His story has all the elements for a great movie! Jim Thompson is the man who
introduced Thai silk to the world and probably the most famous foreigner to have
lived in South East Asia. He served for the OSS (precursor to the CIA). He was
left by his wife, fell in love with Thailand then after creating the Thai silk empire
recognized worldwide, he mysteriously disappears in the Malaysian jungle and still
no one really knows what happened. Was he eaten by tigers, eliminated by the OSS
for knowing to much, did he fall in a trap made by natives and his body hidden or was
he simply bored with life and wanted to start all over again somewhere else?
Before starting the silk business Jim Thompson became interested in the famous Oriental
Hotel, formally a palace that overlooks the Chao Phraya River. Many famous travelers
stayed at the Oriental including Charlie Chaplin. Jim became actively involved in it’s
He was also a great collector of Asian art and silk become one of his interests. Thai silk
was flourishing in Thailand but unknown to the outside world.
Thompson had an instinct for color. He was a brilliant colorist and broke traditional color
matching to create the patterns seen in Jim Thompson silks today.
The silk is colored by stronger and faster-acting and better-varied dyes. He took the fabric
and introduced it to Vogue in New York and this is where it all began. His success became
paramount when all of the costumes in the movie “The King and I” were made of Jim
Thompson’s silk. The movie won the Oscar for best costume designs by Irene Sharaff.
Jim was a very giving man. When he created the Thai Silk Company he was extremely
generous to his many Thai employees, giving thousands of them shares in the company
and making many Thais very prosperous. He also helped raise money for blind Thai children
through tours of this beautiful Thai home that sits next to a small canal known as a klong.
His home is actually 6 old Thai houses that were built from disassembled teakwood homes
over a century old that were placed on boats and brought down the Chao Praya river from
Ayutthaya—seat of the old, ruined empire.
He then had the homes elevated on stilts to protect them from the rainy monsoon seasons,
and turned the walls so that they faced outward, then painted them red. Jim Thompson was
a great host and most evenings his home would become the social center for conversation,
great wine and the showcase for Asia’s artistic history.
The house contains some of the richest artifacts from Thai history. Most of it he discovered
in old junk shops, or out in the country in caves and abandoned buildings. Jim rescued them
bringing them to his home with the intention of giving them to the Thais after he was gone.
A trip to Bangkok would not be complete without a visit to Jim Thompson House, Jim Thompson
shop and the Jim Thompson restaurant.
The tour of his home is a relaxing 40 minutes after which you can wander the tropical
grounds at your own pace and enjoy a relaxing lunch at the restaurant. They have a good
selection of Thai entrees.
The prawn and broccoli dish with oyster sauce and steamed rice is very tasty! I also highly
recommend the chilled pineapple & ginger smoothie, the best smoothie I’ve had in Thailand
and perhaps the only place to find this blend. Also a nice selection of wines and beers are
TOURIST COMMENTS – While at the restaurant I met Stefan and Isabel Chatry who had
just arrived from Toulouse, France with their three children. I asked how they liked
their visit to the House Museum. “ We found Jim Thompson’s property very relaxing
and enjoyed the tour of his home. The guide was really nice and informative.“
I would like to thank Natteera Yumongkol, Co-Senior Manager for the James H W
Thompson Foundation for arranging the exclusive photo shoot for this article. I
would also like to thank the Public Relations department of The Thai Silk Company
(Jim Thompson) for permission to photograph the silk products.
Feature and Photography by Daniel Herron – Copyright 2013
Photography of Jim Thompson: Courtesy of the James H W Thompson Foundation
Photography of the Oriental Hotel: The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok Thailand
For further information on the Jim Thompson House Museum and Foundation
please visit the following links. Jimthompsonhouse
For information on Thailand visit: TourismThailand