On location: Bangkok 2

Something I love about travel: you can never anticipate what you will enjoy most about a destination.

Yesterday, I took my partner and our nearly ten-year-old daughter to Jim Thompson’s House in Bangkok. I’d visited in 2008, when Miss Nearly Ten was nearly three. But despite years in the region, and having stayed multiple times in the adjacent soi, my partner had never visited before.

Thompson was an American who settled in Thailand after World War II; he is credited with single-handedly reviving Thailand’s silk weaving industry, notably after his Thai silks were used for the costumes in the Hollywood musical The King and I (though IMDB credits the film’s costume designer Irene Sharaff with popularising Thai silk). Though the Thais disapprove of the film for its portrayal of the Thai King (played by Yul Brenner), they hold Thompson in high regard. Thompson disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967 in circumstances that remain a mystery. His story and his house have been preserved, administered today by a trust.

The house is actually a collection of traditional  teak  houses, relocated from various parts of Thailand and reassembled, with Western features added (inside toilet, dining table, etc). Situated on the banks of a canal with its own boat dock, the house is filled with exquisite antiques collected by Thompson, and surrounded by a lush tropical garden he referred to in correspondence as his ‘jungle’. In among the palms, ferns and palms was a pond filled with turtles and frogs, and ceramic pots, home to fish of various sizes.

It was in the garden while waiting for our tour to start that I saw my favourite sight of the day. A couple of the boys who worked there had scattered pea-like seeds, numbered from one to nine, on to the surface of a ceramic pot containing a black fish the size of a mango. The fish would ‘taste’ then spit out the seeds, the boys using this to choose their lucky numbers for the lottery.

Neung le sam,’ one of them told us.

Sure enough, in the time we were watching, the fish mouthed the seeds with the numbers one and three on them.

It was a small moment of shared recognition and laughter. By the time our tour started, the seeds had been packed away.

More to follow, including how me and Miss Nearly Ten accidentally attended the funeral of Thailand’s Supreme Patriarch…

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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7 Responses to On location: Bangkok 2

  1. How absolutely fascinating, Angela! Thompson’s disappearance is a really intriguing mystery, and how exciting to have been at his home. A fascinating travelogue indeed !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Angela, this is my favourite tourist spot of all in Bangkok. I’ve been there about 20 times! I never tire of it and I always find something new to look at. I first started going in 1990, when it was just the house, no shops attached, no transport from the highway, small numbers of tourists and not even a sign to indicate where to go (but the Nancy Chandler map had good directions). I think the silk weaving village could still be seen operating across the soi then, but this might be a fanciful imagining of mine. The last time I went was late 2012, and although it is much more ‘touristy’ now, I found it to be still an enchanting experience. I’ve read quite a few books about Jim Thompson. One in my collection is particularly interesting: The House on the Klong, by William Warren and NZ photographer Brian Brake, ‘privately printed’ in Tokyo in 1976 and specially bound in pink Thai silk. It’s the 10th edition of the book, first printed in 1968, and was actually originally commissioned by Thompson himself while he was still living in the house. It was published only shortly after his disappearance with an additional note to add that his family had agreed to the book still going ahead. Thompson is also an important character in the 1999 novel Siam, Or The Woman Who Shot a Man, set in Bangkok in 1967 and written by Lily Tuck. Have you read it?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kathy D. says:

    Gosh, what a mystery about Jim Thompson. Have writers tackled mysteries about what have happened to him? Haven’t read Lily Tuck’s book, so don’t know what she is discussing.

    Liked by 1 person

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