The art and architecture of Thailand are major attractions for visitors. While it is true that the other big draws of Bangkok, which will see a possible 20 million visitor arrivals within this year, will always be popular here, people still love the arts in every form.
Certainly, the tantalizing and spicy cuisine of Thailand will never be forgotten. The best nightlife on earth is not going to lose its sparkle. The beaches remain beautiful throughout the year. And shopping venues continue to expand. The temples are more gorgeous than ever—sites of not only religious devotion but incredible design. And this is where we begin our exploration of traditional Thai architecture and the museums in Bangkok that feature and highlight it. Among both local and foreign tourists, such museums in Bangkok, the few that exist, are a constant draw.
With a focus on the kind of fashionable design that stands out from the crowd, while at the same time expressing a unique personality that complements the local environment, the MGallery hotels of the world, such as modern and elegant VIE Hotel Bangkok, hold a special connection to architectural beauty and the museums which showcase it.
Now there is doubt that the most acclaimed and well known of all of these museums has to be the famous Jim Thompson House.
The former home of an American entrepreneur with a very interesting life story, Jim Thompson, the museum occupies just about half an acre of verdant jungle land (or one “rai” in the Thai language) in the centure of downtown Bangkok’s commercial district. It was built in 1959 under the watchful eye of Jim Thompson, who had developed a deep affection for the traditional architecture of Thailand and the art of the region. At the time, the arts of Southeast Asia were nowhere near as familiar to the world as they are nowadays. In fact, most of it was totally unknown. But Jim Thompson, after having spent so much time in Thailand, became determined to live in a house as beautiful as those he had studied and fell in love with.
Surrounded by lush gardens, as well as an excellent Thai food restaurant near Siam, the Jim Thompson House is an amazing display of this artistic passion of his as well as his own particular style and taste. Its construction is a wonder in itself. As the architecture of ancient Siam and Thailand have gone through various phases over the past few centuries (at least) and differs in certain distinct ways from region to region as the Thai people moved from the North to the South and absorbed important influences from the previous Mon and then the Khmer civilizations who had grown up first in the area of what is now Thailand, Jim Thompson undertook a fascination project in the completion of the intriguing home in which he would live.
He began by identifying and purchasing six different traditional teakwood houses from around the country. These he then transported in parts to the land he had in Bangkok. Of course, downtown Bangkok was not quite as developed and urbanized as it looks today! These six houses he mix and matched and assembled perfectly to his preference, refurbishing them and in 1959 creating one of the most fascinating museums in Bangkok ever seen. It remains a famous tourist destination in the city today.
A fitting place of interest for those who love the MGallery hotels, the museum is constantly popular among the guests of VIE Hotel Bangkok.
Jim Thompson next furnished it with amazing pieces of art he had collected throughout the region. Beautiful accents from around the world also share in this celebration of art, amidst the wonderful structure of the Thai house he composed.
However, the story of the creation of his house is not quite finished. Part of its allure is an echo of the mystery of the very man himself.
American born, Jim Thompson was a successful architect in the States, designing homes for the wealthy. However, apparently desiring more out of life, he joined the National Guard and eventually joined the what was then the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, which was the United States’ forerunner to the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency.
As World War II reached its zenith, Jim Thompson became an operative for the OSS. He was sent to assist the French Resistance against occupying Nazi Germany forces in North Africa. After the war in Europe was over, but while the war in the Pacific was still raging, he was next assigned to the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to help the Seri Thai (Free Thai) movement fighting to liberate Thailand from the Japanese army which occupied Thailand at the time. After the war, working for the US embassy, he was able to utilize his connections made during the war to continue to assist Thailand with various conflicts on the borders.
Finally discharged from service, Jim Thompson was one of the investors who bought the famous Oriental Hotel in Bangkok as well as founding Thai Silk Company Limited. It was through this company that Jim Thompson Thai silk was able to revitalize the traditional Thai silk industry. He employed a great many people by keeping his company cottage-based, greatly helping the economy of the otherwise poor silk weavers and workers.
Through his love of art and the Jim Thompson Thai silk, Jim Thompson became one of the most famous men in Thailand at the time. His house was a center of culture and socializing for the highest echelons of society, another thing in common with MGallery hotels.
However, during a trip hiking in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967, Jim Thompson suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. He left his legacy in his house and the Jim Thompson Thai silk company and the now prosperous Thai silk industry.
Other museums in Bangkok celebrate architecture, such as the house of Thai politician and professor Pridi Banomyong. And the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, also near VIE Hotel Bangkok, offers fascinating exhibitions. Exploring the Jim Thompson House is a journey through time and art.
On the first floor, step over Italian marble tiles and beneath a delicate Belgian chandelier to admire a finely crafted 17th century standing Buddha and a wooden figurine.
Climb the stairs and be treated to an array of Buddhist temple wall hangings, an incredibly gorgeous teak dining room and splendid Benjarong porcelain.
On the grounds of the museum you can expect to find a gourmet Thai food restaurant near Siam and a souvenir shop offering Jim Thompson silk products.
Located a short ways from VIE Hotel Bangkok, on the Saen Saeb Canal, the house is only one stop away on the BTS Skytrain, at Siam station. This makes it an idea excursion for viewing art, picking up a beautiful momento, and enjoying a superb Thai food restaurant near Siam. That’s the MGallery hotels lifestyle!