Travel Report: The Ghost Tower, Bangkok.
The Ghost Tower, Bangkok.
I was having lunch in the hostel one morning when I overheard a curious conversation between an American expat and an Australian backpacker. “Dude, you haven’t climbed The Ghost Tower?!?!” he spluttered, his coffee cup suspended in mid air.
Crime of all crimes, Mr. Australia had not been to The Ghost Tower. I hadn’t even heard of it, hence I found myself eavesdropping. Details were patchy but, as Uncle Sam explained, there was an abandoned skyscraper in Sathon District. One that, for a small fee, you could enter and explore.
In truth, I was more than a little naive when I headed off that afternoon with the Australian guy to see the tower. All I really knew was that it stands just off Charoen Krung Road in Sathorn District. At 47 stories high we certainly didn’t have any trouble finding the place. What’s more, we were able to simply walk into the complex through an open gate, while I don’t recall seeing any no trespassing signs or safety warnings.
On the empty, open air shell of a ground floor we spied a metal door leading to a stairwell. By the door, a middle-aged Thai man sat at a desk smoking a cigarette. “Ghost Tower?” he asked, nonchalantly. The fee, he insisted, was 200 Baht, around $7. So we paid our dues and headed on through, with more than a touch of adrenaline pulsing through our veins.
The Ghost Tower, Bangkok.
Though I didn’t know it on the day of my climb, The Ghost Tower’s real name is Sathorn Unique Tower. Planned as a luxury high rise condominium complex, construction began in 1990 under the supervision of Rangsan Torsuwan, a renowned Thai architect and real estate mogul.
But after three years of construction the entire project fell apart when Rangsan was arrested and charged with plotting to murder Thailand’s Supreme Court President. (He was later found guilty in 2008, then acquitted by the Court of Appeals in 2010).
Nevertheless, the scandal saw numerous investors pull out of the project. Moreover, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 served as the final nail in the tower’s coffin, with a number of investment companies attached going bankrupt.
The building has stood empty ever since, standing as Bangkok’s tallest derelict tower. I remember it being quite the workout climbing from floor to floor. On the first five to ten stories there wasn’t much to see, just gutted stone hallways and rooms home to sporadic patches of charmless graffiti.
Sathorn Unique Tower.
Still, it was definitely a creepy experience. One might even say ghostly, with nobody else about and our footsteps echoing across the dark, dank corridors.
The tower’s ghost moniker is due to the fact that many Thais believe the structure is haunted. And, some might say, with good reason. In late 2014 the tower hit the news when a local photographer found a Swedish man hanging from a 43rd floor balcony. A police investigation subsequently concluded his death was by suicide. I’m glad I was oblivious to all that on the day of my visit!
Just over a year after my climb, in the summer of 2016, a Thai film crew arrived to shoot a horror movie called The Promise. The plot revolves around a pair of teenage girls who head to the tower to commit suicide when their families face ruin during the Asian financial crisis.
Up on one of the thirty something floors, I came upon a local photographer setting up his tripod. As with most of the balconies I saw, there were no railings or barriers of any kind. Just a narrow stone ledge and a sharp drop down to oblivion.
The Ghost Tower, Bangkok.
The photographer was shooting a nearby skyscraper, the luxurious Lebua State Tower. In addition to being one of Bangkok’s fanciest five star hotels, movie fans may recall it from the hit Hollywood comedy The Hangover Part II. Most memorably in the rooftop scene with Paul Giammati, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong.
In the early noughties Rangsan Torsuwan’s son Pansit took responsibility for the tower and tried, without success, to find a buyer. According to various online articles, the sticking point was his high asking price. This stubbornness was apparently to ensure that the building’s original buyers could be repaid in full and that the family company, Sathorn Unique Co. Ltd, avoided bankruptcy.
The views over Bangkok from the upper floors were breathtaking that evening as, highly hot and bothered, we closed in on The Ghost Tower’s 47th floor rooftop.
Exhausted from our exertions, Australia and I cracked open the beers we’d brought with us from a 7 Eleven en route to the building. Our decision to climb the tower had been spontaneous and unfolded so fast this was the first time I’d had a moment to stop and consider what we’d done.
The Ghost Tower, Bangkok.
