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A visit to the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok

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While being in Bangkok during IT&CMA 2018, I had a chance to visit the famous house and home of the “Thai Silk King” American Jim Thompson (1906-1967), who was born in Greenville, Delaware, and then mysteriously disappearing on March 26th, 1967, while on a holiday trip to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Several illustrious books have been written about Jim Thompson, his life, his career in Thailand, and his death, which up to now never has been resolved. Not a single valid clue has so far turned up in the ensuing years as to what might have been happening to him. One of the most common theories is that Jim Thompson was killed in a tiger’s trap of the Orang Asli in Malaysia during a walk in the jungle.

Actually, Jim Thompson was a practicing architect prior to World War II. Volunteering for military service during the war, he was stationed in Europe and was later sent to Asia, where he ended up in Thailand and fell in love with the country. After the war he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Bangkok and decided to live here permanently. Engaging himself in the long-neglected cottage industry, Jim Thompson’s attention was captured by a community of silk weavers at Ban Krua along a stretch of the Saen Saep Canal. Highly gifted as a designer and textile colorist, he contributed substantially to the industry’s growth and became an acclaimed expert in silk weaving.

Building and constructing a house compound just opposite the Ban Krua community, Jim Thompson combined six teak buildings, which represented the best choice of traditional Thai architecture possible. Most of the houses were at least two centuries old, were dismantled in the old capital of Ayutthaya and brought by boat to the present site. The houses were elevated a full story above the ground to avoid flooding during the rainy season. All the traditional religious rituals were followed, including an auspicious spirit house in one of the corners, and on a decreed day in 1959 by astrologers, Jim Thompson moved in. Being also a vivid art collector, the house soon became such a point of interest that he decided to open his home to visitors and becoming a preserver of Thailand’s rich cultural heritage. Priceless art object from the Dvaravati Period, Khmer and Burmese Art, Chinese ceramics, wood carvings and painted temple cloths abound. Only an art connoisseur can really appreciate the value of the whole interior of the buildings. Today, his famous Thai House is a museum and remains as a lasting reminder of his creativity and his deep love of Thailand. The museum is open every day 9.00 AM – 6.00 PM.

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