Exploring an Abandoned Skyscraper - Ghost Tower, Bangkok

Rumor had it that for a few hundred baht bribe ($5-$15USD) the security at Ghost Tower will let you in to climb the 49 flights of stairs to the top. My brother and I showed up to the gate of the fenced off Ghost Tower about an hour before sunset.  I was determined to get some amazing panoramic photos of Bangkok like the ones I had seen online, apparently 10 other backpackers had the same idea. Although this was not an adventure you would find in any tour guide book, Ghost Tower is a well known legend amongst backpackers in Southeast Asia.

Ghost Towers official name is The Sathorn Unique Tower. It is an unfinished skyscraper in Bangkok, along the Chao Pharaya River in heart of the city. Construction of the building was halted in 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, and never resumed afterwards. It is 49 stories high and offers the best views of the city. Until recently, only the stairway was gated off under padlock and key. That is where you would pay some shady local to undo the padlock and go up. Because of recent events, the owners built a 10ft corrugated metal fence around the entire property. To gain access you now have to make it inside the fence gate and the stairwell gate.

After standing outside the fence for more than 30 minutes with no sign of getting in and the number of backpackers doubling, I was beginning to lose hope. I had done this same thing about 6 weeks earlier with some South African friends that lived in Bangkok. That evening we stood around for a little bit, but patience ran thin and we bailed after about 15 minutes, this evening was different, I was determined to get in.

My heart began to race when a local guy showed up to the gate with a key, opened the gate, but immediately closed it after he had gone through. Our only chance had just walked through and didn't look to be in any mood to deal with a bunch of grungy, sweaty backpackers. A few minutes later though, one of our friends heads popped up on the other side of the fence where the guy had just walked in. Apparently, our friend Dutch and a few of his buddies had gained access via one of the restaurants that backs up to the Ghost Tower property. The restaurant wouldn't let anyone else through, but at least we had someone on the other side.

Our friends talked to the guard (with the help of a girl who spoke Thai) then would relay the message back to everyone outside the fence. The gist of the conversation with the security guard was that he thought that one of the people in our group outside the gate was an undercover cop and he wasn't willing to let anyone in fear of getting busted.

The guard was going to let everyone who was already inside the fence through the padlocked stairwell for 500 Baht ($15USD), everyone standing outside the fence, like ourselves, was S.O.L. 

Dutch relayed the bad news to us, all hope was lost. But just like in the movies, luck was on our side. Just before he ran off, to start the climb up the stairs, Dutch noticed that the guard - either on purpose or by accident - never locked the padlock back on the fence gate. He threw the lock off the gate and let us all in. Over whelmed by the rush of people and the money making opportunity the guard had no other option than to take our money. We queued at the stairs to pay our 500 Baht and began our assent up the 49 flights of stairs to the top.

That evening I took one of my favorite photos of my entire trip. The light painting of the word "BANGKOK" with the hotel from the movie, The Hangover in the background.

I started off taking long exposure photos and running around with my phone light in hand in front of my camera, capturing the light trails the phone gave off. Within a few minutes there was a gathering of people behind my camera watching what I was doing. My brother had the bright idea of spelling "BANGKOK" instead of doing the light trails. I asked for a few volunteers and we were off. After our first attempt everyone ran back to the back of the camera and there was a bunch of "oohs and ahhs". We only needed a few more attempts before we nailed it.

If you find yourself in Bangkok and looking for an adventure, I would highly recommend Ghost Tower. A word of warning, It is not for everyone. Climbing 49 flights of stairs is not an easy feat and If you are afraid of heights I would steer clear.

If you do decide to go, below are a list of recommendations for your hike up:

  • Wear closed toed shoes, not flip-flops.
  • Bring a bottle of water.
  • Bring your camera.
  • Go with a friend. It is possible to get lost or hurt, so going solo is not recommended.
  • Bring at least 500 Baht. That is how much we paid per person, I've heard people being charged less, but that was the going rate to get in when I was there.
  • Show up and expect not to be let in until the sun is setting or has set. The night photos of Bangkok are just as amazing as sunset, so don't be disappointed if you don't get in until after sunset.
  • Be smart. Don't do anything that would put you or others in danger. We don't want the owners of the building to permanently close access to the building because a tourist did something avoidable and dumb.
  • Most of all, be in the moment, put your phone or camera down every once in a while, take a deep breath and enjoy the stunning views!