The 1997 Asian Economic Crisis was triggered in Thailand by the collapse of the baht. This reversal of fortunes stunned Bangkok (and the world), driving into recession an economy that had been the fastest growing in the world for ten years. When the bubble burst, the skyline was left littered with grandiose half-built projects. The money had simply run out. These shells of skyscrapers came to be known as “ghost buildings”. Today, more than a decade on from the crisis, most of the ghost buildings have finally been sold, completed or reshaped. But a few remain. There are the oddly Stonehenge-like concrete arches punctuating parts of the city’s suburbs, leftovers from an earlier, aborted version of the Skytrain.
And most visibly, there is the still unfinished ruin of the Sathorn Unique Tower, standing right over one of the city’s main transport interchanges, the Saphan Taksin skytrain /ferryboat stop. For as long as I have been coming to Bangkok it has stood there, the lower floors now covered in grafitti, its faux-Corinthian columns rusting, and wall-less upper floors whistling with the wind.
It is an intriguing building. You can’t help but look at it. Originally designed (it looks) to have been a counterweight to the glitzy State Tower nearby, it has become instead its dark twin, or a shadow, the yin to its yang.
I was tempted to go and take a look inside – the flimsy fence around the site is full of holes and indeed there is a main entrance gate which was wide open when I passed. It seems that anyone could just waltz right in (this being Thailand, construction sites do not have the most stringent safety regulations, let alone abandoned ones). Indeed, people obviously do go in because the lower floors are festooned with grafitti and last month the Bangk<zer>k underground art/multimedia festival held a rave in it (awesome!!!! I was crushed to discover the event, the day after it happened).
What stopped me in the end from furthering my adventures were the lurid posters warning of rabies, and the packs of feral dogs dozing in the jungle-like intended lobby. They picked up their ears and watched me intently as I approached and I backed away slowly, the mysteries of the Sathorn Unique tower still intact.