We apparently didn’t learn our lesson about going out in mid-day heat as we found ourselves wandering through old neighborhoods of Bangkok as the heat spiraled. We managed to find a small local spot for fried spicy crumbled catfish and fried crispy noodles and lots of water to cool off… sort of. Creamy coconut ice cream at another nearby shop helped to do the trick as it’s quite possibly the only cold food in Thailand.
After lunch we wandered to the National Gallery, which promised the largest collection of Thai art. Instead it was a run-down colonial building that looked as if it had been looted. Some art was completely missing from the wall with just a hanging wire in its place. One piece tagged as a part of the “king’s collection” from the 15th century was instead a canvas painted with the date ’07. If anything, the experience offered insight into the country’s dismal preservation of the arts.
The highlight of the day was a visit to the residence of Jim Thompson, an American ex-pat who revitalized the Thai silk trade in the 1950s and 1960s. A former US military intelligence officer, Thompson went missing in Malaysia. Theories about his disappearance have ranged from suicide to being carried off by natives to being eaten by tigers. But his traditional Thai home made entirely out of teak and his collection of Thai art and sculpture (far more impressive than anything in the National Museum) remains meticulously preserved. The home was absolutely stunning and a feast for design-minded eyes with lamps made from traditional drums, fresh flowers adorning the entrances and silk covered alcoves housing stone carved Buddhas. We strolled along the lush garden with koi and orchid filled ponds until the call of Muslim prayer drew our interest beyond the leafy walls to the traditional Muslim neighborhood where the silk Thompson exported was woven and continues to be woven today.
We wandered along the canal and nearly passed out from the stink of it. I couldn’t believe that people were cooking food alongside this sewer of a canal, but they were chopping frying and grilling at every corner. At the very least, it helped mask the smell but it was far from appetizing. As we walked along, we heard the clickety-clack of the looms and followed the sound down a small alleyway, where three women were working away. They let us film and photograph them, and while they spoke no English (and we speak no Thai), the images and sounds of the little one room shop were interesting enough to put into a short 1 minute video. Enjoy!