R.I.P. Washington Square

1 01 2013

In my book, Bangkok Off the Grid, I talked about the district of Washington Square as “living on borrowed time”. The insular and shabby little bar cluster is (was) tucked right behind Sukhumvit’s main drag on a dead-end street but it seemed to belong to a different Bangkok entirely . Washington Square was a timewarp stuck in the Vietnam-era. It consisted of honky tonk bars for American old timers, haunted by CIA agents, “bargirls” who had seen better days and burnouts from ‘Nam as well as, surreally, the Iranian embassy. When I first stumbled into this shadowy neighbourhood I was amazed and intrigued. But I also wondered how much longer it could last  – on such a prime piece of real estate, literally in the shadow of the area’s newer glitzy towers.

Well, now I know. It couldn’t. I was only half-surprised, but still a little sad, to see that my article on the district was a swan-song. It has now disappeared. The bulldozers have moved in to tear down the bars and poky little apartment blocks – no doubt a shining new mall or tower is due to go up in their place soon.

Meanwhile, squatters (perhaps construction workers) have moved into some of the old shops amid the smashed-in bars and fields of rubble. I stumbled on to an overgrown shrine in one corner, stalked by feral cats and chirping flocks of sparrows and as the sun sank over the ruins, the hotel directly behind the district lit up with flashing strobe lights -something I had never noticed before, blocked as it was by the shadow of Washington Square.

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