Sathorn Unique has controversy, death and ghosts… but the building is an attraction to urban explorers
The Sathorn Unique Tower in downtown Bangkok has become a must visit site for urban explorers and adventurous travelers around the world.
Anyone who’s visited this part of the city will have noticed the huge, abandoned skyscraper. It dominates the skyline and is said by locals to be haunted. It’s up there with the tallest building in Bangkok.
Th 47-storey building has been derelict since 1997 when the Thai economy crashed and the developer couldn’t afford to continue work.
What had been launched in 1990 with great plans to be a luxury apartment block with 600 homes in a rapidly-growing part of the city quickly became a feral eyesore.
Drug addicts, the homeless and wild dogs soon moved in. Youths spraying graffiti on the walls came next. Followed by stories of ghosts.
Fast-forward 20 years and the building still stands, condemned as an eyesore by locals but proving a draw for curious backpackers, urban explorers and travelers, not least for the stunning views from the top of the tower.
Part of the intrigue with the tower, is the story behind it. The controversy, a bizarre court case, a mysterious death, supposed hauntings, and ultimately the uncertain future of the derelict building on a prime piece of Bangkok real estate – a structure that can’t demolished and nobody wants to buy.
So here’s as much information as possible about Sathorn Unique…
The story behind the haunted tower
The developer, Mr Rangsan Torsuwan, a leading architect began work with his company , Rangsan & Pansit architecture Co., Ltd., in the boom years of the Thai economy, when cash was pouring in from tourism and the government took on mountains of foreign debt to capitalise. This part of southern Bangkok, next to the Chao Phraya River, was emerging as a popular holiday spot, with new hotels.
But in 1993 Rangsan, who is now aged 76, was arrested for amid accusations of a plot to murder the President of the Supreme Court, Praman Chansue. The came the the Asian financial crash of 1997, which hit the Thai baht and Bangkok’s property market hard. Many investors in Sathorn Unique went bankrupt.
Despite Thailand’s financial problems, the project might still have survived. Rangsan was after all, a leading developer who had finished many successful projects in Bangkok. And property investment is a long term game, as has been proven by the hundreds of other towers that were hit during the financial crash the resumed development. Plus, Lebua State Tower, a similar hotel block just a two minute walk from Sathorn Unique, is highly popular.
But in 2008 Rangsan was found guilty of attempted murder, then later acquitted by the Court of Appeals in 2010. The problems in Rangsan’s life, and the faultering economy, meant that new investors were reluctant to offer funds. The building has been left unfinished ever since.
The developer’s son Pansit Torsuwan has been part of unsuccessful negotiations to secure backing to finnish the tower. The rumoured asking price is 1,800,000,000 Baht ($60 Million USD), a tad high in my opinion considering what a burden the building is, the price of developing the property, and the retail value of finished apartments.
The condominium block still stands empty. It would take a feat of engineering genius to dismantle the structure without putting the buildings below at risk. The cost of such work would be vastly more than the value of the plot of land. So the only hope is for a buyer willing o develop the building –
For now, the only business that the building generates is from the Thai chancers sleeping inside who spot the occasional tourist visitor and demand 500 baht to get to the top. Or the enormous advert from a mobile company that’s strapped to the lower floors facing the city, and the thousands of locals on the Sky Train every day.
Thais are a superstitious bunch of people, and they believe that just about anything old is haunted. Throw in the mix of bad luck, controversy and the scary look of abandoned building, and they’ll come up with all kinds of ideas that it’s haunted.
The building is said to have been built on an ancient burial site. Others claim it’s ‘bad karma’ because it towers over the nearby temple, Wat Yannawa.
The superstitions was fueled by the death of a Swedish man in who was found hanged on the 43rd floor in an apparent suicide.
In reality, it’s anybodies guess as to whether ghosts stalk the unfinished concrete corridoors.
Yes, there are physical risks. There are no railings on the edges of the building. Slip on rubble, get hit by a gust of wind, or a sudden bout of dizziness or vertigo while looking out over the skyline, and it’s a long way down. Plus there’s a whole load of debris inside on which to fall. Call me paranoid, but walking up a half-finished concrete building that’s been battered by storms and vandals, doesn’t seem like a good idea. That’s before considering all the down and outs and aggressive wild dogs living inside. Anything happens, and the Thai police will say ‘well, you shouldn’t have been in the building.’
Most importantly, trespassing is illegal. The tower is still owned by the Rangsan company and in 2015 they filed police charges against two guys, Jason Paul and Shaun Woody, who filmed themselves freerunning inside the block.
I’m sure the two guys didn’t mean any harm, or believe they were doing anything wrong, but its easy to see how the video could be insulting to the owners, as well as a liability by encouraging more people to visit.
So it’s quite understandable from the owner’s point of view that they had the two free runners prosecuted. They’re trying to sell or finish developing the building, so they don’t need the controversy of people injuring themselves and dying there adding to its bad reputation and ideas that it is a haunted building cursed with bad luck (a powerful disincentive in Thailand to buyers).
So urban explorers looking at the building should remember that they could be hauled in front of a Thai court for respassing on Sathorn Unique.
Train: Take the BTS Silom Line and get off and Saphan Taksin station. It’s impossible not to miss the enormous abandoned building dominating the skyline.
Taxi: Just tell the driver to take you to Sathorn station. Don’t be yapping off about your ambitious plans to illegally climb one of Bangkok’s tallest and most dangerous buildings, or he might take a detour to the police station.