Bangkok is a city of slowly fading ghosts.
Every city is graced with its own urban decay. To some people, derelict buildings and their rusty, crumbling structures are eyesores. To others, they’re spatial poetry. Bangkok, for a stretch of years following the Asian economic crash of 1997, had a generous share of architectural ghosts. Skeletal skyscrapers dotted the skyline. Sometimes the towers stood unfinished, just gargantuan bones of concrete and steel. Other times, rooms sat already-furnished but in a building left unopened… to be aged, eroded and dilapidated by dust, rain, wind, graffiti and other ravages of the city.
These modern ruins added a new but very visible, vertical Babelesque layer to the existing beauty of historic mansions and stately homes in disrepair. The old houses, in contrast to the towers, were less imposing and obvious, often disintegrating half-unseen behind the city’s ubiquitous high-walled gates. Today most of the skyscrapers have finally been completed or demolished – and many of the ornate wooden homes likewise torn down or renovated to be reborn as restaurants and boutique hotels.
A few ghosts however remain. Unlike the exquisite time capsule that is the Nightingale Olympic department store, which still peddles its wares, New World shopping mall has been taken over by the fishes.
Open for years, New World was ordered by the Thai courts in the mid 1990s to demolish its top 7 storeys. The extra height was was an unapproved addition to the 4-storey blueprint. Located in the vicinity of Bangkok’s historic quarter, building codes for the area specified strict height regulations to avoid overshadowing the country’s most important landmarks. “Modifications” to plans however were quite common. About a decade later demolition began with business continuing as normal on the first 4 floors. Following a tragic death and injuries in a collapse that sent rubble breaking through several storeys to the open-for-business mall below, the building was eventually shuttered.
With time, the offending floors were removed, and roofless, the building flooded with rainwater. Street vendors and local residents introduced fish to counteract the mosquito problem. The incongruous fish pond was born.
The building has been boarded up to keep gawkers away from the dangerous structure though there’s still a hidden back access. Waterfalls cascade down from breaches in the escalator walls and railings of the arcade’s upper levels. Sounds echo through the cave of the ruins. Countless fish in a mosaic of whites, oranges and blacks glide through the sprawling pool.
I guided a longtime friend there to see it firsthand. Another expatriate Asia-dweller, who has spent much of his life since a young age in Japan, this was his ninth visit to Bangkok and I’ve spent years of my life in the city myself, so we both decided to set out for spots we’ve never seen. Along with a Thai companion, we braved the swarms of mosquitoes (who apparently still breed with orgiastic passion on the flooded higher floors), fed the fish some bread and filmed the short video clip below.