Everland: The Happiest Place in Korea

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Theme parks are more of a Western convention than an Eastern one, and while Tokyo and Hong Kong both sport Disney franchises of their own – it’s perhaps safe to say that people are more inclined to think of tea ceremonies and temples when they think of Asia than roller coasters and ferris wheels.

A younger, less beardy Chris posing at the Everland entrance

I was certainly surprised to find that Everland existed, and even more pleasantly surprised when I found that it was actually a hell of a lot of fun to visit.

Everland lies outside of Seoul near the small town of Yongin, and in 2007 ranked as the tenth most visited theme park in the world. You might not have heard of it, but the locals turn out in record numbers to experience what I equate to a Disney lite experience. I first visited the park in September of 2008 with my friend Tash, who had just arrived in the country.

Rather than taking the slower bus out for our day at the park, we sprung 40,000 won (around $40) for the cab ride that deposited us safely at the front gates. The air was crisp and cool as we made our way to the ticket booths and, like a much younger Chris had done countless times at Dream World in Australia, I felt a stupid sense of excitement as I heard the distant screams of roller coaster riders and smelt the mixed scents of Korean cuisine and traditional American theme park fare.

Entry into the park by day will set you back 38,000 won and runs a little cheaper by night. You can also purchase tickets for multiple days or ones that grant you access to Caribbean Bay – Everland’s sister water park.

Once through the gates you’re greeted by tourist information in Korean, English, and Chinese – as well as a vast courtyard area full of photo opportunities. Since we were there for Halloween, we got plenty of chances to pose with ghosts and oversized jack o’lanterns along the way.

Having skipped breakfast, our first port of call was to one of the many restaurants in the area. While churros, hot dogs, and pizza were on offer from various vendors – we instead opted for a sit down bulgogi dinner that wasn’t half bad.

Our hunger temporarily satiated, it was off to try out some of the rides on offer. At the time, Everland boasted three real rollercoasters – although I’m sad to report that the Eagle’s Nest has since closed. It’s a shame too, the suspended rollercoaster shot you through fairly dense treetops at high speeds and was a blast to ride. I believe I rode it three times on my first visit.

The truly terrifying T-Express from afar

The other two rollercoasters aren’t at all bad though. The Rolling X Train boasts the typical loops and corkscrews you’d most commonly associate with a coaster, while the terrifying T-Express has the distinction of being the steepest wooden roller coaster in the world. Queue times generally run up to two hours though, so bring an iPod or iPhone to occupy you. It’s worth the wait though. My ride on the T-Express is the only time I’ve ever felt really scared on an amusement park ride. Loved it.

Everland also boasts a whole range of other rides and attractions. Just a few of the rides on site include:

  • Amazon Express: Get drenched riding through a simulated river.
  • Double Rock Spin: Similar to the Wipeout at Dream World in Australia.
  • Columbus Adventures: Traditional viking boat style.
  • A massive ferris wheel with a great view of the rose gardens.
  • The aforementioned colossal rose gardens.
  • A somewhat depressing zoo.
  • A large bird and reptile display.

The rides are really the main reason why you’d be at Everland, but don’t discount some of their other attractions. The bird and reptile houses are both entertaining, and you’d be surprised at how much fun it is to be in a cage full of budgies and have them alight on you in search of seed.

The rose gardens, while not my cup of tea, impressed an avid gardener like my father. There’s a small zoo on hand with various animals from around the world including kangaroos, meerkats, and a pair of lion cubs in a depressingly small concrete room. Since I’ve last visited there’s also some kind of zoo ‘ride’ in which you can see elephants, giraffes, and tigers too.

I say ‘depressing zoo’ above because, by and large, Koreans and animal cruelty seem to go hand in hand. Between the way dogs are prepared for soup (a whole other story), the way every single cat in the country has a broken tale, and the way most zoos seem to be little more than concrete enclosures – you’re not going to find many well cared for animals on the peninsula that aren’t toy poodles in handbags.

There’s plenty more to see and do at the park, and to be honest you’ll probably need more than a day to do it justice. There are accommodations available on site that tend to run a bit pricey, but nearby Yongin, Suwon, and even Seoul will offer up something more affordable if you don’t mind footing the transportation bill.

If you’re feeling a little homesick for Disneyland or Six Flags, you’re not going to find it in South Korea – but Everland goes as close as you’re going to get without a trip over to Tokyo. The T-Express is a truly world class roller-coaster and there’s a lot of charm in the Korean culture attempting to fuse with the very American decadence of a theme park. You’ll get a little nostalgia as you munch on a Cinnamon coated churro or a slice of super cheesy pizza. There’s even snow cones and the obligatory overpriced photos of you screaming your ass off on a roller coaster!

Everland seems to be perennially crowded regardless of when you go, but I’d imagine a rainy day would keep the masses away. Koreans tend to stay indoors when the weather outside isn’t favorable. The same holds true for any theme park though, I’d imagine.

I’ve never had the chance to pay a visit to Caribbean Bay or to Lotte World in Seoul, so I can’t compare the experiences – but I can recommend a visit to Everland if you’re in Korea for more than a few weeks. It’s not worth a visit if you’re in Korea for a cultural experience, but for nostalgia and a way to make your kids hate you less for taking them to South Korea on vacation – Everland does the trick.

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