Welcome to “One Night in Bangkok” the series. Follow me through Hong Kong and Bangkok while I act as my Rotary Club‘s delegate to the International Convention in Thailand, with posts that are titled from the lyrics of the song “One Night in Bangkok.” (Except this one, which is an outlier for reasons readers will divine in the post.) If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to begin at the beginning.
Visiting any city with an architect means tromping through a building or several. When that architect is an urban planner, too, trudging along sidewalks, traipsing through parking lots, gawping at garages and the belly of a sky train are also nefarious hazards of travel. So, when MTM announced that he wanted to visit a house museum in Bangkok, I was underwhelmed at first.
Only at first.
The Jim Thompson House is something of a Bangkok institution. Situated on a boisterous city canal, it sprawls like an oasis over a narrow-but-deep swath of prime real estate in the heart of the city.
Thompson didn’t come about his funding for such a grand estate by practicing architecture. While he graduated from Princeton and worked in an architecture firm in New York, his career was cut short by World War II. He signed up for service at the age of 34 and came to the Far East as an informer, a spy.
And, he fell in love with The Orient, with its exotic wares. He saw the opportunity to bring the excellence of undiscovered Thai silk to the American market, and he fell into his calling in life, offering fashion houses and theatrical companies alike premium silk products at affordable prices.
He became famous when he supplied the silk for the swirling costumes for the movie “The King and I.”
Entranced by traditional Thai house design, he had the means to return to his design roots and create an oasis amidst chaos. He combed the countryside for Thai houses. Buying as many as he wanted, he fashioned a continuous house out of six smaller structures. In the Thai fashion, they were raised on stilts, with the underbelly open to riotous gardens of color.
Ever the tycoon, he continued to comb Asia for silk products to add to his fortune and fame, as well as a collection of rare artwork. A Buddhist monk offered him two pencil prophecies, doodles that decorated a wall of his office. One predicted that he would die in his 61st year.
While no one knows for certain what transpired, Jim Thompson went for a walk in Malaysia and never returned. No shred of him was ever found.
He was 61 years old.
The back entrance for the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok. The front entrance faces the canal, as is the case with traditional Thai architecture.
Chinese goldfish bowls in the garden.
Jim Thompson’s living room.
Buddhist spirit house. Situated on the northeast corner of the property to ensure the shadow of the house would never fall on it.
We shared a tasty lunch with Ed, the incoming President for a Rotary Club outside of Miami, and his wife Bunny. It was fun to compare notes on club activities and protocols, as well as to get their impressions of Jim Thompson’s house and intrigue-ridden story.