The Jim Thompson House is the one-time residence of a former American spy during World War II turned Thai silk magnate. After reviving the Thai silk trade and becoming one of the most famous businessmen in Asia, Jim Thompson mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia. He was never seen or heard from again. It is the type of tail of success and intrigue that makes for a good mystery novel.
Today the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok is a museum that gives a glimpse into the life of the man and how it was living in Thailand during the 50s – 60s. Jim Thompson was also a major collector of Southeast Asian art which is also on display and one of the main attractions.
What To Expect At The Jim Thompson House
The Jim Thompson House tour is one of the best things to do in Bangkok after the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. It is well worth a couple of hours to see and experience.
The museum is located about a three minute walk from the National Stadium station on the BTS Sukhumvit line. It is located on Soi Kasem San 2, and there are several signs pointing you in the right direction. At the end of the road you’ll see a quiet courtyard with several red wooden houses nestled in amongst the trees.
The compound is made up of six traditional Thai teak wood houses that Jim Thompson moved from other areas of Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Some are more than 100 years old. He put them back together in his own architectural design.
The site backs up to a Khlong, or canal. The Khlong are waterways used for transportation around the city and connect to the Chao Phraya river. The Jim Thompson House grounds are lush with greenery, making it a nice respite from the mega city at the other end of the road.
You’ll need to buy your ticket from the desk and wait for a guide to take you and a small group around. They offer tours in several different languages. They don’t allow self guided tours, you must go with a guide.
You will be asked to place your backpack and other belongings into a locker before the tour begins. You are allowed to bring your camera and cell phones to take photos. However, most of the areas inside the house are off limits to photos.
The tour starts in the main house where you will be asked to take off your shoes before entering. You’ll be able to see the Jim Thompson art collection of paintings and antiques. As well as enjoy the architecture of the traditional Thai house.
When the main tour is over you can gather your belongings from the locker and are free to explore the other buildings and wander around the grounds. You are free to take pictures at this point.
There is more art and antiques in the other buildings as well as an old rice storage building to explore. There is a small but nice garden and pond with pathways to explore as well.
On the grounds are a restaurant to relax and have a bite to eat or drink after your tour. There is also a Jim Thompson Silk store where you can browse a variety of silk items for sale.
Jim Thompson History
Jim Thompson led a very interesting life. He was an Olympic Athlete, Architect, Spy, and successful businessman.
Born in 1906 in the United States, he went on to study at Princeton and represented the United States in the 1928 Summer Olympics in sailing. And that was just the beginning.
He received a masters degree in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to practice for a number of years. His architectural background would play a big part in his building the Jim Thompson House decades later.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Jim volunteered to enlist in the Army. He was eventually recruited to serve in the OSS, the predecessor to the C.I.A. His last assignment of the war was working with the Free Thai Movement to help liberate Thailand from the Japanese Army. He set up the Bangkok office of the OSS.
After the war, he returned to Thailand to start a business. Along with a business partner the Thai Silk Company was born. He is credited with single handedly restoring the Thai silk industry. His silk business made him one of the most successful and well known businessmen in Asia.
Jim Thompson Disappearance
In 1967 Jim took a trip to Malaysia with a friend for a vacation in the Cameron Highlands. He went out for a walk and was never seen again.
Over 500 people searched for him over 11 days, but no trace or clues were found. There was lots of speculation about what might have happened. Some thought his business rivals eliminated him, others think he was kidnapped, while others speculated he went back into espionage to help resolve the Vietnam War. But there was no evidence for any of it.
Jim Thompson’s disappearance remains a mystery over 50 years later.
The fantastic life of Jim Thompson makes a visit to the museum an even more engaging experience. A visit to the Jim Thompson House museum will take a few hours and is well worth the time. Entrance fees are 200 Baht at the time of writing. (about $6.70 USD). It is easy to get to off the BTS Sky Train and should be at the top of your list when visiting Bangkok