Bangkok is a city with so many interesting things to offer. I have been to Bangkok several times and have started to look for activities that might not be on the list if you are a first-timer to the city. The Jim Thompson House is a great place to visit for fashionistas who want to gain a deeper insight into one of the most famous Thai fashion brands. I really enjoyed learning about Thai silk production, Bangkok in the mid-20th century and the mystery about the company’s founder.
I was introduced to the brand Jim Thompson because I got a beautiful scarf as a gift and decided to explore the shop. Jim Thompson has several branches in Bangkok (and some now outside of Thailand) and I love the apparel but also beautiful interior decoration. It has become my number one gift for friends and family when I visit Thailand. I soon found out that behind Jim Thompson as brand, there was a really interesting story…
Jim Thompson was a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS; the predecessor of the CIA) and a world traveller. He came to Bangkok during the Second World War, but had to return to the US in 1946. Nevertheless, Thompson fell in love with the city and planned to return to start a business. He discovered his passion for silk when he worked in the Oriental Hotel (one of the few hotels with international standards at that time in Bangkok).
He took some samples of a special type of Thai silk he discovered in Bangkok to New York City. Thompson obviously was very well connected – among his friends was Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. Edna Woolman Chase, Vogue magazine’s most influential editor, spread the word about his silk samples and introduced him to key players in the fashion world. Thompson opened a shop and his company in Bangkok in the 1950s. He was asked to produce to supply silk for the Broadway play The King and I and his silks where used for the outfits of Thai Queen Sirikit on her US tour, which were designed by Pierre Balmain.
Despite his business success, Jim Thompson is even more famous for the mystery around his persona. As I mentioned before, he worked for the predecessor organization of the CIA. He mysteriously disappeared during a trip to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia and despite a huge search for him, his remains have never been found. I heard different theories about his death: kidnapping, killed by wild animals, shot dead by American enemies. But this mystery will remain to be unsolved.
Visiting his house takes you back to the Bangkok of the mid-20th century. The guided tour took us to his private rooms and gave us really interesting insights about life in the city at that time.
It was also the first time for me to see how silk is being produced. There were two types of cocoons on display, the white cocoon (which is common in India, China and Japan) and the yellow one. The latter has irregular threads and a very special colour that gives Thai silk its unique look.
Before the silk can be reeled, the cocoons must be softened. This is done by “cooking” it in hot water for a while like you can see in the picture.
I really liked our visit of the Jim Thompson House. You should factor in about 1.5 hours to visit. Even though it is called “house”, it is an open concept. Therefore, you will spend most of the time outside and this can mean the heat from around April until October. Make sure to bring enough water.
If you wish to buy Jim Thompson products as souvenirs, I would recommend visiting the branch at Paragon Shopping Mall. It has a bigger range than at the actual Jim Thompson House. They also have two outlets at BKK airport.
Jim Thompson House Opening Hours: daily, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
To visit the house, you have to take part in a guided tour (the last tour starts at 6:00 p.m.)
Admission: Adult BHT 150 (about USD 4.50); discounts available for students
Address: 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok (I would recommend taking a taxi or the Sky Train; the house is at the end of the lane on the left side)