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…