Missing Silk Tycoon Jim Thompson, Bangkok

Bangkok is always a superb destination, and especially a perfect stop on the way to Bhutan! Do visit the Bangkok home and Asian art collection of the late James H.W. Thompson, also known as the “Thai Silk King”. The Jim Thompson House is a museum in central Bangkok, housing the intriguing art collection of American businessman and architect Jim Thompson, the museum designer and former owner. Built in 1959, the museum spans one rectangular “rai” of land. A glimpse of life in the private home of one of southeast Asia’s richest silk merchants is worth the small fee and an hour of your time. Include lunch at the small cafe – arrive early for the first tour at the former house of the late silk tycoon, it’s a rare treat to glimpse the beauty of true Thai architecture and his stunning collection of rare Asian artifacts.

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The history behind Jim Thompson is a fascinating tale. Born in Delaware in 1906, and worked as an architect. He was sent to Bangkok after World War II, as a military officer, and he fell in love with Thailand and Bangkok. When his military service ended, he settled down in this beautiful country permanently.

The Spirit offering house on Jim Thompson property filled with his favorite treats.

Jim Thompson became fascinated by the traditional Thai hand-woven silk, a long-neglected art and industry. Silk products had lost fashion, Thompson decided to revive this craft and designed contemporary silk clothing and products, he founded the Thai Silk Company in 1948. He also introduced Thai silk to the world market. It turned out that the world’s fashionistas loved Thai silk, and Thompson`s business became a huge success.

One of the most significant reasons for its success was that the famed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the designer Irene Sharaff utilized his silks in the costumes of The King and I, The irony of this tale is that the King & I movie isn’t allowed to be shown in Thailand, due to its representation of King Mongkut of Siam.

From Jim Thompson: “The Thai silk-weaver’s technique is hundreds of years old. Every child learned how to weave but each family wove enough for its own needs. Their styles and colors are not suitable for foreign consumption. It took us a long time to know what the world markets required. It makes no difference to us as to how well we know our clients. What really matters is whether they like our products or not.”

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

His love of Thailand and in particular Bangkok, led him to design and build a unique compound of homes surrounded by gardens. The exquisite complex of six traditional Thai teak houses are surrounded by lovely jungle like gardens. His design included using an old traditional antique wooden Thai house, incorporating sections of old up-country houses. He located six ancient teak buildings from different locations in Thailand, some from the former capital city of Ayudhya, the Siam Kingdom. All are built in the traditional Thai architecture. Each house was dismantled and brought to Bangkok, where they were carefully reassembled to become his home.

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

Each individual home was all kept intact and during the reassembling process, he incorporated religious customs and rituals. The red paint on the outside walls of the houses is a preservative often found on many old Thai buildings. After astrologers provided a safe harmonious date, he moved in to his compound in 1959. Some of the structures are elevated a full floor above the ground, as was the custom of old Thai houses, to avoid flooding. Thompson did however add his own touches to the buildings. He had a passion for antiques and decorated his home with authentic Buddha images from 13th century, original Thai paintings from 18th century and Chinese porcelains from 14th century. There are delicate treasures in the bookcases and shelves.

The house is surrounded by a beautiful and lush jungle like garden, full of old enormous ceramic pots brimming with lotus blossoms and koi fish, the gardens represent typical century old style.

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

In 1967 on holiday in the Highlands of Malaysia with friends, Jim Thompson left for an afternoon walk and never returned. For several weeks after his disappearance, both the police and several American and British officers and investigators searched for Thompson. He has never been found.

There is a delightful air conditioned café on property which serves yummy coconut cake, lunch and dinners. A gift shop is filled with Jim Thompson Silk products – if you forget to purchase here, there is also a small store at the airport duty free shops.

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand
Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

Jim Thompson House
6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok

Back to Bangkok!

Thailand’s capital city draws an estimated 45 million tourists yearly and several travel publications have deemed it one of the world’s best cities. It’s easy to see why travelers would gravitate here, with its colorful patchwork of Buddhist temples and ultra-modern hotels, gleaming temples and three-wheeled tuk-tuks.

Temple Offerings at Jim Thompson House and Garden[/caption]

Peak season is between November and March when tourism is particularly high. The months of March, April and May are the hottest. December to February: regarded as the ‘cold months’, the perfect time to explore Bangkok on foot. Visitors looking to participate in Bangkok’s festival season should visit from November through May.

