Sathorn Unique, the 47-story unfinished building on Charoenkrung Road dubbed “Ghost Tower” since its abandonment during the Tom Yam Kung economic crisis of 1997, has long been a drawcard for adventurous travelers. Twenty years later, Pansit Torsuwan, 46, the low-profile owner of the building, has finally come out to put a stop to trespassing on the property. With Museum Siam just unveiling an exhibition dedicated to the financial crisis, Pansit defends the tower from accusations it’s a monument to the country’s failure.
Watch "The True History of Sathorn Ghost Tower":
What actually happened back in 1997?
We planned to build a mixed-use property with 600 units and jewelry shops downstairs. The tower was 80-90 percent finished, but we suffered due to the mismanagement of previous governments. We actually weren’t a non-performing loan [NPL] as we’d sold more than 500 units already and had nearly finished construction. We decided to sell The State Tower as we were sure that we could continue managing this building. Unfortunately the trust fund which issued our loan closed down due to the financial crisis, meaning we were lumped in with a number of NPLs. So I oppose anyone who calls this building an “icon of Thailand’s failure” or “the country’s burden.” That’s untrue. If we were treated as an asset and given the green light to continue construction, the building would have been finished. It would today be one of the greatest towers in Bangkok.
So why has there been no development since?
There have been many lawsuits barring us from doing that. But the main reason was my father’s intentions—he didn’t want to develop it anymore. Times have changed. Twenty years ago we were selling it at B20,000 per sq meter. Now cost would be much higher to finish the project. We would need at least B1.5 billion to finish the tower, but according to the original contracts, we would only get B600 million from our old clients. For two decades, clients haven’t got anything back from us. So we plan to finally sell it and pay our debts, as well as pay back all our clients.
What are you doing now?
I’m still running a real estate company, Rangsan and Pansit Architecture with my father. We develop small-scale residential projects both inside and outside Bangkok. I’m also an architecture lecturer at Sri Prathum University.
How do you feel about people viewing Sathorn Unique as an adventure destination?
I must insist that it’s private property and you can’t get in without permission. But I understand how people feel. There are so many abandoned buildings in Bangkok, but why are people so interested in this one? That’s because this building is unique with a stunning location and story of its own. Lots of people have wanted to use the tower as a movie location but I have refused them all. I even turned down a Hollywood movie—Superman, I think—because if people recognized it, the tower would become an even bigger attraction. If someone proposed a documentary that I thought would benefit others, then I might say yes.
How do you see Thailand’s economy 20 years after the crisis?
The crisis really weakened small businesses and SMEs, and that’s still being felt today. The system in its wake has destroyed middle-class power. Now we have a society where elites monopolize every market segment. There is only the cream of the crop and then the grassroots, no middle class. The economy is still ill. The bubble may not burst like last time, but it’s like a cancer that will slowly kill us.