Sesame Hotel (芝麻大酒店)

Its been said that I'm a bit slow with some of the photos I post. Sometimes it takes months for me actually get around to blogging about something or sharing photos with people. While I’m out shooting different locations though, I always use the Instagram Stories features to share what I'm doing in real time.

The responses I receive from the "stories" I upload on Instagram tend to vary between appreciation for the photos or general appreciation for the way I introduce Taiwan to others.

The responses I receive from locals when I’m out Urban Exploring however are always the same: “Aren’t you afraid of ghosts?!

Suffice to say, if I were afraid of ghosts, its not likely that I’d be visiting most of the places I do, but for locals, the struggle is real when it comes to pests of the supernatural variety.

I’ll admit that some of the places I visit aren’t really for everyone and can at times even freak me out (especially when there are giant spiders) but for the most part exploring abandoned buildings interests me because there is always an interesting history and a reason why these buildings have become abandoned.

One issue that always comes up though is that the national obsession with avoiding ghosts and haunted houses makes it a bit difficult to do research and get any concrete information about some of these historic abandonments.

The subject of today’s blog post is no different - At least 95% of the internet search results come up with it rated as one of the ‘Top Ten Haunted Places' in the nation but they all fail to provide any relevant information about its history.

If I had done any research prior to my visit, I probably would have left feeling a bit disappointed as my expectations for something considered one of the ‘Top Ten Haunted Hotels’ (十大猛鬼酒店) in the country didn’t offer anything remotely spooky.

Luckily I didn’t bother doing much reading before I went and enjoyed my visit as the afternoon light inside the building was shining through all the open windows providing for absolutely beautiful light in the long corridors of the hotel.

The Sesame Hotel (芝麻大酒店)

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Taiwan underwent what is popularly known as the “Taiwan Miracle” (台灣奇蹟) allowing the nation to experience rapid economic growth and making quite a few people filthy rich.

The rapid growth of the economy notably was of benefit most to those loyal to the state, which in that time meant the party. If you happened to be an upstanding member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (中國國民黨) or the military, it was likely that you would have a much smoother experience in your entrepreneurial endeavours.

One such entrepreneur was a former soldier named Chang Ke-Dong (張克東) who after leaving the military in the early 1960s started a career in business by founding the Hua-Mei Construction Corporation (華美聯合建設公司) in 1965.

Chang used his influence as a former member of the military to secure construction contracts allowing his company to quickly gain a large amount of capital and a reputation as one of the most influential of its time allowing him to amass a large fortune.

Chang used his fortune to diversify his holdings and would become not only the owner of a very successful construction company but also two five-star hotels, a department store, movie theatres and several retail outlets among others.

To make a long story short though, due to Chang’s corrupt business dealings and various contract disputes in addition to a slowdown in the global market, his fall from grace was just as quick as his rise.

He fled to the USA in 1982.

Before the demise of Chang’s companies, two of his most important holdings were his prized five-star hotels - The Sesame Hotel in Taipei (台北芝麻大酒店) - also an abandoned building - as well as the Sesame Hotel and Resort (石門芝麻大酒店) in Taoyuan were places where the nation’s elite were known to frequent. 

Taoyuan’s Sesame Hotel, a luxury five-star hotel built on a mountainside near the scenic Shimen Reservoir (石門水庫) was a luxurious all-inclusive resort that opened in 1976 with an investment of more than $400 million NT dollars.

In the years between 1976 and 2008 the hotel was a popular one and became an important destination for both local and foreign dignitaries as well as celebrities. It was also a popular location for government functions with a professional staff that numbered well over a thousand.

The nine-storey pure white hotel featured over 150 suites and a presidential suite. It was designed in a way to make it stand apart from the mountain behind it and the turquoise water from the reservoir below.

On-site facilities included nightclubs, shops, cafes, restaurants, hot spring saunas, a swimming pool, an open-air cinema, solarium, tennis courts, etc.

Guests were also offered horse carriage rides around the reservoir, fishing trips, lakeside barbecues and excursions to nearby tourist areas like Daxi Old Street (大溪老街) and Cihu Mausoleum making the experience an all-inclusive stop for people of all ages.

Even though the design of the hotel was cutting edge for its time, there were a few areas that were considered not very kosher in terms of Feng Shui. The design is said to not only have confused its guests but also later contributed to gaining its ‘haunted’ status.

The top floor of the hotel for some odd reason was named the "first floor", while the ground-level floor was referred to as the "eighth-floor".

No one really knows why, and I couldn’t even assume to have any idea why anyone would make such a decision, but it apparently caused quite a bit of confusion for guests who had a hard time finding their rooms. 

As the economy started to slow down at the turn of the century, business at the hotel declined and even though the quality of the rooms remained the same, the other facilities an the resort started to become neglected in order to save money.

The lack of business and the unsightliness of the area around the resort gave people the idea the hotel was haunted, which is a reputation in Taiwan that is never good for business.

After over thirty years, the Sesame Hotel closed its doors in 2008 - The decline of the tourism industry in the area, the failure of Chang Ke-Dong’s businesses and the hotel’s reputation as a haunted house were all too much to overcome leaving the beautiful building completely bare and abandoned to the elements.

In the decade since the Sesame Hotel closed, it has become a popular place for urban explorers and tour groups who visit at night looking to freak each other out. Even though the building has been almost completely cleared out, it is in pretty good shape and offers urban explorers some pretty good opportunities for photos.

Locals may be consider the hotel to be one of the most haunted buildings in the nation but I’d argue that it is a beginner level exploration and if you are thinking about trying your hand at urbex, this one would be a good place to start.

While this one may be considered one of the "most haunted" buildings in the nation, I’d argue that it is a beginner level exploration and if you are thinking about trying your hand at Urban Exploration, this one would be a good place to start.

Not only is the building a structurally safe one to visit, all of the windows are open and the air inside is fresh meaning that you won't have to put up with the stench that is common in other abandoned buildings here in Taiwan. There is also a distinct lack of anything creepy-crawly in the building, which is an added bonus (giant spiders freak me out). 

As usual, I won’t be telling you the exact location of the hotel, but I’ve left so many clues that you should be able to figure it out on your own!