Why I Broke Into An Abandoned Hotel in Korea [Part 1]

I caught a glimpse of a black cat sleeping on a metal blockade stretched alongside the countryside road.

As I walked closer, no movement.

“Here kitty.” I said, in an attempt to get its attention. Still no reaction.

Upon further inspection, lifeless.

Never mind that, I thought. Behind this tall blockade lied an old abandoned hotel, “Ganghwa World,” named after the small countryside island in South Korea, Ganghwa-Do. Ganghwa-Do is anecdotally regarded as the birthplace of the Korean people, as many historical artifacts can be found within its vast fields. I found myself in Gilsang, a small rice-farm town within the island, home to Jeondeungsa, one of the oldest temples in the entire country. What was once a thriving destination is now merely a minor tourist stopover struggling to sustain a rapidly diminishing town where students are trained to leave and never come back. On weekdays, Gilsang is visited by a handful of elderly Koreans and Chinese nationals. And me.

Ganghwa World: a long-abandoned hotel.

Maybe the cat, laying with its eyes and mouth wide open, was foreshadowing what was behind the blockade: remnants of life that existed years ago, but have long passed. Much like this town. Whatever happened that left this building abandoned, I didn’t care. I just knew one thing for certain:

I need to go inside. 

I started walking around its perimeter to see if there were any open doors or uncovered ground. Nothing. It was blocked shut with huge metal chains binding the main entrance. Dejected, I started to lose hope. I stood there silently for quite some time, staring into the hotel’s empty windows. As people walked by, they gave me a confused look, wondering why I was loitering outside this dump of a building.

Maybe next time, I thought.

As I was heading back to the bus stop, I suddenly found an opening. There was a small dirt gap below the main entrance, a sliver of hope that was less than two feet wide and no more than 10 inches tall. For five minutes, I contemplated many questions: should I trespass into this hotel, will I fit into this tiny hole, will there be people inside, and isn’t this how every “missing persons” stories begin? My heart was racing at the possibilities.

I came this far, I kept repeating to myself, and I wasn’t going to leave empty handed. Determined, I threw my backpack over the blockade, got on the ground, and started crawling towards the other side.

No turning back.

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