I’d never heard of the weaving entrepreneur until yesterday but apparently, Jim Thompson’s house is a tourist “must” and there are plenty of outlets paying homage to the lost American who injected passion and international awareness of the Thai silk industry in the fifties. I picked up a small brochure from which to quote but I confess I lost it en route back to the abode. Still, it is simple to get to, either by river boat from the tourist hotels of Bangkok, or a short stroll down Rama 1 Road, or take the BTS down to the National Stadium. At the end of a typical soi resides the house-turned-museum of one Jim Thompson. It is the first tourist attraction I’ve seen and it lives up to expectations.
It comprises a set of traditional Thai-style houses fashioned into one dwelling. Parts of the house are over two hundred years old, brought from areas outside Bangkok. For 100Baht you get a guided tour in the language of your choice through the upper levels of the house. Note you must have the guided tour. A self-induced stroll is only allowed in the tropical atrium and lower levels, most of which are given over to the restaurant and gift shop. As such the guided tour is not one for a pushchair. That said, there are a fair few exquisite silk weavings and old sculptures in the various rooms at ground level. Most of the house is on the first storey, built in typical Thai fashion to avoid the possible annual flooding. Two items were of immediate interest: firstly, the four baskets of live silk worms generally munching their way through whatever leaves they lay on; secondly, the fact that several tourists seemed far more intent on taking “artsy” pictures of the odd fish or terrapin that languished indolently in their pools of warm water rather than the exquisite and old tapestries, carvings, statues and architecture. The historian in me almost displayed ire. Still, for 100Baht it wasn’t like you were trying to maximise your dollar against time spent and each to their proverbial own.
So, to the gift shop which was a cornucopia of silk goods. First shirt I picked up…”made in Italy”.
Hmmm. Not what I expected.
Second item – a rather nice looking baseball cap to keep one’s pate free from the burning sun – “made of cotton”.
Oh come on…make an effort to confuse me!
I retreated into getting our daughter a harlequin elephant which she seemed to quite like. Paid London prices for it though which was mildly disgruntling. Anyway, we left and decided to go to the river (akin to a canal) where high speed, low slung, people “barges” roared their diesely (I may have invented this word; still, at least it wasn’t a catechism) way from stop to stop creating wakes that would have the Kayaking Union of Canada (is there one?) waving their paddles in a unified apoplexy of puce indignation. It was a chance to see the real Bangkok away from the polished and sanitized mall floors two blocks away. Rats and humans seemed to live in an uneasy symbiosis with the odd mangy dog and cat regarding us curiously. As we moved down the river path we were forced to step smartly aside for a police officer on a motorcycle who reminded me of Erik Estrada somewhat. The reason for this foray was quickly made clear as we emerged back on to the streets to find one side of the four lane highway completely deserted and a cavalacade of high spec vehicles with tinted windows coming through at speed. I was later assured that this would only be done for members of the immediate royal family. Everyone stopped and watched respectfully as the cars went by.
So, Jim Thomson…I am now fully aware of the man, his house, his legend and his gift shop. If you want to know more take look at this http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com/ and if you are ever in Bangkok, go take a real look. It’s worth the entry price.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?