The Jim Thompson House in Bangkok has long been the destination of many visitors to the city looking for that exquisite piece of Thai silk but also to see the finest surviving examples of a collection of old Thai teak houses and carefully selected pieces of furniture and object d’art that has made the house a legend in its lifetime. The house is also an attraction due to the much publicized life and the mysterious disappearance of its owner Jim Thompson, who has been credited with giving a much needed boost to the Thai silk industry and drawing attention to traditional Thai architecture.
The house which is located in a sprawling garden among a confusion of tropical plants is really six traditional Thai teak houses sourced from across the country and installed as a single unit using skilled craftsmen from Ayutthaya with knowledge of the construction of traditional teak houses. The tropical jungle landscape adds considerable charm to the house and probably helped to set a trend in the use of tropical plants to set off tropical houses.
While the house displays several architectural traditions from neighbouring countries, its ancient design has been shaped by the climatic conditions of the various regions of Thailand. Constructed from local raw materials it features traditional steeply pitched roofs with outward and upward arching eaves, windows and doors face each other to facilitate airflow and is on stilts to protect it from floods during monsoons and foraging animals. It has little interior decoration except for a few carvings over doors and windows as it was built in sections to facilitate easy dismantling, transportation and assembly. The various sections were put together without nails to make this possible. The roof tiles were specially made using a little used ancient technique and the exterior was painted in red wood preservative. The oldest part of the house is the drawing room that is part of an early 18th century house and the kitchen area which is part of a house from the mid 19th century. The house construction was started according to an auspicious time selected from the Buddhist calendar and Jim Thompson moved into the house also on an auspicious date.
The house now a museum, still looks the way it did when Jim Thompson lived there although certain displays have been rearranged for security reasons. Its collection of Asian and South East Asian paintings on cloth, wood and paper with Buddhist themes, sculptures from Thailand, Cambodia and Burma, Thai and Chinese porcelain, ethnography, textiles, furniture and object d’art are superbly set off by the burnished wood of the old Thai houses.
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Thanuja Silva is a travel writer who writes under the pen name Auburn Silver. She has a passion for fashion and a deep interest in admiring new and exotic attractions around the world.