Built in 1959, the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok is a peaceful, half-acre respite in the busiest part of the city for tourists.
The location for the museum is perfect: it’s a convenient escape literally around the corner from the many megamalls in the area — perfect for when those crowds have begun to fray nerves and patience. The Jim Thompson House serves as an oasis of art and culture for travelers with accidental retail overload. The landscaped grounds and tranquil garden are in sharp contrast to Bangkok’s hectic heart.
The Story of Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur credited with repairing the Thai silk industry. That doesn’t sound so exciting, but his story could be one straight out of Hollywood. The mysterious disappearance of a high-profile millionaire, the murder of his sister, CIA involvement—what more do you need? Conspiracy theories abound, but as of yet, the mystery of Jim Thompson’s disappearance in 1967 remains unsolved.
After beginning his career as an architect, Thompson quit and joined the Delaware National Guard. The lust for more excitement wasn’t too surprising given that his grandfather was James H. Wilson, the Union general whose men captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
During World War II, Jim Thompson was recruited to serve as an operative for the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor of the modern-day CIA. He arrived in Japanese-occupied Thailand right after Japan’s surrender and set up the OSS office in Bangkok.
After leaving service, Thompson and his partner founded the Thai Silk Company Limited in 1948. The move was logical; Thompson’s father had been successful in the textile industry. The Thai Silk Company became very profitable as Jim Thompson traveled Southeast Asia extensively, building an intimate knowledge of the region. He also amassed artwork and rare antiques along the way, eventually constructing a mansion (now the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok) to showcase them.
On March 26, 1967, while staying in a bungalow in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, 61-year-old Jim Thompson went for a short Easter Sunday stroll and never returned. His behavior was reportedly strange; some accounts even claim he said “goodnight, sweethearts” to his friends as he was leaving that afternoon. A massive search and years of investigation produced neither a body nor explanation.
Adding to the mystery, Thompson’s older sister was murdered in her Pennsylvania home a few months after he disappeared. Although no one knows if the event is related, that case also remained unsolved.
Where to Find the Jim Thompson House
Conveniently, the Jim Thompson House is very centrally located in the heart of the action just off Rama I Road. There are plenty of options for eating and exploring before and after a tour of the museum.
The BTS Skytrain station nearest to the Jim Thompson House is National Stadium, although you can easily get there by walking 20 minutes from the main Siam BTS station.
Pretty well all tuk-tuk and taxi drivers will know the Jim Thompson House. You’ll have to fight for them to use the meter, or in the case of taking tuk-tuks, you’ll have to negotiate a better fare before agreeing to go.
The official address is:
Jim Thompson House Museum
6 Soi Kasemsan 2
Rama 1 Road
Bangkok, Thailand 10330
Visiting the Jim Thompson House
Although you could look around the front part of the garden unaccompanied, you must take one of the guided tours to see the inside of the house.
Depending on how busy the museum is, you may be given a time to return for your tour; be back 10 minutes early. The last tours start at 6 p.m. and are available in Thai, English, French, Chinese, and Japanese.
Per Thai custom for entering a house or sacred place, you’ll be expected to remove your shoes at the start of the tour.
The Jim Thompson House is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
To confirm the Jim Thompson House is open during big public holidays, call +66 2 216 7368.
- Adults: 200 baht
- Under 22 years old: 100 baht (you must show an ID)
- Children under 10: Free
What to See
The Jim Thompson House is one of Bangkok's top attractions for a number of reasons. Thompson was an architect and designer, so he purposefully constructed his house from wooden panels and walls taken from old structures throughout Thailand. The finished property represents multiple styles and regions.
While the design of the house itself is impressive, the real treasures await inside. During his travels in Southeast Asia, Jim Thompson collected antique Buddha statues and rare artwork including paintings and porcelain. Even much of the furniture is intricately carved and beautiful. Of course, you will also see displays of old looms and colorful silk.
Also in the Area
The Jim Thompson House is located very near to some of Bangkok’s biggest shopping malls along Rama I Road. MBK Center, Siam Discovery, and Siam Center are all only a 15-minute walk away. Numerous spas and massage shops are also in the area.
If you decide to walk Rama I Road, look for the busy Erawan Shrine on the sidewalk around a 25-minute walk from the Jim Thompson House.
Theories About Jim Thompson’s Disappearance
The most realistic of theories explaining Thompson’s disappearance is that he was accidentally killed in a hit-and-run accident by a local. Seeing that Thompson was a rich, well-known Westerner, the person driving may have covered up the accident for fear of harsh punishment by local authorities. Jim Thompson had left his cigarettes and other personal affects at home, possibly proving that he didn’t intend to be gone for long.
A more far-fetched theory is that Jim Thompson was contacted by the CIA for assistance during the Vietnam War. Given his notoriety, OSS background, and extensive knowledge of the region, the idea is plausible. Thailand was an ally and base of operations for the U.S. during the war. Laos was secretly home to Lima Site 6, a runway in the mountains used by the CIA’s Air America to fly covert missions. Thompson understood both countries well and had many contacts. Strangely, the CIA landing strip later became Vang Vieng, a tourist town and popular stop for partying on the backpacker trail!
If Thompson did participate in the Vietnam War, he would have had to do so covertly because of his high profile. If so, either things didn’t go as planned or he deliberately never returned.
Although a ransom was never requested, some believe that Jim Thompson had been kidnapped. Time magazine reported in 1967 that Thompson “knew many of Ho Chi Minh’s agents.” He may have been killed while trying to escape capture, or simply abducted (by either Chinese or Vietnamese agents) in a proactive measure to prevent him from aiding the U.S. during the war. A Malaysian woman interviewed during the investigation reported seeing a convoy of similar vehicles drive down the ordinarily sleepy road the day he went missing.
The last—and perhaps most romantic theory—is that Jim Thompson simply had enough and walked away from his empire. He was known to impulsively start anew when it struck his fancy. Although Thompson was wealthy and successful, he may have wanted to “retire” simply by living in secret with less notoriety. He had the resources, contacts, and knowledge of Asia to do so.