TravelDailyNews visited the Jim Thompson House Museum, the Bangkok home and the Asian art collection of the late James H.W. Thompson, also known as the “Thai Silk King”, and experienced a tour of culture and history.
Editor’s note: Most people like myself have probably heard of the Jim Thompson House Museum before. Many travellers from far and wide have paid a visit, but as a local, I took it for granted, “This sight-seeing spot is for tourists, not for a homegrown”, I thought. That is until I had the opportunity to be there on a media trip by chance. At the end of the tour, I thought, “This place is for everyone. How did I miss such a gem so close to home all these years!”
Jim Thompson Heritage Quarter is situated in the very heart of Bangkok along the Saen Saep Canal, the longest and most travelled canal in the city. The landmark is so convenient, and reachable by car, the BTS Sky Train, as well as by the Khlong Saen Saep Express boat (Sapan Hua Chang Pier) – the boats travel through many major districts of Bangkok; it is a fast, fun, and cheap way to avoid Bangkok’s traffic while enjoying the ambience of the local environment and architecture.
The Jim Thompson House Museum
In late 1946, after being discharged from the U.S. Army, Jim Thompson decided to settle down in Thailand. Charmed by the simple way of life along the canal, he bought this plot of land and built his home in 1959. Thompson’s famous compound comprises of six old teakwood Thai-style houses he procured from various locations in Bangkok and Ayutthaya. The old houses were dismantled and transported by boats to this location. He then had them reconstructed by a group of skilled carpenters. Since he loved collecting antiques, the house he stayed, between 1947-1967, also displays his collection under the Jim Thompson Foundation.
On entering the gate, you will see the ticket office in the midst of a beautiful tropical garden landscape. Jim Thompson designed the garden with the intention of making it look like a “pocket jungle.” Some of the trees here were planted when he was still alive.
The houses are divided into rooms with the purpose of displaying Jim Thompson’s wonderful arts, crafts, and antique collections, such as sculptures, paintings, silverware, some rare Chinaware from Song dynasty, hard-to-find Sukhothai and Sawankhalok painted potteries from 13th – 15th century AD are also displayed here, as well as ancient Buddha painting and statues. Jim Thompson disappeared while holidaying in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia on March 26, 1967. However, he has left this invaluable heritage that embodies his life and his love for Thailand for everyone to learn from and cherish.
Museum About the Man: the legendary journey of “The King of Silk”
Museum About the Man is an exhibition showcasing the incredible journey of Jim Thompson’s silk products, milestones and identity. In 1947, Thompson, fond of costume design and textiles, discovered a small community of silk weavers in the Ban Krua area – a historic neighbourhood along Bangkok’s Saen Saep canal (Khlong Saen Saep).
His admiration and passion for Thailand’s culture, way of life, and art motivated him to promote locally made fine silk textiles to save the dying craft. Thus, out of this keen interest, the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company was born in 1950, and he opened his first shop on the iconic Surawong Road in Bangkok the year after. With a great entrepreneurial spirit, he sought the opportunity to encourage craftsmanship and to promote the distinctive qualities of Thai silk to the world by sending portfolios of hand-woven silks to influential names in the fashion industry in New York City.
His portfolio of Thai silk captivated many leading names in the fashion industry, including the editor of Vogue Magazine. Once Thompson’s silk fabrics landed on the cover of Vogue and featured in Broadway (The King and I) and Hollywood movies, they rapidly gained worldwide reputation and recognition, making 1950-1960 the era that made Thai silk famous internationally. According to Time magazine he “almost single-handedly saved Thailand’s vital silk industry from extinction.”
For his contribution to the Thai Silk industry, Jim Thompson was bestowed with the ‘Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant’ by Royal decree; the only exalted order awarded to foreigners for rendering exceptional service to Thailand.
The Iconic Store
A 2-storey building next to a café is The Iconic Store. Spread over two levels, every part of the store, from the earth-toned décor to the undulating walls, is designed to promote the beautiful hues and tones of the silk products. The Store has more than 6,000 premium quality silk products from Jim Thompson’s fashion; clothes, bags, accessories and home decorations, with special editions exclusive to this location – making it an essential destination for all silk lovers visiting Bangkok.
On the 2nd Floor of the Iconic Store at Jim Thompson Heritage Quarter is “Jim’s Terrace”, an open-air café and bar inspired by Jim Thompson’s canal-side balcony. Visitors are welcome to relax and taste delicious tapas-style Thai fusion food and sip on chilled drinks while enjoying the serenity and the exclusive view of Jim Thompson’s Thai house and the garden. The service here is excellent and reminiscent of Jim Thompson’s legendary hospitality.
Some recommended menus are Jim’s Creamy Croquettes, a slow-cooked Oxtail with Red Curry dish, Isan Style Beef Tongue and Crispy Mushroom Chips from the Royal Project.
The Jim Thompson Art Center
Next to the Jim House Museum is The Jim Thompson Art Center, which showcases works from inspiring artists in a more contemporary atmosphere. Visitors are welcome to use a free library, hang out at a rooftop bar, and enjoy a city view.
This heritage landmark in central Bangkok is an ultimate lifestyle destination that will make a perfect day trip for anyone. Visitors can study Thai history from the past by observing beautifully decorated rooms, the architectural beauty of traditional Thai houses, and priceless Jim Thompson’s antique collections. One can experience a tropical jungle garden ambience in the heart of the city while sipping on freshly made coffee or tasting delicious Thai fusion food and enjoying shopping, all in one place.
- Opening hours: Every day from 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., with the last guided tour at 5.00 p.m.
- Entrance fee: Adult 200 baht, visitors under 22 years 100 baht (ID required), free entry for children under 10 years of age when accompanied by an adult.
- No reservation required
- Guides will take you on tour and provide information whenever possible, with the last guided tour at 5.00 p.m. The tours are in English, French, Japanese, Chinese and Thai.
- There is a complimentary shuttle bus service between the Jim Thompson flagship store in Surawong Road and the Jim Thompson Heritage Quarter every day from 10.00 a.m. – 6 p.m. The journey takes roughly 30 mins.
Jim Thompson Heritage Quarter is located on Rama 1 Road. Bangkok. It is conveniently reached by car, taxi, tuk-tuk, and the BTS Sky Train (National Stadium station exit no.1), as well as by Khlong Saen Saep Express boats (Sapan Hua Chang Pier)
Darin is monitoring the Asia-Pacific travel & hospitality market and reports the most important news of the region. Her role includes interviewing C-level executives as well as running the content campaigns of companies and NTOs
She holds a MAMBM from the University of Westminster in UK and a photography certificate from the Kensington and Chelsea College in UK.