The Legend of
Jim Thompson Story and Photography By Jeff
The Jim Thompson House in Bangkok pays homage to one of the Kingdom’s most influential expats and one of Asia’s greatest mysteries that has never been solved. Ok, I admit it. I’ve always been a sucker for a great expat story. Stories of success - or complete failures - of expats in their chosen countries have always fascinated me. Most everyone has a great story of someone who completely went off the deep end, but it’s the stories of those that have succeeded away from home that rarely get the recognition they deserve. Jim Thompson’s story, however - a man who, at the time, in the 1960s, was one of the most revered expats in Asia - is one that even 47 years after his demise is still being debated today.
30 HAPS_Oct/Nov 2014
For those who have never heard of him, Thompson was an American operative in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the forerunner of the CIA in the 1940s. He later became an investor in the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok after retirement, and eventually, after a falling out with his partners, became better known as the man who is often credited for single handedly reviving the silk industry in Thailand. The charismatic Thompson eventually became one of the most influential people in high society in Thailand. That honor, of course, brought with it a multitude of
enemies due to jealousy from competitors and local government officials, not to mention a home government that was not impressed with his vocal displeasure of the then-ongoing Vietnam war. His architectural background, which he learned through Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, and a 10-year career in the US helped him establish one of the most well-known houses in Bangkok - a six-building home built from century-old wood, which he had disassembled and boated down the river from Ayutthaya at a time when such Thai-style teak houses
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