‘Ghost Tower’ still haunts Bangkok’s skyline

By Dake Kang, AP

BANGKOK — The 49-story Bangkok high-rise was supposed to feature luxury condos for hundreds of newly affluent Thai families, but it was abandoned unfinished when the Asian financial crisis struck in 1997.

Now called the “Ghost Tower,” it’s a monument to mistakes made and an object of curiosity to a steady stream of visitors.

“Sathorn Unique,” named after the up-and-coming neighborhood next to the Chao Phraya river it towers over, draws dozens of foreigners daily who come to gawk at the decrepit, stained concrete edifice. It’s a home not to Thai yuppies, but to bats, birds, weeds, trees and a black-and-white spotted cat, seen prowling one afternoon on a seventh floor balcony.

“The only way is up,” reads graffiti scrawled in chalk on the fifth floor landing, an ironic reminder of the building’s aspirational past.

Near the building’s entrance sits a ramshackle homemade spirit shrine. A yellowing poster of Thailand’s late king, clad in royal regalia, is plastered above ashes of spent incense and opened bottles of fruity Red Fanta — the ghosts’ favorite drink, according to watchman Suwaschai Dadaelor.

In the booming 90s, Bangkok’s skyline was surging skyward and studded with construction cranes.

Architect and property developer Rangsan Torsuwan was flush with cash from selling ornate, high-rise condos along the beach in Pattaya. He drew up blueprints, cleared the land and made millions of dollars pre-selling the condos.

Then came what Thais call the “Tom Yum Goong” crash — referring to the famous local sour and spicy soup. It started in Thailand when the over-leveraged government unexpectedly devalued the baht. Investors rushed to pull their money out as quickly as they could, setting off a regional financial crisis.

About 500 big construction projects — from shopping malls to elevated railways — came to a screeching halt. Some later resumed, but not this one.

At 185 meters, the structure is among the tallest abandoned skyscrapers in the world, after North Korea’s 105-story Ryugyong Hotel, which has been under construction since 1987.