I had heard mutterings about an abandoned skyscraper in Bangkok.
It was rumored to be haunted and forsaken. If I wanted to enter, I was going to have to sneak in through holes in the rusty fence and bribe the group of junkies who guarded the first floor. I would have to enter the car park across the street, cross a rickety old bridge, and then scale the outside of a building, 50 meters in the air, with nothing but the cold, hard pavement below.
From what I could tell, entering the Sathorn Unique is like something out of a Jason Statham movie.
Standing 49 stories tall, The Sathorn Unique was slated to be the most glimmering addition to the Bangkok skyline. It was built to 80% completion during the 90’s but, in 1997, the Asian economic crisis put a very abrupt end to construction, leaving the city’s swankiest hotel a skeleton. It has since become known as Bangkok’s biggest eyesore, one which most locals dare not acknowledge. They swear it’s haunted, and it’s far too dangerous to enter.
With a 16 hour layover in Bangkok, there was obviously only one thing to do: climb that mother.
Armed with camera gear, flashlights and plenty of water, my climbing team and I made our way to the base of the building. Doing our best to go unnoticed, the three of us quietly slid in through the gaps in the tetanus-infested fence. Making it through without a scrape, we encountered exactly what we had been expecting: a group of junkies had taken over the first floor.
We had been spotted. A middle-aged twitchy fellow with an unkempt beard and too few teeth aggressively sidled up next to us, demanding that we leave immediately.
“Private property,” he told us.
To be fair, he was right. It’s illegal to enter the Sathorn Unique, but his crew squatting on the first floor was no more legal than what we were doing. We offered 200 baht ($6 USD) and he ‘allowed’ us 15 minutes.
Not only is it illegal to enter the Sathorn Unique, but it’s incredibly dangerous. Tetanus potential is high, as is misstepping and falling though a hole in the floor. And, as the hotel rooms are unfinished, there are no balcony windows separating the bedroom from a 40 story fall to your death. But, with determination to make it to the top, we disappeared from view in search of the best way up.
We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
Due to a few other people attempting to do exactly what we were (the Sathorn Unique is somewhat of a lesser-known tourist attraction for the truly adventurous), the stairwells had been blocked off with large gates welded into place, secured with shiny new padlocks.
We scoured the first floor in an attempt to get to the second. We tried climbing over, under, around and through the large metal gates (we even tried climbing up the inside of the elevator shafts!), but nothing was going to work.
Looking up, we spotted a ramshackle of an air-bridge connecting the fourth floors of the hotel and the abandoned car park next door. I had heard about this bridge and, unfortunately, it appeared to be the only way in.
We made our way next door, into the parking garage, past the makeshift cat dungeon and bird cages which had been constructed by some severely drug-addled minds. This wasn’t just an old car park–it was home to a lowly group of addicts. There were needles scattered around the floor and lonely old mattresses decaying in the center of the cement.
I took a moment to reflect on what I was seeing and moved on. This was turning out to be much more than I had bargained for.
Having reached the third floor, we found that the entrance to the air-bridge had been welded shut. But, there was an opening on the fourth floor which would allow us to climb on top of it rather than walk through it!
We would have to walk across the rickety old metal, 50 meters in the air, and then scale around the metal lattice, which had been welded into place on the other side.
It had been put there to deter people exactly like us.
We struggled with the prospect of actually going through with it; with only one day in Bangkok on my way home for Christmas, the last thing my mother needed was a no-show at the airport because her son had been flattened by the Thailand concrete.
Though I’ve been known to jump out of planes, off bridges and even the side of a 60 story building, I’ve always had a parachute on my back or an elastic band around my ankles. This time, though, I had no such fallback plan. All three of us wavered when propositioned with the reality of the situation and, not for a lack of trying, this became the end of our journey to the top. Not only were we going to have to climb across once to reach the summit, but we’d have to climb across a second time, in reverse, on our way back down.
All of us decided: this was not going to happen.
So, instead, we marveled at the history of this building and the potential it once held. Despite being abandoned 16 years previous, the Sathorn Unique lives on as an ever changing microcosm of its own. It’s calamitous past is testament to its future and, hopefully, in a few years time, we three adventurers may return with a new set of courage and a little bit less to lose.
Name: Sathorn Unique
Getting There: Take a taxi (just over 100 baht from Khao San Road) to Charoen Krung Road (corner of Sathon Tai), or take the BTS (metro) to Saphan Taksin. As it’s right on the Chao Phraya river, you could take a water taxi, as well.
Notes: A reminder that it is illegal to enter the building, and I do not advise you to do so. If you wish to take on the challenge and associated risks, however, start early in the morning and give yourself the whole day. Bring flashlights and wear sturdy footwear. Enter the next door car park from Alley 51 (visible on Google Maps).