Vanishing Red: The Demolition of Depravity On Sukhumvit

We cry out in despair as an amulet market makes way for a shopping mall and hang our heads in shame as another chicken cart gets the chop, but what about the destruction of those often overlooked, darkened corners of the Sukhumvit Road?

Yes, I’m speaking about those decadent drinking dens; venues that take a bit of dutch courage to venture into and order a round in.

I’m talking about the depraved underbelly of Bangkok town; those shady bars that Bangkok was once famous for.

Don’t those dingy little districts deserve some love too?

And since when did Sukhumvit get serious about cleaning up her image?

I mean, come on.

Rewind to 23 January 2003.

Bars line the streets all the way from Soi Zero to Asok.

Wooden shacks are joined together by perilous planks of four-by-two, forming bridges over dirty grey sludge.

Inside are oversized fittings, high bars and low stools. The craftsmen designed their pieces, no doubt, to accommodate their myth-laden image of some gigantic Farang race: a race they had yet to see in the flesh.

This, where Chuvit Garden now stands on Soi 10, was once a labyrinthine network of bars, shops, and restaurants. Similar to that funky beer bar plaza place on Soi 22, this complex was known as Sukhumvit Square –  a hastily put together joint patronized almost exclusively by middle-aged Gentlemen About Town.

On the morning of 26 January 2003, business owners came to work to find their Sukhumvit Square establishments totally bulldozed to the ground; their livelihoods simply vanished overnight.

sukhumvit square demolition chuvit park

The Sukhumvit Square demolition – via

Cruel as this may seem, there was an even stranger twist to the story.

A public garden was built there in its place – Chuvit Garden.

A park!

The only bar that has survived from the Sukhumvit Square era is The Bush Garden on the opposite side of the road. It still stands there – sore thumbish among the tourist spots – yet in good company above the dubious coffee-cum-knocking shop, the Thermae, and next to one of Sukhumvit’s many tailor shops.

There were once bars like this everywhere along that stretch; only one today survives.

Other areas followed a similar fate: Asoke Plaza, The 13 Night Market, Soi Zero, Easy Square, Soi 1 Plaza

And then Washington Square fell in early 2013 to make way for the expanded development of the Emporium shopping empire.

washington square demolition bangkok emporium

The Washington Square demolition – via

The Square – once home to Vietnam vets who hung out at The Lone Star Bar and The Silver Dollar – is sadly no more, although some of its late residents can be found wandering aimlessly around the area searching for those glory days of yesteryear.

Worse still, earlier this year, the grungy tunnel behind Checkinn 99 Bar – running behind Sukhumvit Road connecting Sois 5 and 7 – was demolished.

A haven for shady internet scamsters, hair salons and rat infested bars, the tunnel took, to be a fair, a strong stomach and an open mind to walk through at night.

tunnel between sukhumvit soi 5 and 7

Photo of the tunnel by Alasdair McLeod

Lynchian dwarfs sang karaoke atop pool tables. An ancient gnarled foreigner sat languidly stroking a lop eared rabbit. A mannish female applied make-up while winking into the compact mirror, catching the attention of stragglers by. As you reached the end and out into little Arabia, you knew you had made it through the tunnel – and you’d never been happier to see a kebab vendor in your life.

Who can say they really missed that?

Well, this reporter, for one.

Those areas instilled a sense of adventure in those brave enough to investigate their depths and corners. The misshapen drinkers were, for the most part, entertaining, while there was always a sense of crime, danger or just of something happening in these dark and dingy places.

Quite what was happening we couldn’t really say…

The amulet market, On Nut Beer Garden, Thong Lor open air restaurant; these places will, of course, be remembered perhaps more fondly than the bizarre little areas around lower Sukhumvit. But, it’s worth asking: is Sukhumvit losing any of its vibrant character as the degeneration of these misfit spots reaches its obvious conclusion?

And where next will fall victim to the Sukhumvit demolition squad?

Love it or loathe it, the infamous lower Sukhumvit debauchery seems set to continue for the time being.

But probably not forever –

In the big bad city, the only thing constant is change…


Featured image is of the tunnel between Sukhumvit Sois 5 and 7, by Alasdair McLeod