Please don’t give us a hard time for traveling all the way to Thailand to visit the lavish house of an American man. A man named Jim Thomson, no less.
We have major plans to see more temples, floating markets, and elephant sanctuaries, I promise. So before you run us out for being unadventurous travelers, let me try to convince why so many Thais are stuck on Jim Thompson, mid-century legend:
- He is considered the father of the Thai silk industry. Seems strange, I know. More on the details later.
- He was a classically trained architect, and so his house here is beautiful. Again, more on that later.
- In 1941, he left his Delaware architecture job to join the National Guard. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited as a member of the Office of Strategic Services, an organization that preceded the CIA.
- He was sent to Thailand after the Japanese surrender and worked as a military attache. During his time here, he fell in loooove with Thai culture. Hook, line, and sinker, it seems.
- He collected (yes, collected) six teak, traditional Thai houses from the north of Thailand, and with his architectural savvy, had them broken down and then restructured into a his own ornate and sprawling home. According to our trusty tour pamphlet, his house on the klong was home to Burmese and Thai statues spanning 14 centuries; exquisite pieces of Chinese, Ming period blue-and-white porcelain; and other neat artifacts like a 17th century French map of the “Kingdom of Siam.”
- In what seems a schizophrenic career move, Thompson left his military outfit to bring life to his new love, the ailing Thai silk industry.
- Thompson is responsible for introducing Thai silk colors, patterns, and quality to the editors of Vogue. Things really got big when Thai silks were spotlighted in The King and I. (Thai silk, meet the wealthiest design consumers of the world. Rich people, meet Thai silk.)
- Ok, if none of these other tour guide points seem interesting, then maybe this will. In 1967, while visiting friends in Malaysia, Thompson disappears. He went for a walk and never returned. Attache turned silk entrepreneur turned missing person?! That’s more than a Lifetime original, people!
For me and Colby, touring the JT house provided a nice, relaxing activity after our Grand Palace and Wat Pho excursion (heat rash and sunstroke be damned!). The beautiful gardens, the luxurious silk gift shops, and the upscale Jim Thompson restaurant (he’s posthumously branched out into the culinary?) make for a fancy daytime retreat. And though this is Thailand, where things are cheap, silk is still silk. I don’t wear a lot of the stuff, but I need souvenirs, and this is arguably the best silk in the world. So?
I scouted out the Jim Thompson Outlet Store, via the Nancy Chandler
treasure map (post on her to come). Seeing as I don’t pay full price for anything, this outlet was right up my alley.
Ok, this post had a lot to cover. Architecture, CIA, ancient art, silk, silk on the cheap…I think that’s everything!