Blog // Tales from the trail

14 Jul
2015

The Ghost Tower, Thailand

By Keith

In the garish mirror image of its sister tower (the State Tower), construction of the curiously named Sathorn Unique Tower started in the 1990s, with the equally architecturally muddled, 49 story building designed to house over 600 apartments, not far from the banks of the Chao Phraya River.

Construction, however, was halted in 1997 at the height (or low) of the Asian financial crisis. A number of other theories exist as to the reasoning behind its demise, from the use of an inferior grade of concrete to the shadow it casts on the neighbouring Wat Yan temple sealing its doomed fate from the start. Either way, the name given to the building by superstitious locals seemed the most fitting and remains the most popular; the Ghost Tower.

Being the intrepid explorer that he is, Ian had already scoped the site out (several times over) and over breakfast one morning casually dropped in the possibility of a trip up the tower; even kindly offering at timing that fitted in with our itinerary (which was currently being discussed). A worried look shot across from Corallie, "don't worry," he said, "we can go in legit if you like, just need to give the guys a couple of hundred baht."

Thus at precisely 1607h the following afternoon (we were 7 minutes late!), we met Ian by a nearby Sky train stop, suitably attired and camera'd up for the occasion (not to mention a few bottles of water to get us through the 49 floors' worth of stairs in the afternoon heat. However, as we entered the alleyway alongside the tower we were confronted by a gaggle of backpackers; it appeared word had hit Khao San road (and most likely various internet forums) about the tower. Not only that, Ian noted the sky bridge, connecting the building to the 10-storey carpark on the other side of the alley had been removed, and in general the whole place had been "tightened up." Ian surmised this was most likely down to the suicide of a Swedish man, recently found hanging on one of the upper floors, grim, not that this prevented more and more expectant visitors arriving to join the gang we were now in outside the gate.

There was no movement from the other side however, maybe the crowd was drawing too much attention, as their eyes peeped and hands reached through all and any small opening around the entrance available. I couldn't help but wonder how bizarre this must have looked from the other side, like some sort of zombie apocalypse movie perhaps, as the remainder of the crowd exchanged wild theories about how to gain attention on access.

However it was clear, for whatever reasons, that they weren't letting anyone in today; the large sign and concession on the gate stating "access prohibited, without owner's permission," hinting to the fact the whole thing was organised. So with photos to take and water to drink, we decided instead to see some sights along the river and try again another day.

Two days' later and the second time around, we were a little more optimistic, being 1) midweek, 2) earlier in the day and most critically 3) rounding the corner to find an otherwise deserted alleyway. Nevertheless, after a few minutes of continued emptiness waiting in front of the gate, the feeling of disappointment began to creep in at our similar situation.

Then, all of a sudden, a little head popped over the fence and silently scanned the three of us, each in turn. Finally came his conclusion; a single hand, five-fingers, per person - 500 baht (£10) each! The same price as a tour of the Royal Palace I remarked, in an attempt to shame him into a lower figure. Although to no avail, either his English or my argument was too weak and after no yielding we finally offered 1000 baht for all three of us. Silence for a moment and the head disappeared. However less than 30 seconds later he was back with his answer, no deal! After an equally brief team huddle we came back with our answer, fuck it, we've hear now, you've got yourself a deal!

A lock clicked and the gate swung open, we were led up some stairs and onto a mezzanine floor; to a group of men, all smiles and smirks - easy money I thought, they knew they were onto a good deal! After paying up, the stair core was unlocked and we had reached the first floor - only 48 more to go!

The stairs were dark, hot and at times worryingly irregular - one would think identical floors would possess equal number of and consistently proportioned stairs - not so. Also whilst appearing structurally complete, not much work had started on the fit-out other than the occasional bit of sanitary ware or wooden flooring.

The bare lower floors

The bare lower floors

Many sticky levels later, along with a couple of stops to check the view (and get our breath back), we emerged out at the top. I've always found it strangely peaceful atop incomplete structures, away from the city's sounds and smells and the perfect lookout from which to observe the business you have just escaped.

Ian admiring the view

Ian admiring the view

Graffiti around the upper structure

Graffiti around the upper structure

Hey down there!

Hey down there!

Although up here, sadly it did not last, before long we were joined by more visitors, and then yet more, clambering over the top, taking turns of photographing each other at gradually reducing distances from the sheer edges.

The

The 'jungle-gym' atop the tower

A fellow visitor looking out over the Chao Phraya river

A fellow visitor looking out over the Chao Phraya river

Still there was plenty of room up there and we even had a quick go at a selfie too...

Industrial selfie stick™ (*SLR and remote shutter sold separately)

Industrial selfie stick™ (*SLR and remote shutter sold separately)

Corallie was very excited about her first explore

Corallie was very excited about her first explore

Corallie really getting into the swing of it now

Corallie really getting into the swing of it now

Dusk approaches

Dusk approaches

Rush hour (/day) traffic below

Rush hour (/day) traffic below

Ghost tower - done!

Ghost tower - done!

Alas, as darkness began to fall, time had come to call it a day and make our way back down, counting back down the floors as we went. As we reached ground level, we started to hear familiar murmurings, these getting louder as we were unceremoniously ejected back out onto street level, the gate slamming behind us. We found ourselves in a crowd of backpackers, all eager to know how we got up and at what cost; if there was any doubt before, now there was none - this place had become a tourist attraction in its own right. And our review, dark, dusty, dangerous and a bit of rip off (the toilets didn't even work!); but it was worth it all the same, especially as we had just earnt our icy colds for the night!

Well earned post-exploration refreshment

Well earned post-exploration refreshment

Comments on this posting:

  • MOG: Wow flippin amazin - how your height tolerance has improved since Sacr-Cur!! x

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