Friday, October 2, 2015

Bangkok, Thailand and the unsolved mystery of Jim Thompson

Ruins at Sukothai the ancient capital of Thailand nestled in the teeming jungles of Southeast Asia  (wikipedia)

BANGKOK, THAILAND Sherlock Holmes. Hercule Poirot. Charlie Chan. They all conjure intriguing images for travelers. But those master detectives were fiction. A real unsolved mystery still thrives in the teeming jungles of Malaysia and amid the klongs of Bangkok, Thailand.

Thai silk king Jim Thompson vanished in the 1950s 
Just three short sentences are all it takes in Edward Roy De Souza’s book Solved! The MysteriousDisappearance of Jim Thompson, the Legendary Thai Silk King will get you hooked on this real life mystery of American entrepreneur Jim Thompson: “The hunt was for one man. He came to the Cameron Highlands for a short holiday. Two days later he disappeared!”

An unsolved disappearance in the exotic wilds of mid-20th century Asia was not uncommon, but when the victim was James (Jim) H.W. Thompson, the international celebrity who revived the silk industry of Thailand, suddenly conspiracy theorists and imaginative writers came out of the woodwork to “solve” the mystery.

Nearly 60 years later, the Jim Thompson mystery remains a source of conjecture that not only arouses your curiosity but will enhance your experience when traveling to that part of the world.
Besides the locale, which also makes this story intriguing, is the multitude of theories surrounding Thompson’s vanishing act.

Wat Arun can be seen from the Chao Phraya River that flows through Bangkok  (wikipedia)

Thompson was involved in espionage during World War II, working as an OSS operative. Following the war, he fell in love with Bangkok despite the numerous inconveniences of living there.

Writer's wing at the famed Oriental Hotel  (wikipedia)
There was a nostalgic appeal to old Bangkok that appealed to Thompson’s personality. So much was the “character” of Bangkok’s past a part of his soul that he preferred using the name of “Siam” rather than the new name “Thailand.”

Jim Thompson was an avid walker. He especially enjoyed long strolls in the country and, whenever possible, off the beaten path. Of particular interest were the ancient ruins that abound throughout the country.
While visiting friends in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia during Easter in 1957, Thompson left the villa for an unannounced walk while his hosts opted to rest during the intense afternoon heat. Everyone expected Thompson to return by six p.m. in time to prepare for dinner. He never did. Jim Thompson has not been seen or heard of since.
Life along the klongs in Thailand (wikipedia)
One of the things Thompson loved about Bangkok was its “organized chaos” that seemed to confuse Westerners. Unlike European centers, Thailand’s capital was a myriad of congestion and confusion with no great squares or intersections of major thoroughfares that could be used as a source of orientation.

Pedicabs are a popular form of transportation  (Taylor)
Much as they are today, pedicabs, or samloh, were a popular form of transportation. The three-wheeled two-seated vehicles were famous for their jingling bells that echoed throughout the city like crickets on a warm summer night in the country. It was “like a chorus of strange insects calling to one another,” wrote William Warren in his book Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery.

Thompson was an American entrepreneur of the first order. His first endeavor in Bangkok involved the Oriental Hotel which nestles along the shores of the Chao Phraya River. The Chao Phrays flows through the city with thousands of “river roads” known as klongs spreading its aquatic tentacles into the bustling metropolis.

Later, Thompson became rich and famous by reviving the silk industry of Thailand, a thriving venture that is legendary even today for its quality and design.
The silk industry thrives in Thailand even today thanks to Jim Thompson  (wikipedia)
In the middle of the 20th century, Jim Thompson was an eclectic anomaly in his adopted home. He was an architect, a retired military officer, an ex-spy, a silk merchant, a multimillionaire and, also, an internationally recognized antique collector.

As Thompson’s collection grew, so did the need for a place to house his artifacts, resulting in the construction of a home that was also a museum. The “House on the Klong” as it was, and is, called, was created from parts of six old Thai up-country houses.
Jim Thompson created his house as a place to display his fabulous art and antique collections  (wikipedia) 
It took nearly a year to re-assemble the sextet of homes into the architectural masterpiece that remains one of the most popular attractions in Bangkok today. Scattered throughout the massive home are blue-and-white Ming treasures, stone figures from Cambodia, elaborate chandeliers, Burmese statues and a dining table once used by King Rama V of Thailand.

Sample pattern of Thai silk  (wikipedia0
Appropriately, the Jim Thompson house nestles within a jungle setting along one of Bangkok’s klongs.
In the 21st century, the silk industry of Thailand thrives and the Oriental continues to be one of the finest hotel properties in the world. Thompson’s “House on the Klong” is a major tourist attraction in a region where “disappearing” is not unusual.

At least twelve theories have been offered as a solution to the Thompson mystery, including one that he may even have planned his own disappearance. None has produced a satisfactory answer.
Jim Thompson's disappearance remains a mystery, but his silk products continue to be a favorite for shoppers (wikipedia)

So the mystery of Jim Thompson continues. All you need to do is travel to Southeast Asia and immerse yourself in discovering the answer.