The Jim Thompson Museum is a must visit in Bangkok for any creative. You may have seen countless high-end Jim Thompson shops showcasing sumptuous silk wares (there is even one in Suvarnabhumi Airport, as well as various other Thai airports!), but you may not know that the company’s origins are not only historical, but also shrouded in intrigue.

The Museum

Set just past a busy road, the striking red wooden Thai-style houses transport you back to the past. They were built in 1959, and the lush gardens, pond and canal backdrop create an instant oasis away from the city’s hubbub. It was formerly the home of Jim W.H. Thompson, the entrepreneur, architect and art collector, who is often celebrated for reviving the Thai silk trade. In fact, he is often dubbed ‘The Silk King’.

His exquisite collection of Southeast Asian art is showcased in a complex of elegant buildings, which house a newly renovated museum. Here, you can find intricate prints, statues, ornaments and furniture adorning the rooms, as well as learning more about the silk-weaving and designing process, and, of course, a little about Thompson himself through historical photographs.

The Mystery

The art is made even more tantalizing as one listens as the tour guide (available in several languages) tells you about the textile tycoon’s mysterious disappearance in 1967. It was Easter Day and the sixty-year-old was holidaying in the Cameron Highlands, Maylasia. He attended church and was seen enjoying a cigarette under the porch of the bungalow in which he was staying. The crunch of gravel was heard, and he was presumed to go on a walk; this was not an unusual occurrence. The only problem was – he never returned. His companions waited for a long time and began to grow worried.

They discovered he had taken his backpack, but not the cigarettes or medicines he always took with him. Despite many months of extensive search efforts, he vanished without a trace.

Theories include that he could have been attacked by a tiger, perished in the merciless jungle after getting lost, or that he was murdered for political reasons due to his conduct in World War II.

Dine in Style

This potentially grizzly tale seems odd when juxtaposed with the newly renovated museum. It retains and preserves the snapshot of history wonderfully, whilst also boasting a swanky restaurant and shop. The elegantly appointed interior is, of course, adorned in sumptuous textiles and lit by ambient lighting. The restaurant offers a recently revamped menu which describes itself as “selection of traditional and progressive Thai dishes prepared with the finest sustainable products sourced from local suppliers throughout Thailand”. Booking is highly recommended; this can be done online or by calling 02-216-7368. There is also a more informal Silk Café which serves a selection of light bites, cakes, coffees, smoothies, and homemade ice creams.

Shop Silk

You will find an extensive shop in the Jim Thompson Museum itself, and there are many stores scattered around Thailand. However, as silk is a costly commodity, it is also worth taking a look at some of the outlet warehouses. You can find the Jim Thompson Factory Outlet at Sukhumvit 93 (Bang Chak, Phra Khanong). Here, you will find silk clothes, accessories, homewares and fabrics offered at discounted prices in their extensive showroom. This shop is about 13 km away from the museum, so it takes a little effort, but is definitely worthwhile if you are looking for some unique gifts and souvenirs at a slightly less eye-watering price point.

You will not regret a trip to the Jim Thompson Museum; it is a wonderful way to spend a morning or afternoon; you will come away feeling inspired. Make sure you don’t forget to visit the pond and watch the sizeable koi fish! You can also find the Jim Thompson Art Centre on the same road. This centre organises exhibitions and educational programs.