Besides delicious foods and intricately decorated temples, there are at least two other things that a lot of people know about Bangkok. There first one is that this city is full of farangs (foreigners). The second one is that we can find almost anything here, from cheap souvenirs and clothes in Chatuchak and Pratunam, to high end products in lavish shopping malls and stores. Combining them both and you will find Jim Thompson, the name that a shopper in Bangkok (like me) would definitely have heard of. Jim Thompson’s Thai Silk Company operates a number of stores in and outside Bangkok which mainly sell garments and other silk, cotton and linen cloth products. But it would not be fair to compare the prices to similar products in Chatuchak due to obvious quality difference. In this post I am not going to review these stores, but actually I am going to write about Jim Thompson House, his former residence which now becomes a museum.
It all began when James Harrison Wilson Thompson or better known as Jim Thompson arrived in Thailand as part of his work in OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of CIA). Fell in love with the country, he decided to return permanently to Thailand after he had been discharged from his service. This charismatic American with fondness in art began to see the potential of Thai silk. With his dedication, soon he was well-known for his success in rebuilding silk industry in Thailand, a reputation which at that era made him the most famous American in Thailand. Unfortunately after living in Thailand for 22 years, in 1967 he disappeared during his holiday with friends in Cameron Highlands in Malaysia and his disappearance is still a mystery until now.
With his background in architecture, in 1958 he began the construction of his new home in Bangkok. Using parts of old traditional houses, he managed to combine six different wooden houses into his residence which would also showcase his art collections. This house is located on Soi Kasemsan 2 just the opposite of the National Stadium on Rama I Road. It is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily. In the museum, a number of visitors will be grouped together for a compulsory guided tour of the house, with information given in Thai, English or Chinese, although I also heard some French in another group. First we were taken to a lush tropical jungle style garden at the back of the house, before proceeding into the house. We have to take our shoes off though, and they also have lockers for visitor’s belongings.
Visitors are taken around the house and receive information in each of the rooms in the house. There are also a number of art object which Jim Thompson had collected during his life including ceramics and glassware. Since the house is basically made of several separate houses, it is interesting how he had planned to combine them into one large house with his architecture skill. At the side of the house, there is a klong (canal), where occasionally passenger boats still pass by at full speed. Just across this canal, there is Bangkrua village where his weavers used to live then. Also around this area at the side of the house we can find a huge tree and the residence’s spirit house nearby.
There is also a Jim Thompson store in the complex which displays the company’s products. Above this store there is an art gallery. During the time I visited Jim Thompson House, the art gallery exhibited an interesting art piece called Golden Teardrop by Arin Rungjang. But it must have been changed by now. Overall, this museum is another nice specimen of preserved traditional Thai architecture, with a nice collection of artifacts, somewhat similar to the one in Suan Pakkad. While Suan Pakkad has more extensive collections, the organized guided tour here provides more detailed information. And while in the subject of museums, for the next post I will write my story on a less traditional but more contemporary museum in Bangkok, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.