When I was a student we used to visit a restaurant called Jim Thompson’s. It was an Asian fusion restaurant that was well known in my university town, not only for good food, but also for its beautifully exotic furnishings; many of which were for sale.
At the time I didn’t realise that Jim Thompson was not just the name of a restaurant, but a respected American businessman who was credited by Time magazine for saving Thailand’s prestigious silk industry from extinction.
Any visitor to Thailand these days will no doubt be familiar with the colourful array of silk scarves and furnishings that hang from every street stall. But the silk industry was once threatened by the increase of cheaper mass-produced fabrics. New York architect Thompson, having fallen in love with Bangkok, saw the potential of Thai silk and set about promoting it in the fashionable circles back home in New York. His business instantly became successful and he custom built a luxurious house, utilising traditional Thai design, in a quiet Bangkok street. The house was used to entertain the socialites, dignitaries and diplomats of the day.
Jim Thompson’s story was a glittering example of success and achievement. But then mysteriously, during a trip to Malaysia, he went for an afternoon stroll into the jungle and never returned. His disappearance has never been explained.
The Jim Thompson industry still thrives in Thailand today, and Jim Thompson’s House has become a main attraction in Bangkok. The house sits shaded amongst leafy foliage and is a relaxing haven amidst the chaos of the modern-day metropolis.
Despite being a popular tourist attraction, the entrance fee (100 Thai Baht/$3) is surprisingly reasonable—cheap even—and the place does not feel too crowded. Wandering around the house will please anybody with an appreciation of architecture, art and design. Interestingly, the house is constructed in traditional Thai style without nails, making it quick and easy to assemble or disassemble if needed. Raised thresholds are used to “Keep evil spirits out and babies in”, heralding back from the days when many houses would be built on stilts along waterways, making the fear of a baby falling into the water a real danger.
Once you have wandered leisurely around the house the restaurant is an ideal break where you can enjoy great local food as you watch fish lazily swimming in the small garden pool.
A visit to the Jim Thompson House is a worthwhile experience and definitely a Bangkok ‘Must-Do’.
Have you ever visited the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok?