White Lion House, Chiang Mai

Last year I shared my exploration of the House of Success, an extravagant palatial ruin in the northwest corner of Chiang Mai immediately inside the old city walls. In that post I noted that there were two additional buildings of a similar style at the same site, one an active business and the other occupied by squatters. Returning this year for a second visit I was surprised to see that the squatters had left. Wasting no time, I strode into the Jangmuarinnakorn House, more generally known as the White Lion House, to document a previously missing piece of the puzzle.

Immediately upon entering I noticed an obvious clue: the plaque in the lobby reads François Thai Development Co., Ltd., evidently the developer that built this complex decades ago. This squares with what I found out while authoring last year’s post, namely that these ostentatious European-style buildings were designed to serve as a sales center for upscale condominiums in the boom times of the mid-1990s. Apparently the developer went broke and the entire property has been up for sale since 1997.

I found no sign of the squatters inside, no mattresses or personal possessions left behind. It actually looked like some effort had been undertaken to clean the place out. The huge pile of bricks out back and gaping holes in the walls suggest renovation or eventual demolition. From one of those gaps in the wall I noticed bamboo scaffolding all along the outside of the House of Success. Perhaps a buyer has finally been found?

The entire complex has long been the subject of supernatural speculation. This is a ghost story that practically writes itself: an ambitious real estate tycoon ignores warnings of bad feng shui, constructs an unusual set of buildings, moves into one of them with his family, slowly goes insane, and eventually hacks everyone into pieces (or whatever). It certainly makes for an interesting theme to explore through photography even if there’s nothing to substantiate the ghastly rumours.

The view from the top of the White Lion House is quite nice. Due to zoning laws inside the old city walls there are hardly any tall buildings so you can see clear across town, haze permitting. Gazing over the city walls is another matter—here you will see the big hospital and a mall beyond, the mix of urban sprawl and campus parkland the spills outward in every direction. Look down and you’ll see an empty patch of ground that used to be a swimming pool—and the House of Success itself, trussed up with bamboo scaffolding at the time these photos were shot.

An office on the second floor of the White Lion House was home to some of the only interesting artifacts I found during my exploration. Apart from the skull—a nice touch—there was plenty of paperwork, a hand-written phone book, and a bunch of decayed negatives. All of these things had been disturbed, of course. Many people have been through this building over the years, not only under the aegis of urban exploration. There is a growing collection of graffiti inside the White Lion House that I have neglected to share photos of here (for they dispel something of the ambiance).

In the end there wasn’t anything more amazing than I had seen next door at the House of Success but I am still glad I went. Sometimes it pays to return to ruins to further document their decay—or even gain access to new areas by chance or circumstance. The entire complex is showing new signs of activity, a sluggish awakening, and might not remain abandoned for much longer.