The end of a narrow, and non-descript lane in central
Bangkok contains one of the city's most popular sights: the
Jim Thompson House Museum. The former home of James Harrison Wilson
Thompson is visited by over 400 people a day and serves as a museum
that not only showcases Thai architecture and art, but also the
vibrant and engaging personality of Thompson himself.
Although a businessman who achieved prominence because of his successful
efforts to revitalize the Thai silk industry, Jim Thompson is often
remembered because of his mysterious disappearance. On Easter Sunday,
March 26, 1967, he apparently went for a walk while on a holiday
with friends in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia and was never
seen again, creating an unsolved mystery that continues to cause
comment and speculation.
An officer with America's Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
during World War II, Thompson came to Thailand at the war's
end and fell in love with the country and its people. Trained as
an architect, he helped with the restoration of the Oriental Hotel,
and then turned his attention to the commercial possibilities of
Thai silk. After considerable effort, his business prospered and
by the 1960's, the Thai silk industry employed thousands of
people and was known throughout the world for the quality of its
In addition to his business interests, Thompson was a passionate
collector of Asian art and a man who deeply enjoyed entertaining
visitors in his home. Today his home serves as a museum that showcases
Thai domestic architecture and the art that he collected over the
To create his home, Jim Thompson purchased six small Thai-style
houses that he had reassembled at a site adjacent to a canal and
across from the area where many of his weavers lived. Thompson's
dwelling was unique in that no one had ever created a home by combining
several traditional Thai wooden structures into a single unit with
amenities like attached bathrooms and an air-conditioned study.
The home was an immediate sensation and something people wanted
to see. Thompson decided to accommodate the public by opening it
two mornings a week to visitors, with proceeds from the visits being
donated to charity.
After he was declared legally deceased, his heirs formed a foundation
to both maintain the dwelling and the art collection it houses and
to support selected art and silk weaving projects.
Visitors enter the home-cum-museum through a ground-level entrance
into a small entry hall that is tiled with black and white Italian
marble. Traditional Thai buildings are raised on wooden columns
so there is a well-polished stairway leading up to the interior
of the home. The small dining room contains two ornate mahjong tables
that have been arranged to serve as a dining room table. The table
is set with blue and white Chinese porcelain from Thompson's
The drawing room with its beautiful crystal chandelier from Belgium
is especially appealing. The thin teak walls are rich and brown,
and as is the custom in traditional Thai buildings, lean slightly
to the center. Works of art abound and create texture, color and
interest to a room that must have dazzled guests that included Somerset
Maugham, Robert Kennedy and Ethel Merman.
Thompson's art-filled bedroom contains a fascinating glass
fronted "mouse house" that entertained children who could
watch the antics of the mice who lived inside. The small guest bedroom,
like everyplace in the structure, contains artworks, including a
Chinese porcelain chamber pot that looks like a cat.
An especially appealing feature of the house is the lush tropical
garden. A stroll through it quickly removes one from the bustle
and noise of urban Bangkok. In one corner, the gardener's cottage
has been transformed into a room for displaying part of Thompson's
large collection of Thai-style paintings. In another corner can
be found the Maid's room and an interesting selection of porcelain.
The museum, which is open each day from 9:00 ? 17:00 each day,
costs 100 baht for "adults," 50 baht for those between
the ages of 10 and 25 and is free for children under 10. Tours are
led by charming and informative guides and take about 35 minutes.
There is plenty of free parking at the site so it can be visited
by car. The museum is also easily accessed by the city's modern
Skytrain; simply get off at the National Stadium stop and walk the
block and a half down Soi Kasemsan 2 to reach it.
For those interested in a drink or snack an attractive dining area
is housed in a specially designed building that also contains a
shop with souvenirs and attractive items created from the silk produced
by the company started by Jim Thompson.
Although both the dwelling and art collection are relatively small,
they have an appeal that virtually everyone finds compelling. The
reason for this is undoubtedly Jim Thompson's good taste and
charismatic personality. The museum is as much a reflection of him,
as it is of the building and artwork that it contains.
The Jim Thompson House Museum is at
6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok
Tel. (662) 216-7368;
Fax. (662) 612-3744