6 AM or 11 PM – Bangkok’s always bustling.
People are always on their way somewhere, vendors line streets in parallel to the roads jammed with traffic almost everywhere, shopping malls that stay open a while past dinner time. And the summer heat is always the sticky type. Add large crowds and you have all the ingredients of a very tiring day of sightseeing.
It had been a long, hot and humid Bangkok day, packed with hours of visiting grand palaces and temples. Our clothes had been soaked, dried and re-soaked in sweat multiple times since morning. We were inching closer to what we thought was closing time, as we got out of the BTS station to find our way to the last stop for the day. It didn’t help to ask the passers-by; noone seemed to know what we were looking for. A few shrugs and shakes of the head later, we fell back on trusty Google Maps and 5 minutes and a 300-metres dash later, we were in a small by-lane (or Soi as they’re called in Bangkok), at the entrance of a large, quiet compound with a welcoming path laid in pebblestones under a canopy of branches, that was Jim Thomspon’s House and Museum.
In case you’re wondering who exactly this Mr.Thompson is – you’re not alone; I’d never heard of him either, before I started planning our Bangkok trip earlier this year. And in fact, I’m not sure I know so much now – apart from the fact that he moved here from America after WWII, turned around the ailing silk industry in Thailand, stayed single and mysteriously disappeared in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia on one visit, never to be found again. And that there are a clutch of upmarket stores by his name around Bangkok where they sell some very expensive (and fancy) silk things and other handicrafts.
But on that day, stepping into the verdant gardens and the cool rooms of his house was like being in Wonderland. The house is built in Thai style, so it has a few connected and a few disconnected rooms, all made of teak wood, that stand on stilts (when it rains, it pours and noone wants a flooded house).
The house is choc-a-bloc with treasures from the past. There are sculptures, traditional Thai paintings, Chinese and Thai porcelain collections etc – oh, and probably the part I found most interesting, an old map or two. There’s a convenient (and compulsory) walking tour of the premises by the staff that’s included in your entry ticket and covers all about Jim’s life, his work and even the conspiracy theories that surround his disappearance. They make you store your bags in lockers before you start the tour, lest you clumsily knock over some antiques or greedily stuff your bag with them. Taking pictures is also a no-no in the most of the house, if I remember correctly.
If you would like to hang around this shady, leafy summer-day paradise for longer, there’s a pricey restaurant and a souvenir store on the premises. Feel free to browse through the latter to admire the Thai silk, even if you’re not buying. Or just enjoy the tropical jungle-themed gardens (beware of mosquitoes, though).
Tickets are 150 THB per person and the museum (house) is open from 9 AM to 6 PM (it’s crowded in the afternoon, but that’s also the time when you most need a break from the heat). To get here, take the BTS2 line and alight at National Stadium.
Next time you’re in town and if you’re looking for a respite from the Bangkok heat – and you will be, trust me – make sure you drop by Mr.Thompson’s!