As we cruised along the Chao Phraya enjoying the sights on a balmy November night, my friend asked: “What’s with that big derelict building – it looks like it’s been empty for a while?”
“It’s the ghost building,” our guide said. “It’s a hotel they were building but had to abandon their plans when it was half built during the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s – the money just ran out.
“Now the structure has too much exposed concrete rot to continue building and will cost too much to pull down so it just sits there – and is haunted – according to locals.”
“Can we climb it?” we inquired, our interest intensely piqued.
Our guide told us it was reputed to be notoriously unsafe. He said he had heard of some “not so friendly” vagrants who inhabit the lower floors, and some “undead” folk on the upper floors.
“But if you guys want to I reckon you might as well try – just be careful.”
My companion and I, having spent many nights of our misspent youth finding ways into abandoned buildings to scribble on walls and whatever else, had a certain curiosity and a strong affinity with abandoned buildings – and with no disapproving, sensible wives to talk us out of it and no fear of ghosts or vagrants - our minds were made up.
We disembarked from the boat, grabbed a couple of beers and headed to the ghost building.
We found a good place to jump the fence, waited until the guy patrolling wasn’t looking and made our attempt to enter, we scaled the fence and quickly looked around for a place to get in but all we found was a gate leading to a staircase that was welded shut. The guy patrolling caught us and it turned out he wasn’t a security guard but a local entrepreneur trying to charge people to unlock the gate to the stairs on the other side.
While we admired his spirit we were not willing to pay some guy wearing a YOLO shirt 1,000 baht to show us the way up when that was half the fun. So we pretended to leave, noticing a fence on top of a concrete wall the other side of the staircase that was almost a floor up but had a barrel and a chair conveniently located beside it.
We saw him distracted, doubled back, placed the chair on top of the barrel and climbed up and scaled the fence that led to the second set of fire stairs, noticing the shanty closest was occupied but the occupant was far too wasted to be concerned with us.
With iPhone torches in hand we began the long climb and we soon discovered we were far from the first people to have had this idea; there was no shortage of graffiti on the walls and someone had even gone to the trouble of numbering each floor.
We stopped a few floors up when we felt we were clear from the self-appointed corrupt security guard. We went looking around the rooms until we discovered one that was full of debris and had the stench of rotting meat in it. It could have been a dead dog or a cat but with it looking like the perfect place to dump a body we weren’t too keen to find out what it was so we kept going up until the staircase was blocked off again and to get to the next floor we were forced to climb up some hastily and precariously built stairs of thin wooden planks with drops on either side that would have broken a lot of bones if we fell.
Regretting all the beers we had consumed earlier and, not taking the easy route offered by our friend in the YOLO shirt, we managed to make it up crawling slowly and clinging for dear life. Nothing was going to stop us getting to the top.
Stopping every five to10 floors we started to notice the rooms to be more complete. The holes in the floors were becoming less frequent with less precariously placed scaffolding, crumbling walls and big holes in the bathrooms that matched up on every floor making the drop even more dangerous. The upper floors, however, were suddenly filled with bathtubs. The views from the balconies were getting better and better as well.
As we continued to climb, our stops became more frequent as the motion of walking around and around in circles up the staircase made us dizzy and the drop in the middle of the staircase was getting higher and more dangerous, not to mention the big hole in the wall on the other side leading to what we assumed was the elevator shaft and the crumbling stairs were becoming worse.
But the stops on the higher floors were much more interesting. The standard rooms we had seen on every floor suddenly became suites with massive wide balconies and unbelievable views that were no longer being blocked by giant advertising posters, and we no longer had to deal with disapproving looks and finger-pointing from people who could see us from their position in neighbouring buildings.
Some of the rooms were so complete I would have been happy to move in if it wasn’t for the long arduous climb up and down to get home every day
Some of them even had fully made-up beds; the fear of coming across a dead body became less likely as no one in their right mind would carry a dead body this far.
Having seen as much as we thought was worth seeing, we made the final ascent and reached the top of the stairs - level 54. It was an awesome sight and an uplifting feeling to be there to enjoy the view that is normally only afforded to those with big bank balances who think nothing about paying to stay in luxury high-rise hotels.
After a quick look around, and taking in the unobstructed 360 degree views, we noticed there was one more level to climb– and the way up was far more dangerous than the ones we had encountered earlier – but we were determined. So we climbed the steep thin planks of wood, grabbing hand-rails and made it to the unofficial 55th floor, basking in the amazing views and enjoying our accomplishment that we earlier had considered unlikely to achieve as we pondered our attempt from the river.
Climbing the ghost tower had become the number one on my list of things I would recommend people to do while in Bangkok but not without the advice from what I had learnt on my trip.
If you are not fit and agile do not attempt it; if you are afraid of heights you will not enjoy it. Make sure you are sober when you attempt it and haven’t been out at Spice nightclub until 7am with only two hours sleep; bring water to drink on the way instead of beer - and be careful - there are many things that could go wrong. It isn’t the safest tourist attraction but not that much more dangerous than crossing the roads in parts of Bangkok and even crossing certain pedestrian bridges that have electricity wires that look like they have placed deliberately to hurt someone.
So we made a rapid descent down only stopping to climb down the dodgy plank ramps where the stairs were blocked. We scaled the fence and were glad to see the chair and barrel still in place and made a swift exit walking right through the kitchen of a restaurant on to the street. We had climbed to the top of the “ghost building” - and returned safely to the bottom. It was a haunting - and exhilarating – experience.