I’ve been working on a post of the Top Ten Things NOT To Do In Bangkok, and winnowing the list is a never ending chore. Too many bad choices for touri to select from. Then I ran across a recent forum post where some fool listed a visit to Jim Thompson’s House as one the top daytime outings in Bangkok. My immediate reaction was WTF? Out of all the incredible sights and experiences Bangkok has to offer a first time visitor, making a pilgrimage to Jim Thompson’s store house comes out on top? What an exotic choice! A quick flight back to Idaho would be icing on the cake.
While Jim Thompson’s House of Blah is on my Not To Do list, it really stands out far above the rest and deserves its own post. Though it routinely shows up in travel guides and on website lists ranking in the Top Ten of things to do in Bangkok, in reality it barely qualifies for a spot in the top 100. Maybe. If you’re being generous.
Jim Thompson’s is a historical teakwood residence/compound that, while nice, is really nothing more than a retail operation pushing overpriced Thai silk clothing and assorted souvenirs. With a smattering of historical local art to view. Jim is credited with starting the whole Thai silk industry. And he mysteriously disappeared. Yawn. Truth of the matter is Jim didn’t start the Thai silk industry. The Thais did. Long before Jimmy boy came along. Jim no more started the Thai silk industry than Al Gore invented the internet. JT did nothing more than boost his sales through an aggressive marketing scheme. Mysteriously disappeared? Ha! Jim dissed the entire Thai nation with his claims. He didn’t disappear, he got what was coming to him. That shit just doesn’t fly in Thailand. And Jim wasn’t the first, or the last farang businessman to find out what happens when you piss off the locals in Thailand. (Yes, I know: Jimmy T disappeared in Malaysia not Thailand. And Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in Michigan, not New Jersey.)
Sure by visiting Jim’s you get the opportunity of buying a Jim Thompson original. At one time it was quite fashionable to have a nice Thai silk outfit, for both men and women. That was back when Al Jolsen’s voice was first heard in the movies. There was a slight revival during the 80’s when the clueless took their fashion tips from Miami Vice. Today, that silk outfit is kinda like buying a muumuu in Hawaii. It’s fashion that just doesn’t travel well. If you can’t resist draping yourself in Thai silk, there are Jim Thompson outlets at the malls, and a branch right on Suriwong in Patpong, you don’t need to trek all the way across town to pick up some silk duds, and pay an admission fee to do so. Better yet, go to MBK and buy a non-Jim Thompson original for half the price. For the truly adventurous, skip the staid and take a look at the offerings by emerging Thai designers instead.
But Jim’s place is a nice teakwood house, and a pretty riverside location. If teakwood structures are your thing – because you are an architect or over 80 – then pass his place by and head over to the Vimanmek Mansion instead. It’s bigger, nicer, and Thai royalty lived in it. A Thai King vs. a dead farang merchant. Your pick.
And the art? There’s a little place called the National Museum that is rumored to have maybe one or two more pieces on display. At half the admission price. And they offer overpriced souvenirs there too, just in case you thought you’d be left out.
A visit to Jim Thompson’s house would qualify as a Stupid Touri Trick if the choice had just a bit more integrity to it. Maybe you could throw in a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya river to raise the stakes. A nice outing featuring overpriced bland Thai clothing* and overpriced bland Thai food should do the trick.
*Make sure you pick out a piece with little elephants on it. Nothing is more fashionable than a Thai silk garment with little elephants on it!