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Jim Thompson was a designer, silk magnate, Thai culture lover, and, incidentally, a spy for the West. The history of his undercover involvement in OSS and the personal politics of his later years are both fascinating and widely misrepresented.
Jim Thompson first became infatuated with Thailand while working for the US Secret Service -- the predecessor of the CIA -- during World War II, after which he returned to the Kingdom and devoted the rest of his life to revitalising the Thai silk industry. In 1967, Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, a mystery that's never been solved.
But a visit to the man's house is less of a journey through history and more of a window shopping tour where everything is old, quietly beautiful and unfortunately not for sale. The lair of one of the most legendary men in Thailand in the 20th century is surprisingly quaint, with verdant gardens, rooms filled with porcelain ware and sloping walls constructed without a single nail. Of the Bangkok house tour circuit, Jim Thompson’s should be the first on your list.
The elegant house itself resembles a temple ordination hall and was crafted from centuries-old recycled teak procured from as far away as Ayutthaya. Inside you'll find ancient relics and works of art from throughout Thailand and also Burma, China and Cambodia. Keep an eye out for the cat-shaped urinal and a mouse house.
The only way to go inside is through a 30-minute guided tour that delivers sanitised tidbits of information piecemeal and in monotone, most of which fall short of any real historical substance.
After a half-hour in the JT house, enjoy a stroll through the gardens, sit for a casual meal at the excellent on-site Thai restaurant, or pick up pricey silk wears or mid 20th century maps of Thailand at the gift shop. For a greater understanding of the man of the house, read The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War by Joshua Kurlantzick (currently not sold at the museum).
If you don't mind the highly manufactured commercial aspect of it, Jim Thompson's House is worth a stop. For something a bit more "authentic", make your way to the nearby Baan Krua village, which supplied Thompson's original silks but was largely forgotten after his disappearence.
Guided tours are compulsory and offered in Thai, English, French, and Japanese. You may need to wait around for the next tour while watching Thai ladies in traditional garb doing their silk-weaving routines.
How to get there
To get here, take exit 1 on the west side of National Stadium BTS station and the first right after walking straight at the bottom of the stairs, after which the house is a five-minute walk away. Watch out for touts on the soi who will insist the museum is closed.