Not unlike every other day in Bangkok, it was oppressively hot and humid as we made our way to a place we knew little about, but which sounded oddly interesting. Even though it’s located in the heart of the city, as soon as we entered the Jim Thompson House property I knew we were in a different place and time.
As we quickly learned, Jim Thompson was a wealthy American who first visited Bangkok during World War II as a young OSS officer. Like most people who visit Bangkok, the city instantly cast a spell over him and Jim took up permanent residence in the Southeast Asian capital.
Thompson made his fortune and secured a place in history by revolutionizing the textile industry. He began a very successful business by creating traditional Thai silk and designs on a mass scale for Western distribution. The textiles Thompson produced had never been available to the public in such quantity and quality and in time he created a new industry in Thailand.
Simultaneously, Thompson also began a lifelong obsession with collecting Thai and Southeast Asian art and antiques. The collection was remarkable for the era because no one had ever attempted to assemble these unique artifacts. Even though he is single-handedly credited with saving scores of priceless Thai arts and crafts pieces, Thompson’s crowning achievement was on a scale no one could have imagined.
Originally a way to house his collection, Thompson drew on his design background and purchased and relocated entire sections of six antique Thai homes and had them assembled into a single architectural masterpiece. The Jim Thompson House is situated on a klong across from the Bangkrua area of Bangkok where his weavers once lived. Thompson lived in this Thai Shambala until 1967, when something unusual and tragic happened.
Thompson was on a hiking vacation in Malaysia when one day he set off for a walk and simply never returned; his body never found. Countless conspiracy theories about his disappearance have arisen over the years, but most experts agree that he probably fell in a ravine and perished.
Despite his bizarre death, touring Jim Thompson’s House is a great way to spend an afternoon in Bangkok. The tour through his very eclectic home is like visiting a museum of Thai design and social history. For a calming experience, be sure to also visit the tropical gardens which offer a remarkable respite in a sea of Bangkok modernism.
For more information, please visit the Jim Thompson House website.