The Jim Thompson house, Bangkok Thailand
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The Jim Thompson house

 The Jim Thompson House

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 products.

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 years.

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 collection.

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


- July Issue, 2002

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