Are going up to the top of some of East Asia’s tallest buildings worth the price and time? Or will a rooftop bar do just fine? Let’s take a look!
Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia’s tangible symbol of future success, the 1,483-foot, 88-story Petronas Twin Towers are the ninth tallest buildings in the world. The Skybridge connecting the two buildings at the 41st and 42nd floors is also the highest skybridge in the world, but that’s where ticketing gets a little tricky. You can buy tickets to the observation deck online or in person, but you can only get the free tickets to the Skybridge in person. People line up quite early to get tickets for their preferred tour time, and your time on the bridge is limited to 15 minutes. Since there’s a cap on how many people can go up per day, tickets invariably run out quickly. This seems designed to lead to frustration, but taking the Skybridge is a very cool experience if you’re willing to roll out of bed early for tickets. The observation deck is also gorgeous and I love the emphasis on futuristic design throughout the entire structure. While the views in the daytime are wonderful, it’s also worth visiting at night to see the towers and and the city lit up. There is a train station in the towers, or many bus routes stop there, too.
General info: RM80 (~US$25) entry fee. Operation hours: 9am-9pm, Tuesday-Sunday.
Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai, China
The unmistakable 1,535-foot tower in Pudong Park sits right across from The Bund. This may not be the place for you if you don’t like crowds – it reminds me of the Statue of Liberty (way back in the pre-9/11 days when I visited) in that there’s a line to get up top, then a bunch of pushing and attitude once you’re up there, and then a line to get back down. Of course, the high possibility of pollution will minimize the chance for a great, or even adequate, view but when it’s good, it’s great. Besides just the observation deck, though, there’s also an all-glass viewing deck, the Shanghai History Museum, a karaoke and dance hall, and a rotating restaurant.However, if you like paying for extremely cheesy things, then taking the Pedestrian Tunnel train is a big part of making the trip to the tower worth it. Taking the train is an added expense at RMB30 or 40 for one-way or return (US$5-7), but the ride takes you through a psychedelic light show journey through earth, heaven and hell. It is absolutely ridiculous in the best way possible. If you’d like to save money, though, an alternative is to watch the tower’s LED light display every night from the comfort of a nearby bar.
General info: RMB50, 85, or 100 (~US$8, 13, or 16) entry fee depending on how high you want to go. Operation hours: 8am-9:30pm.
Baiyoke Tower II, Bangkok, Thailand
Honestly, I just love Baiyoke Tower because the outdoor deck is kind of rickety and the building is a mix of almost-upscale and the downright weird. The best thing is that the entry fee includes a free drink (alcohol included), so you can sit and enjoy the observation deck as long as you want. The stairwells are decorated with a space theme, including statues of little green men. You can step outdoors onto the revolving deck, which creaks and moans, especially when the wind picks up. I never saw it too crowded, and don’t remember having to wait too long for the elevator. The 85-story, 1,076-foot skyscraper is in the Ratchathewi District, near the Ratchaprarop Airport Rail Link Station. Baiyoke Tower II is my sentimental favorite, so I totally recommend it.
General info: 400 Baht entry fee (~US$12). Operation hours: 10am-10:30pm.
Taipei 101, Taipei, Taiwan
This 101-story, 1,671-foot heavyweight is the 5th tallest building in the world. It was constructed to look like a bamboo stalk, making it easily and instantly recognizable. It’s also handily located right above the train station in the Xinyi District. 101 has a huge mall, food court and a few upscale bars, meaning you can easily spend the whole day and night (and your budget) there. The line to get to the elevator is usually pretty long, but there’s a distinct lack of bad moods and shouty security like at Willis (Sears) Tower or the Empire State Building. The observation deck is incredibly spacious and the views are spectacular. It was overcast when I went, so I didn’t pay extra to go to the outdoor deck. On the way down, check out the 660-ton solid steel, gold-painted ball that helps reduce the building’s sway by 40 per cent. Overall, I’d recommend it: it’s a gorgeous piece of architecture, and it’s clean, not jam-packed (the mall and food court are, though) and has great bathrooms. The surrounding area is also a nice area to explore.
General info: NT500 (~US$17) entry fee plus NT100 (~US$3) for outdoor viewing deck two floor up from observation floor. Operation hours: 9am-10pm; last entry 9:15pm.
International Commerce Centre, Hong Kong, China
ICC is the seventh tallest building in the world, at 1,588 feet. It’s a quick walk over from Kowloon MTR station. The viewing deck, while quite nice, can get saturated with mainland tourists and families on weekends and public holidays. Keep in mind that the pollution can get quite bad, making it almost impossible to see across the harbor, so if it’s smoggy while you’re visiting, I’d recommend skipping it. However, another option that is not so crowded with families with small children is Ritz Carlton’s OZONE bar on the 118th floor. It’s the highest bar in the world, and you’re paying for it, too – you’ll be spending the same as the entry fee for the cheapest thing on the menu. OZONE is open till 2 or 3am on weekends if you want a late night view. I personally prefer the bar option, but I hightail it out of there before the bankers arrive.
General info: HKD168 entry fee (~US$22). Operation hours: 10am-9pm; 9am-9pm weekends and public holidays. Last entry 8pm.
Macau Tower, Macau, China
If this tower looks familiar, it’s because Macau Tower was inspired by Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand. At 1,108 feet, Macau Tower is definitely the tallest building around but still competes for dominance against the glitz of the casinos. I’ve never been up there on a clear day, which dampened the experience. At night, it’s a bit better because you can see all the casinos lit up. The viewing deck is clean and minimalist. with glass panels in the floor, and lines to get up there are non-existent. For me, the coolest part is going up in the glass-front elevator. The revolving buffet restaurant is worth it, especially since there are regular Groupon offers for it. If you’re a thrillseeker, Macau Tower is home to the second-highest Bungee jump in the world at 765 feet, as well as a Skyjump or Skywalk, all of which are operated by AJ Hackett. There are multiple bus routes that pass the tower, but a taxi is the easiest way to get there.
General info: MOP135 (~US$17) entry fee. Operation hours: 10am-9pm weekdays; 9am-9pm weekends and public holidays.
What other skyscrapers would you recommend?