Mar
23
2011

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Jim Thompson's House with Katy Love

by Tara

After Guy and Freddie hit the road, a dear friend, one of my brother's best pals from high school, found herself in Bangkok on an intensive training session for her job as a natural disaster first responder. With indoor courses from morning till night, and only one spare day to see the city, we were thrilled when she emailed to say she wanted to spend it with us.

When we talked with her about what she wanted to do during her sole day of freedom, we all decided on two main priorities. One, sampling as much street food as possible, and two, going to see Jim Thompson's House, the luxurious home of an American silk designer/antique collector/mogul who lived here in the late 1940s.

At the time when Thompson set out to be a serious antique collector, the beautiful antiquities of Southeast Asia were little known in the west, except for within a small circle of art experts and museums. In Thailand itself, such possessions were within the realm of only a few wealthy Chinese families and the nobility.

The Jim Thompson House

Both Katy and I love this sort of domestic art, so a day of eating and perusing a fancy home and garden sounded like an excellent plan. I was also hoping to learn more about Jim Thompson. The enigmatic man fell in love with Thailand, moved here, built a gorgeous house, collected southeast Asian antiques and artifacts, and then disappeared in the Malaysian Cameron Highlands, never to be seen again.

In the twenty years before his ill-fated holiday in Malaysia, he had accomplished more than most men in a full life. He had built a major industry in a remote and little known country whose language he could not speak; he had become an authority on an art that, previously, he scarcely knew existed and had assembled a collection that attracted scholars from all over the world; he had built a home that was a work of art in itself and one of the landmarks of Bangkok; and, in the process of doing all this, he had become a sort of landmark himself, a personality so widely known in his adopted homeland that a letter addressed simply 'Jim Thompson, Bangkok' found its way to him in a city of three and a half million people.

Jim Thompson - The Legendary American in Thailand, by William Warren.

On the day of our get-together, Katy took a taxi to meet us, and we begrudgingly took one too, quickly remembering why we like riding our bikes here so much. Being at a stand-still in traffic jams, haggling over the price of our ride… cycling is so much easier/faster/more enjoyable! After a slightly annoying ride, we all arrived, at the very same time, right in front of the museum.

Jim Thompson House Museum

And the lovely Katy Love, who I hadn't seen in years, was bubbly and enthusiastic and hilarious as always.

Katy <3

She insisted on buying our tour tickets (thanks Katy!), and then we walked around the grounds of this enigmatic silk tycoon's gorgeous gardens, all the while chatting about life on the road, and working in the field of emergency management. She wanted to hear about our trip, and we wanted to hear all about her fascinating job.

Jim Thompson's Urns & Garden Seats Jim Thompson's Courtyard Flower in Jim Thompson's Garden Katy Talking to Tyler Jim Thompson's House Grounds

Eventually, the tour began and we were taken around the grounds by our guide, Nittaya, as she explained the history of the home and the importance of the architecture. Tyler, Katy, and I loved the rich teak wood, the wide lazy verandas, orchid gardens, thick blue and white urns, the general understated vintage luxury of it all.

Nittaya, A Jim Thompson House Guide

As we explored the home and listened to stories of what life was like here for the wealthy silk designer, my imagination was swept back to the seemingly romantic days of 1940s Bangkok, when Jim Thompson entertained at his stunning home. I wondered what it would be like to be invited here in style?

Thompson was deeply captivated by the nostalgic charm of old, and more simple Bangkok.

The Jim Thompson House

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside (and for once, Tyler followed the rules). So, we couldn't capture the thick, dusty atlas, the sumptuous silk-covered beds, or the antique jars and statues from all around Southeast Asia. We were able to snap a couple of shots in a small building adjacent to the home, however, in which some of Jim Thompson's pottery collection was showcased.

Jim Thompson House Room Katy at Jim Thompson's House

After our tour, the three of us hung around for a bit to check out the grounds' lush, jungly gardens. There were small pools of waterlilies and floating orchid blossoms, along with strange, Dr.Seuss-like hanging vines in bulbous chains of orange and yellow, and a spirit house, reverentially draped with flower offerings.

Frangipani & Lotus Floating Frangipani Strange Orange Dangling Plant Strange Orange Dangling Plant Jim Thompson's Spirit House Spirit House Offerings

This jungle landscape in the midst of the city gives the house its unique appeal.

The Jim Thompson House
Mom & Child at Jim Thompson's House

Leaving the museum, we whisked Katy away on her first ever tuk-tuk ride (preceded by her first tuk-tuk haggling experience), zipping through the hectic, hot, smoggy streets of Bangkok until we arrived in our neighborhood, the comparatively quiet Thewet district.

Tara & Katy in Tuk-Tuk

There, we wandered around our local haunts, ordering mango and orange fruit shakes from our favorite hippy lady across the street, and tasty noodle dishes like pad see ew, and pad kee mao from one of our favorite little vendors. A spicy plate of basil chicken and rice, or ka pow gai rounded off our selections.

Katy Sipping Mango Shake

After a final walk by the riverside, our brief time was up, and we hugged goodbye, waving as Katy walked off to find a taxi. And with that, her one day of sightseeing was over, and it was time for all of us to get back to work. Thank you for hanging out with us, Katy!


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