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Updated by Joanna James on May 02, 2024
Joanna James Joanna James
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The Influence of Jim Thompson's House - Bangkok's Favourite Foreigner

Jim Thompson, the ex CIA operative who helped revive the Thai textile industry remains the country's best adapted foreigner. Here we take a look at his famous house and life.


Who is Jim Thompson?

Delaware was the location where James Harrison Wilson Thompson was born. He later followed architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and he practised the profession till 1940. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined the US Army, which was where everything changed. He was reassigned to the OSS and was able to visit many countries in the process such as Italy, Thailand and France.


Establishing himself in Bangkok

Once the war was over, Jim Thompson understood that many more travellers would visit Bangkok. He also saw that there was hardly, if not any, state-of-the-art hotels that conformed to international values. He then set to capitalize on this by purchasing The Oriental. However, after a series of disagreements with the partners, he sold his shares and turned his eyes towards the silk industry after seeing his neighbour's hand-made silk. In the year 1948, he joined hands with George Barrie and founded the Thai Silk Company. The silk at the time was old fashioned. Jim opted for modern and more vivid designs, which he then sent to fashion stores all over Europe. The popularity of his work spread like wildlife throughout Europe. The breakthrough for the American market was when Jim's silk was used for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I.


Why his house is of such interest

Thompson wanted to build a house for himself but he wished for a vintage Thai house that perfectly captures the ancient Thai look and feel. He accomplished this by collecting parts of old rundown houses. Some of the houses were brought in from ancient sites like Ayuthaya while some were brought in via canals from Baan Khrua – some of the houses were centuries old. These collected parts where then assembled in the current location into six structures. He then covered the house with plenty of greenery and trees, which gave the house a rustic and peaceful vibe to it. A visit to this fascinating, history filled location will make you understand why Jim Thompson's House regularly features on every travel guide in Bangkok.


Sightseeing at the location

The house preserves the original design intended by the owner. You can find a massive ancient hand looming machine while the back of the house opens to one of Bangkok's many waterways. Since he was an art collector, many of his finest pieces are featured around the compound. This includes precious pieces like Ming porcelain, Belgian glasses, carvings from Cambodia, a chandelier from the Victorian era and even a dining table that was made use of by King Rama V. The house is now used as a museum and it gives visitors a deeper look at the impact he had on Thailand and his history right up to his disappearance. Most hotels such as Anantara Sathorn Bangkok Hotel offer tours to this museum.