continued inside.
I soon discovered the local legend behind the park; the story of a young woman named Aerang who was due to be wed but instead drowned at sea. After her death, the villagers were unable to catch any fish and blamed Aerang’s ghost for their misfortune. They believed she was angry at having her wedding night stolen from her so, rather than undertake any of the usual methods of calming an angry spirit, they decided to carve her a giant penis. Luckily for them, the penis worked. Aerang was, ah, satisfied, and the ocean was filled with fish once more. They uphold the tradition by holding a religious ceremony and carving a new penis twice a year, hence Haesindang Park.
The next feature I stumbled upon was the figures representing the twelve zodiacal deities. I stood in awe at the semi-circle of white pillars that surrounded me, standing gloriously on the cliff’s edge, framed by the sparkling coastline. It was breath-taking. I couldn’t help but collapse onto the bench behind me and gawk…until I looked down and realised that the polished white marble I sat on was also a beautifully carved penis, and the manic laughter returned.
I spent the rest of the day prancing around like a 14-year-old in a sex shop, giggling uncontrollably at every new feature I found. I was cautious at first. “You are a mature, 25-year-old adult in a very traditional country,” I told myself while I discretely set up my self-timer. As I smiled politely at my phone the crowd beside me erupted into hysterics. An elderly Korean woman was wrapped around one of the pillars with her tongue dangling at the camera, another woman stood beside her clutching at her own crotch. One of the men in the crowd noticed me looking on and beckoned at me to jump in the photo beside them. My sense of shame quickly subsided after that.
If the phallic worship and the incredible scenery isn’t enough to draw you to Haesindang, come for the atmosphere. It usually takes something stronger to rid me of my inhibitions but Haesindang provided a new kind of high. I watched as hordes of grown-ups galloped around the park, shouting and laughing at one another as easily and as energetically as children in a playground. The increased anxieties and the endless reservations that came with travelling solo melted away as I became part of the commotion. I lost track of how many strangers I’d had my arms around or how many photos I’d jumped in, and it didn’t matter that nobody else spoke English; laughter and raunchy hand gestures were universal. I left the park that afternoon, with sore cheeks and a camera roll full of potential new tinder pictures, knowing I would never again have an experience quite like it.
Images by the author