House of Success

House of Success, Chiang Mai

Mere minutes after setting out from my hotel to explore Chiang Mai I stumbled upon a bizarre building in a mostly empty lot just inside the old city walls. I swear I don’t always go looking for abandoned places—sometimes they find me instead. And in this case I couldn’t very well say no, now could I? I walked up the stairs to take a closer look at this ostentatious ruin, the House of Success.

An unusual sight in back alley Chiang Mai
On days like today I feel like these places find me, not the other way around.
A mysterious mansion in old town, Chiang Mai
Completely unlike anything else in the neighbourhood.
A lion guards the entrance
One of the lion guardians at the entrance to the main building.
The view from the front door of the House of Success
The view from the front entrance. I was surprised, to say the least.

Often it requires little effort to determine the purpose of the buildings I explore. At other times I am left guessing, formulating hypotheses as I go. And then there are times like this when I am completely bewildered by what I am seeing. I roamed through three floors of ersatz European-style architectural flourishes and bare Asian concrete and simply couldn’t figure it out. What was this place?

Main floor of the House of Success
The main floor at the House of Success.
Entrance to a room filled with junk
A closer look at some of the detailing on the second floor.
Gateway to the second floor balcony
The opening to the second floor balcony.
Up on the second level of the House of Success
The second floor looks like something out of a Stanley Kubrick film.

Fancy abandonments in Asia often turn out to be former karaoke bars, hotels, or restaurants—but this place didn’t have a kitchen, a bar, or a selection of private rooms. All it had was several chambers filled with a spare assortment of mysterious objects. I couldn’t find much evidence for any of the guesses I made as I strode from room to room.

The weird chamber on top of the House of Success
The weird chamber on top of the building. The rug really ties the room together.

The room on top really takes the cake. I had to step through a broken door and shimmy my way up a spiral staircase to reach this rooftop sanctuary. The ceiling is low, about five feet, so I had to hunch over sideways as I slipped through a glass antechamber into the musty room pictured above. Air conditioning and a fake tiger rug. A lover’s nest? But what about the shrine at back? Stranger and stranger…

An overview of the main floor at the House of Success
The main chamber from the top of the stairs at the back.
Another look at the facade at the House of Success
The facade.
Wall detailing outside the House of Success
This is the wall just outside the entrance.
House of Success
House of Success.

It wasn’t until I returned to the entrance that I noticed the words emblazoned above the door: “House of Success”. I was completely dumbfounded. Not knowing what else to do I continued my exploration, turning up little else of interest in the main building itself.

Guardians of the portal
These gods reign out back.

The House of Success is one of three in this palatial style—but the other two weren’t accessible. One is occupied by what looks like squatters and the other appears to be an operational business of some kind—a medical clinic, if the green cross on the sign out front is any indication. I took a few shots of the other buildings for context and went on my way. (Update: I returned to the site and have since published a sequel about the White Lion House.)

An ornate building next to the House of Success
A similar building next to the street. This one was occupied by squatters so I didn’t get to explore it.

By now I’m sure you’re curious—what exactly was this place? Having done a bit of reading here, here, and here, the story that emerges is one of an eccentric millionaire building a bunch of showpiece buildings to act as sales centers for upscale real estate developments twenty years ago. Apparently they were never occupied. Much of this seems to be based on the description of this photo on Flickr but “Tycoon Jack” is a real person if this news story is to be believed.

A closer look at the building next to the House of Succes
A closer look at the second building.
A building occupied by squatters
The second building from the roadside.
The view from the city walls of Chiang Mai
The view of the entrance from the top of the city wall.

Based on some of the photos shared in other explorations of this ruin it would seem that some effort has been undertaken to redevelop the property. There is no longer a pool on site; the area outside of the House of Success is bare earth now. Few of the statues that used to stand watch outside remain, though a few seem to have been secreted away to nearby properties. What the future holds for such a strange abandonment is beyond knowing—but I am very glad I chanced upon this place before it disappears forever.

Update: as of 2019 both the White Lion House and the House of Success have become a boutique hotel. The exteriors remain about the same, but you’ll have to be a guest to see inside!

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