The abandoned resort of Saurabol on Jeju island

Mike Grist Haikyo, Hotels / Resorts 7 Comments

Jeju island at the southern tip of South Korea is (apparently) famous for three things- wind, rocks, and beautiful women. I didn’t see many of the latter, but can attest to both of the former, plus a fourth- haikyo resort hotels. Without really going out of our way on a recent holiday there, SY and I stumbled across four abandoned resorts, two of them pretty grand. All of them had been deserted mid-way through construction, leaving only the bones of their underlying structure.

The Saurabol central entrance.

Jeju is a resort island about 80km across, and relies principally on tourism for its income. We went there for a week, staying in three different locations with three different flavors. The first was a ‘pension’, a Western-style boarding-house where we had our own kitchen and BBQ kit on the balcony. Unfortunately I was kind of sick for this stage, so mostly just lay on the bed focusing on feeling better.

Our next hotel was in the Chongmun resort section, with lots of high-class hotels and kind of a Disneyland feel. The Lotte hotel next to us had three massive windmills and a lake and canal system in its grounds. From our balcony I spied a grand-looking grey building, I guessed haikyo. I asked the bell-hop what it was, but he had no idea. The concierge didn’t know either, but asked some of her colleagues who confirmed it was a ruin, a 5-star hotel named ‘Saurabol’, abandoned mid-construction about 10 years ago.

Cool, I thought. The next morning (having recovered from my sickness) we headed out to check it out. I wasn’t carrying my D90 for this trip, since it’s heavy and I didn’t want to lug it around with me every day on the off-chance of seeing haikyo. Instead I had my compact Canon Powershot. Being forced to use a simpler camera was quite revealing though- it let me see the limitations of it better, the power of the D90 more. Chiefly I missed the wider lenses and bracketing ability.

As seen from our 8th floor hotel balcony. Big.

Standing in front, looking left.

Looking right.

Head to one of the 6 flanking blocks.

Approaching the place was very simple- we just got a taxi driver to drop us off. Taxis are super cheap in Korea. We climbed over the fence, and through the vegetation. About halfway to the grey concrete the bushes in front of me rustled, then exploded with a squawk. A fat pheasant popped out and flew off. Shocking. I tried to capture another one on camera, but SY said it had already happened to her twice (!!) while I was round the other end shooting the facade. I guess she flushed them all out, because I couldn`t find any more.


Ground floor, pipes growing like cacti through cement.

Out through the entrance.

A fenced-off hole. Nothing down there but a shallow foundation filled with water.

SY framed this shot- the odd tower in the right background is part of one of the theme-park-ish hotels.

Precarious looking steps.

Down on the steps.

Once inside the floor was strewn with long rusted nails, interspersed with the occasional golf ball. Next to the resort was an active golf course. While we stood on the roof some golfers walked by, staring at us.

Down into the main lobby.

Nicely posed workbench by the edge.

In and out.

Up on the roof.

Buildings like cliffs, vines like the sea, lapping.

Very big chunk of masonry dangling ona few metal threads.

Up close.

That same workbench from the other side, the adjoining building.

During the rest of the holiday we stumbled on three other haikyo, two of which I shot. There were also numerous caves and bunkers in the island’s volcanic rock and coastline, built and used by the Japanese in the period of their occupying Korea. It’s funny how in Japan you never see any mementos of that (quite recent) period of history. In Korea though they are all around.

Finally, a short movie. I wonder that I haven’t made a haikyo movie for a long time. For a while I was really into editing video. Then that just went away. Hmm, anyway-

Saurabol abandoned resort from Michael John Grist on Vimeo.

See a curation of world ruins in the ruins gallery.

See my collection of Japanese ruins (haikyo) in the galleries:

[album id=4 template=compact]

Comments 7

  1. Nice! I had a look for haikyo on Jeju when I went back in the spring, but as we were only there for one whole day, it was mostly sightseeing. Great little island though! Did you see the dan-harrrr-bong statues, or whatever the name was..? :p

  2. I thought you worked out? A D90 is not that heavy of a camera! Did SY bring her D40 with her? Shooting only at eye level again? No portrait orientation shots?

    This haikyo looks pretty big and expansive…and also the site to have some great teenage parties and/or make out sessions.

    I lived on Jeju-do for 3 months, but from November to February, my first winter since I was a child (after most of my life living in warm Florida) so just focused on staying warm in a house with no central heat. Visited the summer before that on vacation in 2000, and had a great time then, hiking Hala-san and visiting the volcano(s) to the east, and especially the seaside cliffs to the south….did you visit those places?

  3. No D90 for this trip? Wow, I was kind of surprised to read that Mike, how could you go on a trip overseas and not want to bring your best camera?

    I like that one wide shot near the top, though the sky blown out. Just cloudy and grey that day? I’m guessing you stitched together a panorama?

  4. Nice post. And nice photos. Love the one of the waves of veg, lapping the concrete. Good to see you’ve taken your haikyo international

  5. I wonder if it’s a good sign or a bad sign to take abandoned places into consideration when planning a trip – but I’m the same. I can’t wait to take pictures of some German haikyo. Must be pretty exotic after only shooting in Japan so far…

  6. Post

    Mike- Cheers, and yeah I remember seeing the totem poles on Jeju on your site. Also you went to the mysterious gravity road too right? We went there. The statues you mention, I don’t really know. We saw lots of rock statues and sculptures in many places.

    Jason- There’s a few non-eye level in here, the shot of the workbench is one, the stairs another. As for portrait style, I took some, but due to using the flip-out screen on my Powershot very few of them were properly aligned, and straightening just made them look weird.

    d90 is not SO heavy, true, but along with 2 lenses and bag it’s cumbersome and heavy enough to be a nuisance. If I’d known about these haikyo before going, I’d have brought it just to shoot them. But I didn’t know about any, was not too bothered to seek any out, and so couldn’t be bothered to carry all the gear around all week speculatively on every trip we took. Was a holiday for relaxing and taking it easy.

    Mike- Yeah, just wasn’t so bothered, really. The wide and distant shot was taken from our balcony, and I just cropped the top and bottom out to focus on the hotel. Cloudy and grey almost every day, but yeah the blown-out-ness is much more noticeable on this camera than the d90, which has some auto-HDR-ing capacity called active d-lighting built in.

    brady- Cheers bud, is perhaps my third haikyo shot overseas. First was the plane on the Korean mainland, and another in the States- an old sanatorium in Kentucky.

    Florian- Actually for this trip I kind of thought I wouldn’t shoot any haikyo, hence bringing only the Powershot. When I saw the Saurabol though from my balcony, I knew I had to investigate.

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