The Jim Thompson House Museum is truly a unique Bangkok museum because the collection of antique Thai dwellings on display were both purchased and compiled by an American citizen named Jim Thompson during the 1950s and 1960s who loved the choicest works of Thai art.
I visited this museum in December 2013, and it was like walking into an oasis within the heart of Bangkok, because the site which is surrounded by tall shady trees sits plump within a high rise district near Bangkok's most popular shopping centre called MBK.
James Harrison Wilson Thompson was born in 1906 in the State of Delaware in the United States and was well educated having been schooled at St. Paul's boarding school and later at Princeton University.
Like many servicemen during World War 2 (WW2), Thompson found himself in Bangkok in 1946 after the conclusion of the War; having served within the United States Army. However, he had gained a liking for Thailand and its people and decided to return to Thailand to live permanently and establish himself as a silk merchant in the Thai silk industry; which at this period was little more than a dying cottage industry. The craft of silk making goes back thousands of years, and is said to have originated in China where for a long a time it remained a closely guarded secret.
Thompson had a flair for working in the Thai silk industry and brought the industry back into fashion becoming quite successful in the process by building his own company. His efforts would eventually earn him the 'Order of the White Elephant' which is an award only given to foreigners who provide exceptional service to Thailand. The silk produced in Thailand is now one of the finest materials in the world and is marketed worldwide.
CONSTRUCTION OF JIM THOMPSON MUSEUM
With a background in architecture having studied at the University of Pennsylvania, Thompson decided to build himself a mansion (known as the House on the Klong or canal) in 1958 from recycled materials which came from a number of antique Thai houses.
He also purchased a number of traditional Thai houses in Ayutthaya (about 65 kilometres north of Bangkok); had them dismantled and transported to Bangkok by boat down the Chao Phraya River.
His main house in Bangkok was built utilizing Thai design especially in the use of teak wood which was a common material in the construction of Thai houses prior to the 1950s.
As many of these teak houses have disappeared from the Bangkok landscape this museum and its collection of art in the heart of Bangkok is of cultural heritage significance for Thailand.
ART AND ARTIFACTS
Speaking of the artwork, when the Jim Thompson house was completed in 1959, he began decorating his new home with a collection of Buddhist inspired, and southeast Asian artifacts and art works from countries including Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia and China.
These works included: paintings, sculptures (including Cambodian stone figures), blue and white Chinaware, porcelains and other items such as a 17th Century French map of Thailand and its surrounding countries.
Examples of Thai silk including traditional silk weaving can also be viewed at the Jim Thompson House Museum within the silk pavilion, while art can be viewed within the painting pavilion.
Thompson would remain in Thailand for a further 25 years, but on Easter Sunday in 1967, aged 61 he disappeared under mysterious circumstances while sightseeing in the Malaysian jungle.
Although Malay police and American CIA operatives conducted a thorough search for Thompson and a seven year investigation took place, no trace of him was ever found. The case continues to arouse theories and speculations even today and several books have been written.
For example, author William Warren wrote the book titled "Jim Thompson The Unsolved Mystery" and American author Joshua Kurlantzick also wrote a book in 2012, based upon his research of records held by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the American Department of Defense.
His book is titled "The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War". While both books are said to be good reads I doubt whether anyone will ever really know what happened to Jim Thompson.
JIM THOMPSON FOUNDATION
However, in 1976 well after Thompson's disappearance the Thai government gave permission for the establishment of the Jim Thompson foundation with the Jim Thompson House Museum being an ongoing legacy to his achievements in Thailand both as an architect and a silk tycoon.
The foundation has obviously become quite successful with the Jim Thompson brand over the years because they have also established several Jim Thompson cafes/restaurants and bars in Bangkok.
Further, there are at least 16 Jim Thompson retail shops in Bangkok including two at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi International Airport (see image below). Each of the Jim Thompson retail shops sell a variety of quality products including clothing made from silk along with textiles.
to the Jim Thompson House Museum today will be as impressed with the
house that Jim Thompson built including the art and silk displays as his
own guests were back in the 1950s and 1960s. On the day I visited
there was also a display of traditional Thai dancing. The museum also
features a large restaurant located under the main building on the right
hand side as you walk through the front gate. Clean toilets are also
located near the front entrance for convenience.
visitors today will also feel like they have entered an oasis within
the heart of Bangkok, because the museum is situated on an acre of land
which is vegetated with a variety of lush tropical plants and trees
providing the allusion that you have stepped into a jungle environment.
The Jim Thompson House Museum opens daily between 9 am and 5 pm. Their website says that their is an admission fee is 100 Thai baht for adults but when I visited you could just walk in. I can only guess that the fee applies if you take a guided tour etc.
The museum is located at soi Kasem San 2, Rama 1 Road, Pathum Wan province in Bangkok Thailand. It is situated on the left hand side of BTS Skytrain National Stadium Station (i.e. opposite MBK shopping centre, see map below). There is sign next to the Kasem San 2 street sign pointing the way to the museum. It is open to the public daily between the hours of 9 AM to 5 PM daily.