Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson, the Silk King.

Jim Thompson was an entrepreneur who did much to revive the silk industry in Thailand. He has contributed substantially to reviving this long neglected craft. In addition his house was unique and it represented the best of traditional Thai architecture. His disappearance in Cameron Highlands on the 26th of March, 1967 caused a big stir both in Cameron Highlands and in Thailand as well.

So, if you happen to be in Bangkok for a vacation, do look up the Jim Thompson House and find out more about Jim Thompson. That's just what I did when my wife, her sister and I went for a trip to Bangkok recently.

It would have been an eventful trip for us as we read in the newspapers that there were many demonstrators disrupting the traffic around the Siam Square area before we left for Bangkok. Fortunately for us, there was to be a voting poll on Sunday and it seems the people must return to their hometown to vote leaving Siam Square relatively peaceful.

It was quite easy to reach the Jim Thompson House. We used the BTS Skytrain and got off at the National Stadium station. The popular Ma Boon Krong shopping center or MBK for short was just around the corner too.

From the station, it was a relative short walk down the lane from the main Rama Road. The small lane was filled with many drab office buildings and some printing factories, though one of the buildings has an elaborate fancy gate. So it comes as a contrast when we arrived at the Jim Thompson house with its wooden construction in the authentic Thai architectural tradition and surrounded by well grown jungle trees, foliage and beautifully tended gardens.

Jim Thompson, the Silk King.

The Jim Thompson house is quite a popular tourist spot. Many visitors from various countries make their way here for a visit just to learn a little more about the famous Jim Thompson and of course relax and perhaps have a meal at the bistro set up on its grounds. With the unique architectural design of old Thai house and the dense jungle foliage that is quite a contrast against the surrounding background of modern drab grey buildings; you can almost immediately feel a change in pace as soon as you step across the gate entrance.

This was the Thai home of Jim Thompson, an American who was born in Greenville, Delaware in 1906. He was an architect by profession before he volunteered to join the U.S. Army and saw action in the European war theater. He came to Asia as part of the force that was to battle the enemy forces in Thailand. He arrived as a military intelligence officer attached to the O.S.S. however the war ended before he saw any action.

During his brief stay at the old Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, it seems he fell in love with Thailand and its people. After leaving the military service and his discharge in U.S., he returned and lived in Thailand permanently.

Thompson was pretty much enchanted with the simple and easy going lifestyle of the old Bangkok. He had his eye on a piece of land by the Klong Maha Nag with its waterways and wooden houses under the swaying shade of trees lining along the klong or waterways. Even till these days the klongs are still being used as a daily transportation, and I can hear the engine sound of boats and klong ferry while listening to the explanation by the tour guide as we move around the house.

The construction of the house was rather interesting, because it was actually six separate old teak buildings from different location, disassembled and transported to the present location using klong barges and reassembled. The oldest part of the main house is an early 19th century house from the silk weaving village of Ban Krua, located just across the klong from the house. This was to become the Drawing Room. The old style of the house construction without nails and pre-fabricated section of buildings meant that it could be easily disassembled and reassembled in another location. In addition, Thompson noted that many of the old Thai houses can last for a very long time, thus his decision to go around looking for old house that met his fancy.

Jim Thompson, the Silk King.

Well, the house was indeed intriguing. For the tour guide took us on a nice long tour starting from the garden and going through the various parts of the house; coupled with background stories and explaining the origin of the various artifact upon which Thompson collected sure makes for a compelling visit. Thompson was not only a remarkable entrepreneur; he was also an avid collector of artifacts, art crafts and antiques.

Some of the interesting artifacts include a wine pouring vessel that is filled from the bottom. Because of an extended tube within, the content will not spilled out when it is set upright. The elaborately carved door next to the study room actually belonged to a Chinese pawn shop, which Thompson somehow persuaded the owner to sell it to him. Many items have some story behind it too which the well trained guide can explain.

Jim Thompson, the Silk King.

And after the tour, one can rest and relax awhile at the Jim Thompson Bar and Restaurant. Next to the bar is a pond with floating lilies surrounded with tropical plants which make for cozy and relaxing meal with your friends or family. We didn't try the meals there as my wife and her sister were more interested with the souvenirs at the Jim Thompson souvenir shop.

Besides, the air condition available in the shop was more appealing to us than the open air restaurant. It was a chance for me to escape the midday heat of the day. Does bring to mind why I still like to go up to Cameron Highlands every so often - to escape the heat of the tropics! Well no chance here in Bangkok, especially now is the hottest season of the year. The Thai Sonkran water festival was just another week away but our vacation will be over and we will be well on the way home by then.

Jim Thompson, the Silk King.

I was not much of a souvenir hunter anyway, so I decided to explore the grounds of the Jim Thompson House. The house itself is not the only thing to see while visiting. Just above the souvenir shop is the Jim Thompson Centre for the Arts, sort of like a museum with exhibits on display. The exhibits are changed periodically so you will see different items on display. For my visit this time around they were showing some ancient Siamese maps from the nineteenth century. Those maps are very old and it came from the personal library of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, a royalty from the Thai monarchy household.

Back to the souvenir shop, my wife was making her final selection of souvenirs and we would make our move to another tourist spot in Bangkok. There was quite a large collection of various apparels and souvenirs. Some of the apparels are made from silk, an indication of the Thai silk industry that is still alive and kicking, no doubt with the help from Jim Thompson who has passed a lasting legacy and an intriguing history.

Find out more about Jim Thompson at:

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Posted on 21-Apr-2006

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