Today I headed back over to Siam, a little earlier this time, so that I could visit Jim Thompson’s House. I must admit that before my visit, I knew very little about the identity of Jim Thompson and why his house had become a tourist attraction. However we had a very informative and cheerful young guide who, despite her own admission that she was a trainee, did a very good job of filling me in.
Jim Thompson was an American, born in Delaware in 1906, the Chinese year of the horse (the relevance of this I will come to later). He was a practising architect in New York before he served in the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to the C.I.A) in Thailand during World War 2. After leaving the service he decided to return and live in Thailand permenantly. He is most famous in Thailand for reviving the country’s dying craft of the hand weaving of silk. He constributed substantially to the industry’s growth and to the worldwide recognition accorded to Thai silk. He gained further recognition through the design and construction of his house, which combines six teak buildings and is one of the best remaining representations of traditional Thai architecture. On March the 26th 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared while on a visit to the Cameron highlands in Malaysia. He was 61 years old, a number which is said to be unlucky for those born in the year of the horse . . . no trace of him or his remains have been found to this day.
His famous Thai house (the buildings of which have been moved from their original site and reconstructed here) is indeed a beautiful creation, and still contains a lot of Thompsons’s original possessions, including Buddha images, porcelain, and the quirky ‘Mouse House’. It is surrounded by lush gardens and ponds containing turtles, and provides an oasis of calm within the hustle and bustle of central Bangkok.
On my way home I noticed some Thai passengers on the skytrain wearing bright yellow wristbands (like the rubber charity ones that became a bit of a fashion trend in Britain for a while) with “long live the king” printed upon them. It struck me as a little strange that there were so many Elvis fans in Thailand. I also noticed a huge number of Thai people, especially those travelling on the Chao Praya River Boat Express, wearing bright yellow t-shirts or polo shirts with Thai script printed upon them. It all made sense when the boat sailed past an enormous yellow banner hung from one of the buildings along the riverfront. It also read “long live the king” but there was enough English on it for me to determine that this was a celebration of the fact that the Thai king has just completed (on the 6/6/06) a reign of 60 years in the throne. The t-shirts and wristbands were all in aid of this celebration. Wow, the Thai’s really do love their king. Although the British population as a whole do, i think, respect their Queen, similar behaviour by the British would be viewed as a little insane.
Jim Thompson’s House, Bangkok
Some of the outfits that he’d designed