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Jim Thompson House
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrJames H.W. Thompson was an American designer who lived in Thailand in the 50s and 60s, and is the one accredited with propelling Thai silk to the international markets. He started a textile company in Bangkok at a time when the local silk industry is said to have been on the brink of disappearing completely. Not only did Thompson breathe life back into the local industry but during his many trips all over the country, amassed a huge collection of historical, cultural, and architectural art from every corner of Thailand, as well as nearby countries.
Jim Thompson House, the spectacular property he built in 1958 to showcase his entire collection, is now a museum, and undoubtedly one of the most popular attractions in Bangkok. The museum’s popularity, and the enticement for tourists, is both due to the incredible collections on show, as well as for the rumors which continues to plague the mysterious disappearance of its sole benefactor.
The Story of Jim ThompsonBy the time Jim Thompson disappeared in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands in 1967 he was probably the most famous Westerner living in Asia. The Thai government once famously said that ‘he single-handedly revitalized the Thai silk industry’ yet for years before he became involved in the textile industry he’d been both a Princeton University student and an agent for what was to become the CIA. Thompson’s first introduction to Southeast Asia occurred during WWII, when he was part of the regiment sent to expel invading Japanese forces from Thailand. By the time Thompson arrived in Thailand, however, Japan had just surrendered.
Jim Thomspon’s love affair with Thailand was immediate and, as it turned out, lifelong lasting. Upon discharge from the army he returned to Bangkok, at first to invest in hotels and then, when that fell through, he turned his attention to silk. He was fascinated by ancient weaving techniques and found Thai masters in remote villages to be exceptionally talented. He founded the Thai Silk Company and within just a few years his silks had been used in Hollywood films and had become, quite literally, a household name.
Thompson visited Malaysia in March 1967 along with some friends. He left his hotel on the morning of the 26th of March to go for a relaxing stroll, never to return. Neither him, nor his belongings and remains, have ever been found. The disappearance sparked the largest manhunt in Malaysian history and is still nowadays considered one of history’s most intriguing mysteries.
Jim Thompson House is the legacy he left behind in Bangkok, one which is well worth exploring, especially if it’s your first visit to the country. Thompson was posthumously awarded the Order of the White Elephant which aims to honor foreigners who have made a considerable contribution to Thailand.
Visiting the houseJim Thompson House is a delightful oasis away from the hustle of Bangkok’s chaotic center, yet aside this it is also a very interesting place to visit if you wish to learn more about the history of silk weaving in Thailand, and rural life in its different regions. The only way to visit is on a guided 40-minute tour, which is infinitely more rewarding than simply wandering about the place on your own.
The main house is quite stunning, and made of glorious lacquered teak. Considering the design is over half a century old, it’s incredible to see just how timeless it is. Framed by a picturesque and pristinely kept garden, fish filled ponds and pagodas; a visit here is like a breath of fresh air, especially so close to Bangkok’s center. Moreover, if Bangkok is your only stop in Thailand, this is the only chance you’ll have to admire the architecture of traditional Thai housing.
Six other houses, which were bought from all over the country and brought here by Thompson, used to be his servant’s quarters, and are now the main museum halls. They display the priceless works of art, crafts, and antiques that Thompson collected through the years. Renowned as a very serious collector of antiques, Thompson collected and displayed his purchases long before it even became popular in Thailand. Back in those days, the only religious and secular artifacts in the country were either in the National Museum which had few visitors, or held in private collection by extremely wealthy families.
Having a keen eye for quality and authenticity, most of Jim Thompson’s purchases were made in local flea markets, where farmers who had unearthed statues or pottery on their land, were satisfied with small remunerations. Most of these items turned out to be exceptionally priceless. Every single spot is masterfully lighted and wonderfully displayed, not to mention very well designed.
The in-house restaurant serves some rather delectable meals. A museum dedicated to silk weaving is located upstairs, and a retail store out front sells a few of Jim Thompson’s signature gear.
Admission Info & How to Get ThereA nominal fee of ฿100 ($3.10) is payable upon entry, which includes a guided tour. Tours run all day long in several languages. Tours start at 9 a.m. and the last runs at 5 p.m. The museum is in the heart of Bangkok’s, just across the road from the National Stadium Skyrail stop. Take exit 1 upon alighting and take Soi Kasemsan 2 road to the right. Walk all the way to the end; you’ll find the museum on the left.
Do beware the well-dressed touts who tend to loiter about 50 meters from Jim Thompson House, adamant to inform you that the house is closed today and wouldn’t you rather go buy silk at his friend’s shop? Trust us, you don’t.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Feb 21, 2015