BANGKOK — On our recent trip to Thailand, my daughter, Megan, and I decided to visit the Jim Thompson House & Museum in Bangkok. In the 1950s and ’60s, Thompson, a Delaware native and son of a textile manufacturer, was responsible for reviving Thailand’s dormant hand-woven silk industry and attracting an international market for the silk.
Thompson first came to Thailand during World War II as an Army officer; he worked for the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA. He fell in love with the country and when the war was over, relocated there. Today, Jim Thompson Thai Silk Co. products are famous throughout the world, known for their high quality — and high prices.
Thompson was also an architect, and his home is now a museum that attracts thousands of tourists annually. When we were there the half-hour tours in several languages took off every 15 minutes.
The house is unique. Thompson bought six teak buildings that were at least 200 years old, then had them dismantled and reassembled at his property on a canal. It took him a year to finish the project and in 1959, he moved in.
An avid Asian art and antiques collector, Thompson filled his home with beautiful furniture, paintings, and sculptures. On the tour, each room comes with a story, from the dining room that hosted political and cultural luminaries to the central hallway, whose staircase he moved from the outdoors — as was Thai custom — to indoors.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in Thompson’s fascinating life is his death. In 1967, on a trip with friends to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, he took a solo hike — and disappeared. For the military, he’d had jungle-survival training. But despite an extensive search, no sign of Thompson, 61, was ever found. A foundation in his name was created to preserve Thailand’s artistic and cultural heritage.
After the tour, we ate in the Jim Thompson Restaurant on the grounds of the museum, and kicked around ideas on what had become of him. Conspiracy theories abound: Was it a friend? A wild beast? A suicide? A foreign abduction? Finally, we decided to let him rest in peace, and ate our delicious pad Thai.
THE JIM THOMPSON HOUSE
& MUSEUM 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok, 011-66-2-216-7368, www.jimthompsonhouse.com. Daily 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., adults $3.50.