It takes climbing fifty flights of stairs to remove myself from the stresses of daily life.
Sitting alone in Bangkok, sipping on a quail egg noodle soup concoction that I’d acquired from the young lady cooking on the street beside my hostel, I wondered what I should do to fill the time of my last few hours in Asia before heading back to the States. I’d spent the last three weeks gallivanting through the countryside of northern Vietnam, Laos and Thailand with a crew of some of my best pals. But alas, for the final few days of the trip, Bangkok would be my oyster to explore on my own. I’d visited most of the temples already, sampled the local fare and marketplaces, ridden on six forms of public transportation, and been escorted out of the Grand Palace for disrespectfully wearing shorts in a sacred area. I had definitely made the best of my time there, but what more did I need to check off my list in bustling Bangkok?
That’s when I remembered a conversation with two British lads one late night in the streets of Chiang Mai who had advised me that I absolutely needed to visit an abandoned skyscraper and climb to the top. The details for entry remained foggy in my mind, but since they had managed, I figured it was possible.
Construction on the luxury residences within the Sathorn Unique building began in the boom years of the 90’s, before a financial crisis in Asia crippled the stream of investment capital midway through the project. What remains now is a vacant, derelict, 49-story structure overlooking the river that bisects Bangkok with seemingly no plans for future renovation or redevelopment.
Upon arrival, I walked down a quiet alleyway and ducked through a hole in the fence past a rusted sign that probably said something like “do not enter” in Thai. I climbed up a handmade ladder to the foundation of the building where I found a few stray dogs and a man living in a tent. He seemed to understand why I was there. He was not security, but rather seemed to be some sort of informal caretaker who happened to find a key to the stairwell. He asked a fee of 200 baht for entry (about $6USD) and I obliged. He led me to the back, auxiliary stairwell where he unlocked a chain-link gate and nodded at me to proceed. I entered the stairwell and he locked the gate behind me indicating that when I return I should bang a metal pipe on the gate and he would come to let me out. For whatever reason being locked in a dark stairwell of an abandoned building in a third world country didn’t really faze me at the time. I think my train of thought ran something like: “Well, those two British dudes did it, so it will be chill.”
So, armed with nothing more than my cell phone’s flash light, I turned around and started to make the ascent. I presumed that I was the only one in the building at the time, but with more than 600 rooms partially constructed throughout, there really could have been people anywhere. Even in the dark, dank stairwell, the sweltering heat and humidity were proving to be an obstacle. A little over half way up, I’d already sweated through my shirt and downed a bottle of water and in turn decided to wander out down one of the hallways, doing my diligence to avoid spools of exposed rusting wire and rebar and the occasional hole in the floor. After regaining my composure, I resumed my voyage upward popping into different floors here and there, ultimately passing the 49th up on to the roof, where 360-degree views of the city below greeted my gaze.
Below me the lives of nearly 9 million others continued to press on amongst the metropolitan hustle that defines the Thai capital. Sitting alone with only the billowing breeze, the searing sun and a few empty cans of spray paint to keep me company, my life seemed to stand still. In the midst of my relatively busy lifestyle, I rarely afford myself the opportunity to experience that feeling of unconstrained, timeless, pure thought. Sometimes, I guess it just takes climbing fifty flights of stairs in an abandoned skyscraper to remove myself from the conscious (and usually petty) stresses of daily life in order to truly value what life is really about: the experience.