It all began innocently enough 10 years ago. It was our first trip to Bangkok, we were sitting in the hotel looking through all our tourist info, trying to decide what to see, when James said, “Hey, this sounds cool. It’s some guy’s house who designed Thai silk fabric. Wanna go?”
Of course … he’d said the magic word. Silk. He knew I was addicted to that luscious fabric, so how could I resist. Little did I know that I would fall hopelessly in love with Jim Thompson’s … house.
Now, 10 years later, we revisited the scene of the seduction.
Just a Sky Train Ride Away. It’s hard to believe that a few blocks from Bangkok’s bustling Sky Train is a calm, tropical oasis. You step into another world … and time melts away when you enter the gates of the Jim Thompson House.
James H.W. Thompson is a legend in Thailand. A former military intelligence officer, he was an American entrepreneur who revitalized the Thai silk industry, founded the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company, then mysteriously disappeared without a trace in 1967 while vacationing in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. He took a walk on Easter Sunday … and never came back!
Thompson’s business was a true cottage industry. His silk was woven by women in their homes in the Bangkok village of Ban Krua. Since he visited the artisans every morning, he decided to buy a piece of land just across the klong (canal) from the village to build his house.
And what a house … not in the grand sense, but in its embrace of elegant simplicity.
“Thompson was deeply captivated by the nostalgic charm of old, and more simple Bangkok. The enchanting aspects of life along the klong or waterways, fascinated him. Wooden houses, some in the traditional Thai style, in the cool shade of trees lining the river banks, their branches arching over across the klong. The daily traffic – boats plying up and down the waterway selling their wares…With city noises muted by the trees and by the klong, the pace seems visibly slower.” –Thompson Foundation
Thompson purchased six old Thai wooden houses from around the country, then had them dismantled and shipped to his Bangkok property. Then they were reassembled to form one large house that is open and airy, yet intimate with its oiled teak walls and dark interiors. The supporting columns and walls of the house lean slightly inward, adding to the illusion of height and grace. Thompson then adorned his home with minimal Asian antiques and art, paired with luxurious silk fabrics.
The Perfect House for a Couple of Nomads. One practical feature of the Thai house is that it can be easily assembled or taken down. The entire house is built in light, pre-fabricated sections – each section forms a wall. Then each wall is fitted together and hung on the superstructure – a frame of wooden pillars – without nails. The fact that the house could be taken down and re-assembled suited the Thai way of life. Families moved often, so the house would be taken down, stacked on a raft and floated down the nearest klong to a new location. Now, that’s my kind of house!
The tropical landscape surrounding the house is stunning, lush with greenery, patch-worked with koi-laden ponds, and studded with urns full of water lilies and orchids.
Oh, and I almost forgot about the silk. Well, that’s a whole other story.
Lovely blog, bringing to mind good memories. My first visit at Jim Thompson’s house was over 20 years ago, and the last time this spring. It’s always a pleasure. Thanks Terri.
Thank you so much Olli. Our visits were 10 years apart, but his home and gardens seem timeless – nothing had changed. All the best, Terri
I’ve never been there, but it seems only fitting that the first house to make silk would be made without nails. Nice post!
Thanks George! I was totally fascinated by the construction technique – like a giant jigsaw puzzle to reassemble. I wish they had a video of the process. ~Terri
Lunch in the cafe is pretty good, too.
Oh Kathy, you’re so right! I nearly forgot! We had a delicious pad thai and watched the koi glide around the pond. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂 ~Terri
What a stunning house! Absolutely beautiful.
We are of like minds, Pam. I was really mesmerized by its elegant simplicity. ~Terri
Had not heard of Jim Thompson’s House. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and your lovely photos as always.
Thanks LuAnn. This is the perfect destination to put on your Bangkok must-see list for one of those days when you’re fed up with the hustle and bustle. It’s an oasis! 🙂 ~Terri
Thanks. You two are assisting us so much with our itinerary. 🙂
Great shots. Brings back memories of an earlier visit.
Many thanks. We hadn’t been back for 10 years and I’m so glad we went. It was one of the highlights of our stay. ~Terri
Great story – we are looking forward to visiting Thailand, now more than ever. I guess lots of other people are, too. I just read the tourist report on visitors to the world’s top cities – Bangkok is on track to pass London as the most visited city in the world this year based on travelers staying at least one night.
Every new story I read about Thailand makes it sound that much more appealing. – Mike
Thanks Mike. I was just reading that tourist report too. It’s such a transportation hub for that part of the world, and I think many folks just pass through on their way to other destinations. I’ve always been glad we took the time to get to know the city. Other area of Thailand are also fabulous – and not nearly as busy – so hopefully you’ll find something you like. All the best, Terri
I’m working my way towards Thailand, so am stocking up on your tips, thank you!
