September 14, 2008

Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson….if you like design you’ve probably heard of his beautiful silk fabrics. He was an architect from America, and after being in the OSS (precursor the the CIA) in the second world war, he settled in Thailand. He was internationally successful in building and developing the Thai Silk industry. Anyway..over Easter in 1967 he mysteriously disappeared while he was vacationing in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. His bungalow was like 1k from where we’re staying right now.

“In the twenty years before his ill-fated holiday in Malaysia, he had accomplished more than most men in a full life. He had built a major industry in a remote and little known country whose language he could not speak; he had become an authority on an art that, previously, he scarcely knew existed and had assembled a collection that attracted scholars from all over the world; he had built a home that was a work of art in itself and one of the landmarks of Bangkok; and, in the process of doing all this, he had become a sort of landmark himself, a personality so widely known in his adopted homeland that a letter addressed simply ‘Jim Thompson, Bangkok’ found its way to him in a city of three and a half million people.”

Excerpt from ‘Jim Thompson – The Legendary American in Thailand’, by William Warren.

There are many theories as to what happened to Jim Thompson, people speculate that he got lost in the jungle, was abducted for reasons of ransom or politics, or committed suicide. He vanished into thin air, and people have been fascinated by his bizzare disappearance. I had learned about Jim from living in Singapore, watching my Mom buying bolts of his fabrics at the outlet in Thailand and visiting his home/museum in Bangkok.

Visiting the Cameron Highlands, I couldn’t wait to ask the locals their thoughts! Our hostel owner, who’s name I unfortunately can’t remember, sat down with me yesterday and told me what happened. He was a child living in a village called Tapah, just up the road from when Jim Thompson disappeared.

Jim was staying in the ‘Moonlight’ Bungalow, he said, “You know, there are moonlight and sunlight bungalows”..I just nodded but I have no clue about these bungalows!

He went out for tea around 4pm, never came back. He couldn’t have been eaten by a Tiger because ‘Tigers will leave something’.

He said there were many high rewards for all people to find any clues to what had happened to the “Silk House King”. My source, this Cameronian Inn owner, was a golf caddy as a kid and he and his friends went searching in the surrounding areas with all of the other people, but found nothing.

His theory was that his Thai wife (which I had never heard he’d had) and a Chinese Singaporean couple kidnapped him and sent him to Hawaii where they changed Jim’s ‘figure’, meaning his face. So that the Thais could take over Jim’s business, keeping all the success and money.

Regardless of what happened to Jim Thompson, the Thais have been able to successfully continue producing beautiful silks with gorgeous designs under the Jim Thompson brand.


  1. Holly Rae

    Hey, you two! I’m loving reading your blog. Very well put together. Andy and I are envious of your travels, it all looks so humbly exotic. Inspiring, though! Those orchids – dang!!
    I hope to hear more local lore about Jim Thompson, too and the speculation surrounding him. . .

    Do keep it up! It’s almost as good as having you around!

  2. Courtney

    I read a book on him and loved it! We toured his home when we honeymooned in Thailand and shopped at his boutiques. I wish someone around here carried his products. JJ bought the best ties!

  3. Claire,

    How wonderful! Envy what you see.


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