TIO Thailand: Bangkok, Day #1

TIO Thailand: Bangkok, Day #1

First stop,  Jim Thompson Museum and House.

jim_thompson_1The story begins with a larger-than-life hero: handsome, rich, urbane, widely accomplished and a one-time CIA (actually OSS, the forerunner of the CIA) operative. Packed tight as it is with moral certainty and physical action, Ian Fleming could have easily penned his tale.

Born in Greenville, Delaware 1906 into a wealthy family, James Harrison Wilson Thompson was a practicing architect prior to World War II. Towards the end of his military career, he organized the OSS office in Bangkok. After leaving the service (in 1946), Thompson settled in Thailand where the gifted designer, textile colorist, and entrepreneur almost singlehandedly saved the Thai silk industry from extinction with the formation in 1948 of his Thai Silk Company.

Easter Sunday 1967, Thompson went missing while on a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. To date not a single clue has turned up as to what might have happened to the man. (Theories include a heart attack while out on the trail to darker suggestions of CIA involvement.) At the time of his disappearance, Thompson was one of the most famous Americans living in Asia.

Jim Thompson’s legacy is the home he built and the foundation set up in his memory.

To build his complex, now a museum, Thompson combined six ancient teak structures from old up-country edifices and set them in a garden across from the ancient silk weavers’ quarter, Ban Khrua. Day 1, we visited the elegantly understated digs filled with an art and antiques collection spanning 14 centuries, including various representations of the Buddha, one made of limestone dating from the 7th century; Burmese carvings; Ming porcelain; and a dining table once used by King Rama V.

No doubt the Jim Thompson House is one of the best-preserved traditional Thai houses in Bangkok and among the finest museums in the country. However, tours are led by guides who follow a very tight script. if you want do more than scratch the surface, do some homework before you go: read up on the man, the place, and especially the art. And, if you make it to Thailand before February 2014, check out an exhibit of contemporary textiles housed in a separate structure on the grounds.

All in all, a great stop.

China Town:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetween two great traffic-choked – actually all of Bangkok is traffic choked – roads of Yaowarat and Charoen Krung, lies a maze of streets and narrow alleys packed with market stalls, street-side restaurants, gold shops: Bangkok’s Chinatown, our final stop of the day.

Word to the wise. Don’t visit China Town when you are sleep deprived. (After nearly 24 hours of travel door to door from Seattle, we finally arrived at our hotel at 2:30 a.m. and finally made it to bed at 4:30 a.m.)

While we had it on great authority – the greatest, Jeff Badger of Telluride’s Siam and Siam Talay restaurants and a regular visitor to the city – the district is a food haven. We planned to chow down in style, but only managed to snake our way through the crowds along the length of Khao Sam Road before giving up and heading back to the Royal Orchid Sheraton for a quiet dinner at the in-house Thai restaurant, Thara Thong.

Thara Thong:

tarathong_7Thara Thong was another of Jeff’s picks.

The setting was beautiful: the deck of the restaurant overlooking the river, Chaophraya or “River of the Kings” that runs behind the hotel. The food, traditional royal Thai cuisine (at royal prices), was sublime.

For starters  we shared delicate flower-shaped dumplings filled with minced herbal prawn and pork, a nice contrast to our other appetizer, a spicy satay of Thai pork, chicken, and beef with peanut sauce. The main course was a deep-fried whole sea bass served with two complementary sauces: chili pepper and sweet and sour with capsicums, cucumber, pineapple and cherry tomatoes.

The wine: a tart, fresh Concha y Toro sauvignon blanc.

Dessert. Bed and a good night’s sleep.

Good stuff to know:

The Royal Orchid Sheraton is a great place to stay: 2 Charoen Krung Road Soi 30 (Captain Bush Lane), (66)(2) 266 0123. The rooms are well appointed, but book on a high floor with river views. The service is easy, open, and warm. Restaurants on the property are excellent, when you are tired of taxis and traffic or just tired. For a cocktail by the water check out the Sambal Bar. Use the tour outfit in the hotel, Hotel Beds, to plan any  excursions and ask for Phusa (pronounced Poo-sa). She does a soft sell and is very much in the know.

For visitors, Bangkok is a taxi town. Alternate forms of transportation are not recommended for foreigners unless they speak the language, although we understand sky trains are a great way to travel above the traffic. Cabs are everywhere, but caveat emptor: drivers will turn off their meter when they think they can get away with the scam. Insist they turn it on. If they refuse, exit and find another driver (who will be following right behind). Also, carry a card from the hotel marked to your destination. Otherwise, you are totally at the mercy of the man in the right front seat.


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