[ The Temple of Dawn, Bangkok

My two visits in December coincided with a heatwave, one from a cold northern California winter shouldn’t complain, but 95 degrees combined with 95% humidity was challenging. Modify touring, visit Temples and shrines as soon as they open and add a long tail boat for a canal tour in the afternoon and sip gallons of freshly juiced pomegranates!

A long list of tours, besides the city Temple tours, Wat Pho, the glimmering golden reclining Buddha is breathtaking. Chinatown night tour with sidewalk snacking from street vendors – yes, I did this! My first evening out, my guide took me to a small hillside bar with a stunning illuminated view of the Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. An easy walk down the hill through the Pak Klong Talat market, one of Bangkok’s largest, liveliest and loveliest markets. A maze of wholesale and retail vendors selling flowers, vegetables, fruits, Pak Klong is truly a delight for the senses. Nighttime doesn’t limit activity, Bangkok never sleeps, in my case a behind the scene look at the flower vendors preparing for a National Holiday, florists were creating dozens and dozens of orange marigold wreaths to be laid on local altars. My favorite is the small jasmine bracelets, enchanting fragrant adornment for your pillow!

Wat Pho, Bangkok


[ Flower Market Bangkok

Bangkok is overflowing with ancient markets, easily reached by the long tail ferry boats – narrow down your choices and definitely include a few of the floating markets outside of the city. I love the vibrant market scene – similar to the souks of Marrakech, in that the markets are in small cavernous buildings, narrow foot traffic is interrupted by small scooters, workers dragging transport carts, a vibrant sea of activity. Booths and small permanent shops offering strange, sometimes useful, sometimes not so useful items. Clay handicrafts, wooden furniture, ceramic ware, local artists host small studios. 

Tha Kha floating market

Start in early morning to visit the local floating markets and the Mae Klong market where the train rolls through, vendors quickly move their tarps of fresh vegetables to allow the train to pass. Minutes later, they’ve unrolled their tarps of vegetables and the market continues. Saturday is a popular local day for the floating markets and less touristy. Dawn to dusk floating market tour at Tha Kha floating market, is one of the most authentic markets in Bangkok. Observe an age-old way of living, ancient ladies in their wooden rowboats selling meals, drinks, household objects, vegetable and fruit from their gardens. A long tail boat ride here offers a quiet glimpse of Thai living, their somewhat dated wooden homes along the river bank interrupted by deep green fields and local farms. My knowledgeable guide picked up greens from the rowboat ladies and we took to a local restaurant to enjoy with massive prawns – the restaurant was happy to steam the just picked greens.

Jim Thompson House, the Bangkok based American businessman who is still missing since 1967, is honored by the firm still running his silk business in maintaining his unique house and beautiful gardens. Thompson pieced together his small estate from six traditional Thai teak wood houses in order to house his growing collection of Southeast Asian art. A beautiful representation of authentic Thai design and a stunning inspiring garden set along the banks of the river. 
  Jim Thompson Home and Garden

 Jim Thompson Home and Garden

[ Amulet Market, Bangkok

One of my goals was to visit the amulet market, a rewarding afternoon combined with visiting a few Thai temples and hidden neighborhoods. My last day in Bangkok was spent at the amulet market, a mini sacred day outing. After my 10 days in Bhutan absorbing Buddhist culture this was the perfect end to my three-week Asia exploration. City tour of the spiritual and mystic side of Bangkok, with a focus on religious shrines, spiritual art and local worship ceremonies.  Talismans, some prized by collectors are sorted by type, vintage and provenance. Religious charms and traditional medicine can be discovered in one of Bangkok’s oldest markets, you may be bumping elbows with monks as well as men in dangerous occupations, looking for an amulet to ward off danger or to ensure long life. Bargaining is expected!

Visiting the Amulet Markets, Giant Swing, Wat Suthat, and the historic Bang Luang Mosque. One can learn a great deal about Thailand, its belief system, and the life of everyday Thais by looking beneath the surface of the city, in the spirit shrines, amulet markets, tattoo houses, and other symbols that connect the people and their faiths. From Chinese shrines to Brahmin deities, picturesque mosques and talismans galore, multi-faith Thailand offers fascinating windows into the diverse beliefs of the people.

Dining and Hotels to come, something intriguing for all tastes. Bangkok is overflowing with Michelin restaurants and authentic street food stalls – an exciting gamut of dining experiences.. 

Street Scenes Bangkok