Abandoned skyscrapers and haunted buildings are the settings for a new tourism trend that sees travelers explore creepy sites across Asia.
The pastime of urban exploration is drawing travelers to investigate potentially dangerous places like the so-called Ghost Tower of Bangkok, Bali’s Haunted Resort and the deserted Dreamland theme park in Nara, Japan.
Some of these sites are unguarded, allowing adventurous travelers easy access to them while others require explorers to bribe security guards to get inside.
Also known as URBEX, urban exploration involves traversing man-made structures, typically ones which are abandoned, with the aim of either documenting them via video or still photography, or just for the sake of adventure.
While it is not a particularly new activity its popularity has exploded in recent years on the back of the rise of travel blogging.
YouTube is filled with thousands of videos of travel bloggers exploring deserted buildings across the world. These videos have inspired many ordinary tourists, particularly younger travelers, to follow suit and visit the same eerie sites.
I first became aware of this travel trend while living on-and-off in Bangkok, Thailand over the past five years. Countless times I have gone past the city’s infamous Ghost Tower, looked up and seen people scaling the abandoned skyscraper.
Perhaps no building in Asia attracts more thrill seekers than this 600-foot-tall skyscraper, officially called Sathorn Unique Tower. This building was about 75 percent complete when its construction was stopped amid the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.
It has been left to slowly degrade and now looms over downtown Bangkok like a giant architectural skeleton.
While the Ghost Tower is fenced off and there are security guards who patrol it, many tourists each year manage to get past these protective measures and climb the decrepit building.
There are dozens of videos on YouTube of tourists and travel bloggers exploring the Ghost Tower, with some even talking of bribing the guards to gain access.
One such audacious traveler is 22-year-old American Ian Ryan, who bribed his way into the Ghost Tower along with his girlfriend Adriana Ivkovic, 22, to record a video for their travel blog The Other Side.
On the couple’s first visit to the building a guard warned them to leave or they could be arrested by Bangkok police. Ryan then paid the guard 100 Thai Baht ($3) to access just the ground and bottom floor of the building, before returning two days later and paying a different guard $25 to go all the way to the top of the Ghost Tower.
Ryan and Ivkovic then had to walk up dozens of flights of stairs, taking care to step over many obstacles and avoid falling into voids, until they reached the peak of the 47-story building.
“The thrill of getting into an abandoned building, especially one that is illegal like the Ghost Tower gives me a huge adrenaline rush,” Ryan said. Since posting two YouTube videos of their Ghost Tower climb, the couple have received more than 60 emails from travelers looking for advice on how to copy their adventure.
Fellow travel blogger Luca Grioni, a 24-year-old from Milan, Italy, has also conquered the Ghost Tower, along with numerous other abandoned buildings in Asia.
He said that Asia is the best continent for urban exploration because, unlike in Europe or the US where such trespassing could incur serious punishments, he felt he could always get himself out of trouble in Asia.
“The best sensation of urban exploration is actually the relief after you leave the location,” Grioni said. “It’s like doing skydiving where you have fun in the air but you are also concerned and when you finally get to the ground all the euphoria comes out because you survived.”
It is this thrill which also motivates 26-year-old Canadian adventurer Tyler Cave, who films some of his urban exploration exploits for his YouTube page Tyler Cave Productions.
He said he found it hugely satisfying to find a way inside restricted areas like the Ghost Tower and a haunted resort in Bali. Originally named the Bedugul Taman Rekreasi Hotel and Resort, this overgrown property in northern Bali is now called the Ghost Palace Hotel by locals.
It has gained popularity as an urban exploration site in recent years after stories emerged online about local beliefs that the long-abandoned resort was haunted by workers who died while constructing the property.
Cave said he had researched this backstory and had found the deserted resort to be “very interesting and spooky”.
“It is the excitement of discovering something different than we’re used to in our day-to-day life that drives my curiosity to keep exploring abandoned areas,” he said.
Cave and his fellow urban explorers are always looking for the next eerie deserted building to conquer.
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