Born James Harrison Wilson Thompson in Delaware in 1906, Jim Thompson is considered as being responsible for reviving the art of silk printing and weaving in Thailand in the early post war years. He had fallen in love with Thailand after he spent time here in the latter stages of the 2nd World War and was so taken with the country that he moved to Bangkok shortly after he received his discharge papers in 1946. He was certain that there would be a huge demand for the beautiful Thai silks in the West and travelled to New York in 1947 to showcase several pieces of traditional silk to numerous well respected people in the fashion industry including the editors of Vanity Fair and Vogue and within weeks Thai silks were featured in the pages of Vogue.
In 1948 he started his own silk company in Bangkok, gaining international success after his silks were used in the 1951 film “The King and I”. He decided to use his architectural background to oversee the construction of a house overlooking the silk weavers homes across the “Klong” (Canal)from him in Ban Krua.
He bought six traditional teak houses from all over Thailand to make his house complex, with construction finishing in 1959. After his mysterious disappearance in 1967 whilst walking in Malaysia’s Cameroon Highlands his house was turned into a museum and can be visited even today. It remains a fascinating testament to his business achievements and houses an impressive collection of rare art and antiques assembled over his lifetime in order to help preserve the rich Thai culture he came to love as his own.
The house is located within easy walking distance of National Stadium on the BTS although when I visited I walked from Ploenchit, following along the BTS line to try to get my baring’s here in Bangkok.
There are frequent guided tours of the museum (which are compulsory) in several different languages priced at 100baht and you can wait for the next tour in the appropriate language in the pretty café restaurant in the grounds.
Jim Thompson was an avid collector and purchased many beautiful artwork, ancient silk hangings, fine chinaware and religious statues and was determined to preserve these for future generations and keep them in Thailand. My favourite rooms of the house were probably the dining room which is unusual for a Thai house in that he had a dining table made from antique mah-jong tables so that his visiting western guests who were unaccustomed to the Thai habit of eating whilst sat on the floor would not be uncomfortable.
The table is set with stunning examples of china and you can also see some beautiful rice wine jugs which are quite a puzzle in trying to figure out how they managed to get the wine inside. The master bedroom has stunning views of the gardens and some interesting antiques such as a fun old fashioned “TV” which is actual a box with a maze built inside it in which they would race mice and place bets on the outcome! It was the main living room which is the real heart of the house and my absolute favourite.
It only has 3 walls and opens completely onto the garden overlooking the canal which means it is beautiful and airy. It is also home to some beautiful centuries old silk hangings as well as Buddha heads he bought back from his travels to Cambodia and I couldn’t help but wondering if any of them were the missing heads from the statues we saw in Angkor Wat?
Of course there is a shop where you can buy any number of different silk products but be warned, they are not cheap! Luckily I was given a beautiful silk scarf when we were in Cambodia so I had no need to purchase anything on this occasion but it is certainly a great place to buy gifts to take back home with you.