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The Purple Islands: Visually Beautiful but Secretly Awful?

As social medias turn more towards photography based content, the search for beautiful locations has increased. Whether they’re beautiful because of the natural environment or the aesthetic we’ve implemented into places, we can’t deny the attraction to beautiful places. Over the years, more and more places have started appearing as “beautiful” locations for photos. One of the more popular aesthetics used for these beautiful locations includes colors. Some places are just a pretty use of colors, but other places are just one color. In South Korea, there’s a place called the Purple Islands covered entirely in—you guessed it—the color purple.

What are the Purple Islands?

The Purple Islands are a set of two islands—Banwol and Bakji, connected by a purple bridge—that have been decorated in the color purple. Both of these islands are relatively small, so they’ve become quite popular for tourists to come visit and take pictures while out walking.

Where are they?

The Purple Islands are on the Southwest side of South Korea. They’re in the Sinan County—or the group of Sinan Islands.

screenshot of map of south korea

Why are the called the Purple Islands?

As you can imagine, everything on the Purple Islands is purple. The roads are painted purple, the buildings are painted purple, the rice has been dyed purple, they serve food on purple plates, the locals dress in purple, the flowers are purple… I think you get the point.

How do you get to there?

It depends on where you’re coming from, but if you come from Seoul you have a few different options. Of course, you can just drive down. Or you can take a few different busses/trains/etc. However, cars are not allowed on the islands. The only way to get onto the islands is to walk across the Purple Island Bridge.

So, if you’re driving there, you’ll have to leave your car in the parking lot and walk from there.

There’s also a fee to get onto the islands (unless you’re wearing purple, of course). It’s 3,000 KRW for Adults; 2,000 KRW for Teenagers; and 1,000 KRW for Kids. If you wear purple, you get free entry to the islands.

Natives?

Actually, there are a few natives still on these islands. There’s not a lot, far less than you can imagine. Since both islands are predominantly farmlands, most of the natives still on the islands are farmers. They’re mostly older people, too, since many of the younger generations left. This is why the islands have taken so much to being a tourist attraction, because their population is lowering.

The History of the Purple Islands

Contrary to how captivating that purple color might make the islands look, there’s actually a history about the islands that we should discuss. There’s a little bit of a dark history beneath the purple color—which wasn’t there until recently.

When did the islands become purple? Why purple?

In 2015, the government began the process of turning everything purple on the Banwol and Bakji islands as part of an initiative to create attractive islands. They wanted the Purple Islands to be popular island destinations for visitors and locals alike.

The choice of purple came from the purple bellflowers that adorned the islands. Not only does the color choice match the flowers, but it’s such a pretty color that it’s become the main attraction of these islands. (It also brings in many BTS fans—ARMY—for the color within the fandom is purple. There’s even a spot on the island that says: “I Purple You.” Which is what BTS member V, Kim Taehyung, says quite often).

The Dark History of the Purple Islands

With any location you travel to, you should be checking into the history of those locations (mainly the recent history). Sometimes, going to places without any backstory can have you supporting something you didn’t quite want to.

As with many other places, there’s more to the Purple Islands than their pretty lavender color. The purple only came in 2015… so what were the islands before that?

As I mentioned earlier, the Banwol and Bakji islands are a part of the Sinan County. The Sinan County has a bit of a… reputation. And not a good one.

Around 2015, a UK based reporter went to South Korea to investigate reports of modern day slavery. The program Unreported World released a 20-some minute segment from this investigation. You can watch it here:

 

It shows the reality of what was going on with the Sinan County. The reporter found that not only were there people being forced into doing labor work on the salt farms—salt is a big industry within this county because of how good it is—but most of the people were mentally handicapped. Many of these people were victims of human trafficking, taken without choice to work in rough conditions.

In addition to the reports of slavery and human trafficking, there was also a widely known sexual assault in 2016 that garnered a lot of attention. You can read about this incident in this article from the Korea Herald.

These main incidents brought uproar because of how unhelpful the Sinan County government/police seemed to be. Many have speculated that the police were even aware of the slavery occurring, but did nothing about it.

Why might the Purple islands now be an attraction?

Given the dark history of the Sinan County, this might be part of a way to give the county a new “name.” By creating such a lovely image with these islands, it helps revamp the dark reputation. Since this dark history is pretty recent, many have thought that this was a cover up.

Recently, just a couple weeks ago, the Purple Islands were trending on the “For You” page on Twitter.

screenshot from twitter moment

There was an article written by Reuters about these magical islands. However, as many have noted in the comments of that post, the Reuters article seemingly fails to mention the dark history that comes with the islands. As the Purple Islands do seem to target many ARMY (with the “I Purple You” saying from BTS member V as an actual attraction on the island), many were taking it upon themselves to enlighten everyone about the history.

With more and more recognition that came to the islands from the Twitter trend alone, it’s important to look further into the history so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

To or To Not Visit the Purple Islands?

Ultimately, this choice is up to you. With the alleged dark history that comes with the Sinan County—where these islands reside—it’s always best to look into more yourself. It’s still a very beautiful location to see.

If you would like to look into other locations to visit in South Korea, you can check out our Travel Category. There’s plenty of information to expand your itinerary while you’re visiting! Feel free to also glance through our Blog Page to learn about more things within the Korean culture.

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