For the Love of Silk and Travel
January 27th, 2021
Following yesterday’s Bangkok beauty, today we’re exploring a special place on one of the city’s canals. Bangkok’s busy streets and car traffic overshadow the vast network of canals reaching across the city. Riding a boat to the next destination can be a more peaceful and enjoyable experience.
The Jim Thompson House Museum sits alongside one of these canals, right in the middle of downtown Bangkok. Jim Thompson served in the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during World War II. During and after his service, he worked in various roles related to foreign relations with Thailand. His fondness for the country led to his founding of the Thai Silk Company Limited in 1951. With a workforce of Thai women, Thailand’s silk industry was revived. (I think it’s important to emphasize that, although Thompson is often solely credited for this accomplishment and called “The King of Silk”, it never could have been achieved without the Thai women who knew the age-old techniques and traditions of the craft.)
While living in Thailand, Thompson created the home that is now a museum and sanctuary in the middle of Bangkok. The home is made of several antique wood structures from around Thailand, all traditional-style architecture, connected by brick paths and gardens. Thompson filled his home with art and antiques collected from all over the world, some of which are still displayed.
Jim Thompson’s stores remain throughout Thailand and Asia, filled with exquisite silk products including bags, pillows, shirts, ties, scarves and more. For me, a visit to the Jim Thompson factory outlet is a part of any visit to Bangkok.
So, what happened to Jim Thompson? It’s a mystery. In 1967, while visiting friends in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, he vanished. Theories abound as to what happened (he was kidnapped; he got lost in the jungle; he returned to his work as a spy), but no evidence has been found and no conclusion has been made.
For me, the story of Jim Thompson is a reminder of the possibilities of travel. Arriving in Thailand from the U.S. during a war, he probably never expected his love of the country would lead him to build a new life, new business and new home in Bangkok. And right there is the nugget: If we don’t travel and explore, if we don’t see and learn, we don’t know what we’re missing of ourselves. Traveling is an additive process, like putting pieces into a puzzle, until finally we see fully who we are in the context of the world.
More tomorrow from Singapore. Breathe deeply and get ready for an unforgettable experience.
See you then,
Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.