The Jim Thompson House is a museum in Bangkok and counts more than 200,000 visitors per year. Hidden at the end of a side street, or soi in Thai, it is one of the city’s most interesting sights. You may have never heard of the name Jim Thompson; yet, he is probably the best known American in the history of Thailand.
Jim Thompson: A legend
Jim H.W. Thompson (born 1906) grew up in Delaware and studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. After several failed attempts to become a licensed architect, he decided to join the U.S. military during World War II. First stationed in Europe, he was sent to Bangkok as a member of the Office of Strategic Services – the intelligence agency preceding the modern CIA – when the war was about to end. He discovered the country and soon grew attached to its culture. Following his military discharge, he thus decided to settle in Thailand.
His attention eventually fell on the Thai silk industry which was at the point of extinction. The precious fabric was mostly produced for private consumption and was deemed too expensive to be commercialized locally. Jim Thompson, however, wanted to make Thai silk popular back home and created a collection of handwoven Thai silk which he presented in the U.S. Through his connections in New York, he grabbed the attention of leading fashion institutions leading to a new interest in Thai silk abroad. It was thanks to Jim Thompson, and almost him alone, that the industry experienced a new awakening during his lifetime. Throughout the 1950s silk shops began to open across Bangkok and found great demand among foreign visitors.
However, the legacy of the “silk king” goes beyond the revival of an old industry. He also left to the public his elegant villa in Bangkok that bears witness to his great passion for Asian art. It is made of teak wood and combines traditional Thai architecture with Western influences. It consists of 6 smaller Thai houses that are up to 200 years old. Some of them originate from as far as Ayutthaya, about 60 km from Bangkok. Surrounded by lush greenery, the Jim Thompson house is home to a large number of objects from Thompson’s private art collection. He was particularly interested in Buddhist art. According to the TIME magazine, most of his fortune from the silk industry went into the acquisition of art works and artefacts. Unprecedented in scope, the collection still remains one of the most important Thai art collection today.
Jim Thompson lived in his house by the khlong (canal) from 1959 until March 26, 1967, when he suddenly disappeared on a trip in Malaysia. Whether he fell victim to kidnapping or voluntarily disappeared is unknown, and still today, there is no single clue to his death.
The onetime architect left no children and his home is now under the protection of the James H.W. Thompson Foundation. The museum has opened its doors to the public since 1976 and offers guided tours in Thai, English, French, Japanese and Chinese. While the guided tour is mandatory, it is of great value and takes less than one hour. Visitors can learn a great deal about each art object preserved in the Jim Thompson House collection. On site you can also visit the Jim Thompson shop and a café with a beautiful koi pond to enjoy a refreshment after your tour.
Jim Thompson House: Entrance fees and opening hours
The Jim Thompson House is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm. The entrance fee which includes the guided tour is 150 Baht for adults and 100 baht for visitors under 22 (with ID).
Pictures can only be taken outside the Jim Thompson House. You can deposit your bags in a locker at the beginning of the tour.
Jim Thompson House: Location and how to get there
The Jim Thompson House is close to the BTS station National Stadium on the Silom Line. Follow exit number 1 and turn left at the bottom of the stairs, passing by the Mercury Ibis Hotel. At Soi Kasem San 2 turn right and walk to the end of the street (about 200 meters). The Jim Thompson House will be on your left side. For your convenience, a free shuttle service runs every 15 minutes between the museum and the main road.
Jim Thompson: Conclusion
The Jim Thompson House is all about the personality, the legacy and the passion of a true legend. During his 20 years in Thailand Jim Thompson not only became a master in an industry who knew nothing about, but also built a house that has become a landmark in Bangkok. It is absolutely worth visiting.