You’re welcome! Thailand is an intriguing place, and given all your travel experience, I think you’ll really enjoy it. ~Terri
There is an excellent book about the unsolved mystery of JIM THOMPSON. It is by William Warren. I have a beautiful collection of silk scarves, purses, pillow covers and so on by Jim Thompson. I collect textiles and the colours of his silk are gorgeous. This man appreciated beauty in all forms. Virginia
Virginia, thanks for the book recommendation. I just checked our library, but they don’t have it, so I ordered it from Amazon for a penny – how do they do that! I’m really looking forward to reading it. It sounds like you have a lovely Jim Thompson collection. I’m particularly fond of the pillow covers that I can change out seasonally. ~Terri
You are a woman after my own heart. I have a pair of Jim Thompson blue and white elephant pillows that I call my summer pillows. I am besotted with pillows. And, because I love textiles and I sew I am always whipping up a “new look” for my pillow wardrobe. Virginia
Oh, please can I reassemble just a tiny portion of that house here in my backyard? The style is so beautiful. Glad i came back to read this piece. And next the silk? 🙂
I’m with you Jo! I would be happy with just 1 of the 6 houses he put together! 🙂 I had never appreciated the “cooling effect” of a dark wood interior until I stepped inside from the intense heat and was instantly soothed. Ahhh! Now I must work on the silk. ~Terri
Well, yes, a portable house is perfect for people like us! I am intrigued by so many aspects of this story, including the silk. I am a bit of a textile addict in general. Thanks for once again bringing an intriguing corner of the world to my little laptop. Life is good.
Louise, I think I’ve been a textile addict since birth! My Mom was a wonderful teacher – she’d take me to a fabric store and introduce me to different materials by having me close my eyes and feel the textures. To this day I can’t walk through a fabric store without running my fingers across the bolts. If you and Tom decide to wander that part of the world, you’ll love the Jim Thompson house. So glad to hear that life is good – you both have been through a lot. ~Terri
This post brings back memories of visiting the home — a welcomed oasis in the insanity of Bangkok! I brought back Jim Thompson scarves as gifts for lucky friends. 🙂 —Jadi
Those were some lucky friends, Jadi! Their fabrics are so gorgeous that I have a hard time choosing, but no matter what it becomes a prized possession. 🙂 ~Terri
OMG Terri, two of my favorite words… Jim Thompson. I, too, am infatuated. And the mystery of his disappearance makes me want to go search the Cameron Highlands. I can’t go to Bangkok without a trip to the outlet! Divine. We have a Jim Thompson Thai restaurant here in Singapore. The interior decor (and food) is exquisite. Thanks for sharing your love affair!
What do they say Kelly – great minds! 🙂 The mystery of his disappearance is fascinating. I read a great article about it on the Paris Review (http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2013/04/15/silk-thread-the-strange-mystery-of-jim-thompson/) that you might enjoy. I’m totally jealous that you have a JT Restaurant there in Singapore. We just got a new Thai restaurant here on our little island of St. Simons, so we’re over the moon. ~Terri
Beautiful! Wish I’d known about this when I was there.
Judy, it’s a real gem of a place! We were lucky to stumble across it in some tourist literature, or we would have missed it too. I guess now you’ll just have to go back! 🙂 ~Terri
Thanks for linking this post to the other one about his gardens. You just keep turning up places I want to see! http://ohtheplaceswesee.com
Rusha, Bangkok is so exotic … and manic, that the JT House is a wonderful way to escape for a few hours. Once you enter the gates, time seems to stand still. ~Terri
What a wonderful description of the Jim Thompson House experience. We visited there our first day in Bangkok. It was the perfect place for a jet lagged pair.
Thank you so much Shelley! I can definitely imagine that the calming atmosphere of the garden would be soothing to jet lag. I’m so glad you stopped by! All the best, Terri
“… the scene of the seduction.” LOVE that line! And love re-reading this post. And I see my comment from all the way back in 2013! His house is so amazing, so inspiring. Already looking forward to my next visit, whenever that may be!
Thank you, Kelly. We have obviously developed a 3-way love triangle between us and Jim Thompson! 🙂 Have you stumbled across any place to purchase his products in the US? ~Terri
Ha ha, yes! And no, sadly I haven’t found his products in the US. I think he may have a showroom in New York City but it’s for the trade, by appointment. Or at least it was years ago when I looked into it. I will for sure let you know if I ever stumble across anything! 🙂
One of Bangkok’s many hidden gems that often lay just off an otherwise quite ugly soi. My 3-years living in central BKK allowed me to discover many such places. Thanks for the memories!
Henry, I didn’t know you lived in Bangkok! How cool is that. I wonder what the soi looked like when Thompson built his house. Probably not as congested … but then again, it is Bangkok. Have you written about any of the other hidden gems? I’d love to check them out. ~Terri