Asia | South East Asia | Thailand | Bangkok – Day 3 – Soi Kasensan, Thailand
I undertook the main business of my stay in Bangkok today: obtaining an entry-visa from the Cambodian Embassy. It should be available tomorrow evening and I should be headed for the border on Thursday.
Once the simple application form was filled out and I handed over 1300 Baht (about $30US for express — one day — service) and my passport, I headed out to fill in some of the blanks which my previous sojourn in Bangkok had left. I strode out of Khao San and rambled to that bus stop I remembered vaguely; it was still right there. In the thick of the non-stop assembly line of traffic which came whizzing ’round the sweeping turn, bus after bus pulled up, helping to further coat the immediate air with rubbery fumes. When the number 15 bus rounded into view I waved it down and hopped on. It almost came to a full stop in the process. We lurched unevenly into the flow. The mid-day traffic actually moved reasonably well and within 20 minutes I was ambling down Soi Kasensan 3 towards Jim Thompson’s House.
The Soi, or side-street, was lined with small businesses, industries, and many identically dressed Thai women sitting on little plastic stools adjacent to food carts, eating lunch. At the end of the soi was a bridge traversing a chocolate soup klong (canal) and on the other side of the bridge was a shanty- town concentration of ramshackle housing. No sign of Jim Thompson’s reportedly memorable estate. A Thai soon understood my confused expression and pointed me towards the next soi. Jim Thompson’s house is noble testimony to the passion of an enigmatic American for the Asian and especially Thai culture. At the end of WWII Thompson was posted to Bangkok and became so smitten with it that, when he couldn’t convince his wife to live there, he divorced her and set himself up in Bangkok. An architect by trade, he started promoting Thai silk to the grand fashion houses of the world in the 1950’s. He revived the languishing industry in Thailand and became a wealthy man in the process. He built a stunning teak wood home for himself in Bangkok by buying, dismantling, reassembling and joining together half a dozen traditional Thai homes from around the country. He filled his abode with a large and varied collection of Asian art representing many periods of Buddhist and Hindu creativity. On a hunting trip in Central Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, Thompson disappeared without a trace in 1967. Many theories (but little evidence) have been advanced as to his ultimate fate. His heirs turned his estate into the lovely museum it is today and have handed it over to Thai authorities with admission fees going towards the preservation of Thailand’s cultural heritage.
After the tour of Thompson’s house, I found myself pulled toward the shanty- town on the other side of the canal. Juxtaposed to the spacious grandeur of Thompson’s house, and glared down upon from on high by nearby haughty skyrises, small slap-up houses were jammed together flush up against the klong. I wandered through the alley ways that separated them taking in the surprising blare of televisions from within. Several very friendly locals engaged me in conversation. They were, to a person, gracious and warm.