For the architect, antique collector or aficionado of all things design, Jim Thompson Thai House and Museum should be at the top of your itinerary when visiting Bangkok.
Thompson, an American silk entrepreneur and inveterate collector, purchased several centuries-old disassembled teak houses after the end of World War II which soon housed his growing collection of Southeast Asian art and antiques. Reconstructed and redesigned in 1959, the building is now comprised of six houses representative of the best of Thai architecture and connected by walkways– curved temple-style roofs, open living spaces and nail-free construction.
The home was frequented by high society, movie stars and world leaders (Truman Capote, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and the Kennedys to name a few) who marveled at some of the interior idiosyncrasies, indicative of the owner. The windows had no shutters, the dining table was a pair of repurposed Mahjong tables, lamps made from drums turned upside-down, and the master bedroom was flanked with doors from old temples to ward off spirits.
Teakwood statues, Chinese porcelain, Victorian chandeliers, Cambodian carvings, Belgian glass and Benjaron earthenware discovered on Thompson’s Sunday antique outings on Nakorn Kaem and nature walks are just a few of the collections on display. Sadly, the last of the sixty-one-year-old’s walks resulted in his disappearance in 1967 during a holiday trip to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. The subject of numerous books (The Ideal Man is recommended) and conspiracy theories, Thompson’s time in his adopted country earned him the nickname “Legendary American of Thailand.”
Located in the heart of the city opposite National Stadium on the banks of the Saen Saeb canal (khlong), be sure and visit the Jim Thompson Art Center that houses special exhibits such as Asian textiles or pop in to see the Spirit House that holds the spirits disturbed during the construction of the houses.
Thompson single-handedly resurrected the Thai Silk industry, and his line is still manufactured to this day. The colorful silks can be found at the museum’s souvenir gift shop and the Jim Thompson Outlet in Bangkok, just five minutes away from the BTS Skytrain station Bang Chak.
Open daily to the public, the Jim Thompson Thai House and Museum remains one of the capital’s biggest tourist attractions. Perhaps writer Somerset Maugham explains it best in a thank you note to his host, “You have not only beautiful things but what is rare you have arranged them with faultless taste.”
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