If I’d stopped to do some research, I might have thought twice. But I hadn’t read about the suicide, nor indeed the tales of serious accidents suffered by climbers. One South American man, for example, broke a leg and hip when he fell through the twenty second floor while climbing over a pile of rubble.
As it turned out, I was in the last batch of people that managed to access the tower so easily. Later in 2015, Pansit Torsuwan tightened security with extra guards and no trespassing signs. Online reports reveal he also prosecuted a pair of backpackers who uploaded a video of themselves free running on the rooftop.
As a result, it has become harder and harder for people to access the tower. At the time of writing it appears that the security guards (who were always open to bribes) have gone altogether, while the entire tower is now sealed off with several layers of locked barriers. Browsing various online articles and reviews from travellers, the general message seems to be Don’t try to access The Ghost Tower.
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How lucky you were to get to do that, what an unusual (if not unique) experience. Those unprotected balconies must have been scary even without knowing the gruesome histories. I don’t even remember seeing that tower, let alone knowing anything about it. Good story!
Thanks for reading guys. Definitely a unique experience, but not something that would appeal to everyone I guess. Looking back, I’m glad I was clueless about its backstory, otherwise I may have not even gone in!
That’s amazing! Those toilets 😂 at least there was somewhere to go if you were caught short. You must be extremely fit and a bit ..hmm .. Gung ho. You were lucky, however what a great story.
Admittedly I didn’t think about it much. We just headed off and it all went very smoothly. Thanks for reading!
My stomach was flipping on maximum just looking at those unprotected ledges. I guess that is why you do these things, so I don’t have to. So all 47 empty stories are still standing there waiting for someone to have an idea for what to do with it? Who pays the security guards?
From what I understand the security guards are gone. It’s pretty much inaccessible now and yeah, as far as I know, still nobody interested in taking it over.
It’s surprising that with the attention it attracts, it hasn’t turned into an adventure business.
Interesting you should say that, as a few people online wondered why the owner hasn’t tried to do something entrepreneurial instead of pursuing legal action against climbers. I guess the insurance implications make it problematic.
Well, that was an unusual experience for you. Obviously before the days of health and safety measures! So pleased you discovered it and have been able to relate your visit ! Marion
Thanks for reading! I’ve always been drawn to abandoned structures and ruins, though this was certainly a unique one. Hope your week is going well! Amazing weather yesterday, incredibly gloomy today. It’s all a bit Jekyll and Hyde.
What a crazy experience! The views are epic as well!!! I don’t think I’d be brave enough though with those unsecured ledges.
There were definitely a few nervy moments on those balconies. Thanks for reading!
Looks AMAZING, I am truly jealous. I would have been scared to death, however!!
Ha, I guess I was fortunate with timing. I was able to just waltz right in. After that there were people scaling fences and bribing security guards. Now it’s almost impossible to gain entry. Thanks for reading!
A haunted skyscraper and beer from 7-11! Cool post Leighton.
Cheers John, I’ve been looking forward to writing this one up for a while.
I’d never heard of this before. I was thinking there’s no way it would be open to the public here, but I guess it’s not open in Bangkok anymore either. What a fun tale to tell. Maggie
Recent TripAdvisor reviews are full of very disappointed people. They came… they saw… it was locked.
Ooh, I wouldn’t personally climb The Ghost Tower due to its haunted past, but it really is fortunate you got to visit it before it was more-or-less closed to visits just a while later. The views do look pretty neat from above, and you can say that it’s definitely “off-the-beaten path.”
Will be interested to see what, if anything, becomes of the place. I suspect it’ll have to be bulldozed at some point, but even that costs money!
How cool and scary – I agree it’s good you didn’t read anything before hand. I might’ve been to afraid to go up after reading that!
What a great story. I’m sure you were surprised by all the history you discovered after you’d been. Very interesting read.
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment!
You’d still have gone up the tower even if you’d known the history, right? Great experience. I’m intrigued about the Swedish suicide though and wonder how much real police work went into finding out the truth.
Yeah I would’ve still gone up I reckon. Not much “real” police work I’m guessing. Thanks for commenting!
Seems like you had quite an experience there Leighton, it was good you didn’t hear or read any of the history earlier else you might have possibly reconsidered right?
Ha ha well… I think I’d have gone up anyway. But I’d have probably been a little anxious and possibly wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.