Adventures with One
of the Most Traveled
Men on Earth

Lew Toulmin

New Land Adventures

New Land Adventures
Vanuatu Mon Amour
Travel and Politics
Finding Lost Airplanes
Memory Systems
Cars and Rallies
New Cruising Stories
Adventures in Genealogy
The Florian Letters
Songs and Shanties
Selected Academic Publications
Cool Lectures
Boring Lectures
Most Traveled Man
Lew dashes off to Malaysia to try to solve the most famous disappearance on land in South-east Asia. This was the disappearance in 1967 of Jim Thompson, the "Silk King of Thailand," who went for a short afternoon walk in the high jungle of the Cameron Highlands of north central Malaysia, and was never seen again. The biggest land search in Malaysian (and likely SE Asian) history failed to find a single trace. Lew analyzes the case from a scientific search and rescue point of view, the first time this has ever been done. This results in the first advances in the case in 48 years, with 25 possible causes for the disappearance whittled down by half, and a "road map" to a possible solution laid out. This massive report also contains comprehensive primary document annexes with extensive data, previous classified as "Secret," from the FBI, CIA, OSS and US Department of State.

Lew’s report on "The Disappearance of Jim Thompson, the 'Silk King of Thailand,' A Search and Rescue Analysis" is downloadable below in pdf form. Also provided are four stories published in The Montgomery Sentinel about the case, as well as a PowerPoint briefing. This briefing is in the process of being given to chapters of The Explorers Club, to the Siam Society, Rotary Clubs, travel clubs, etc.

Lew then follows up the Jim Thompson disappearance mystery by trying to find Jim’s 1000-year-old Buddha cave, where some of his beautiful Buddha heads originated. He geo-locates Jim’s cave in central Thailand for the first time, then tries to find another cave that Jim tried and failed to find. See the Montgomery Sentinel stories and an academic cave journal story on this search – that took up an entire issue of the journal!

In 2019 Lew is leading an Explorers Club Flag Expedition to assist in the excavation, documentation and historical research on Old St. Stephens, the site of the first capital of Alabama. See photos below from this exciting effort.

Lew also explores one of the most famous yet little-known islands in literature, "Bali-h'ai" from the movie, play, book, record and mini-series "South Pacific." He proves that the island of Aoba/Ambae in Vanuatu/New Hebrides inspired James Michener to write about this island paradise, but identifies another possible secondary contributor to the inspiration. Then he visits and studies the island, solves the mystery of a crashed World War II airplane on the island, documents the bizarre pig-killing and stone-moving ceremonies on the island, and analyzes the threat to the island posed by its mammoth, active and very dangerous volcano. (The substantial report on "Expedition to Ambae, the Real Bali-h'ai" is downloadable below in pdf form.) 

Lew hits the road and drives his fabled 1968 “Bullitt” Mustang across the US on Route 66, then up the Pacific Coast Highway to Seattle, and back home to Maryland on the Lewis and Clark Trail. He scores a journalistic coup by interviewing a Papal Swiss Guard and a famous explorer, describes the Peking to Paris classic car rally’s race across Iran, and sneaks into secret worlds as low as the “U.P.” and as high as the fabled gentlemen’s clubs of London. (No, not those kinds of gentlemen’s clubs!)

Lew and Susan also compete in an intense car rally coast-to-coast, the amazing Great Race, driving the "Bullitt" from the US Capitol to Tacoma, Washington, in 15 days through 100 degree heat with no air conditioning. See the briefing below for pictures of dozens of gorgeous classic cars, some close to 100 years old, that completed the 2500-mile rally.

Lew leads an expedition to the Republic of Vanuatu to find, interview and document the “Female Chiefs of Vanuatu,” who had never previously been identified, in over 120 years of anthropological research.

These and many other wild and wacky adventures are described below. (BTW, for other stories about Vanuatu, the least-known, most amazing country on Earth, see the section of this website on “Vanuatu Mon Amour.”)

Jim Thompson Cave Story: Part 1 (pdf)

Jim Thompson Cave Story: Part 2 (pdf)

Jim Thompson Cave Story: Part 3 (pdf)

Female Chiefs of Vanuatu in Asia Pacific Journal June 2017 (pdf)

Female Chiefs printed article in Island Life 1-2017(PDF)

Female Chiefs of Vanuatu Briefing at the Royal Geographical Society, London (pdf)

Jim Thompson story part 1 (pdf)

Jim Thompson story part 2 (pdf)

Jim Thompson story part 3 (pdf)

Jim Thompson story part 4 (pdf)

Report on the Disappearance of Jim Thompson, the "Silk King of Thailand" (pdf)

PowerPoint Briefing on the Disappearance of Jim Thompson, the "Silk King of Thailand" (pdf)

50th Anniversary of Jim Thompson -- Article by DPA Int'l (pdf)

Jim Thompson Temple Cave Article (pdf)

Presentation on the Jim Thompson disappearance by Lew Toulmin at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT)

Interview with Lew Toulmin by Panther Nation
(the student media organization for the International School of Bangok -- ISB) about ISB and Jim Thompson

Expedition to Ambae, the Real Bali-h'ai (pdf)

Vegetarian survivalist Dani Beau beats the odds in the Colombian jungle (pdf)

How to survive on a TV survival show (pdf)

Baltimore Grand Snafu (pdf)

Lawrence of Arabia: Oddest Hero? Part 1 (pdf)

Lawrence of Arabia: Oddest Hero? Part 2 (pdf)

Explosions in Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa (pdf)

The Search for Montgomery Pie: Bringing Pies to the Pieless (pdf)

The Last Post Card from Nakhchivan Part 1 (pdf)

The Last Post Card from Nakhchivan Part 2 (pdf)

Travel Tales Turns Ten (pdf)

Why Travel When You Could Stay at Home (pdf)

PowerPoint Briefing on the Most Traveled Man on Earth (pdf)

Surprising North Dakota

Trouble in Tonga

Down the Lewis and Clark Trail in a 1968 "Bullitt" Mustang: A Photographic Briefing

Up the Pacific Coast Highway in a 1968 "Bullitt" Mustang: A Photographic Briefing

Across America on the National Road and Route 66 in a 1968 "Bullitt" Mustang: A Photographic Briefing

The Great Race

Across Iran in Classic Cars

Enter the Secret World of London Clubs

Forest Lawn -- Almost Heaven

Yoopers -- you betcha!

Driving The National Road

Driving All of Route 66: Part 1

Driving All of Route 66: Part 2

Driving All of Route 66: Part 3

Profile of a Swiss Papal Guard

Become an Explorer and Save the Planet

Traveling Through Time in Baldwin County, Alabama

Destination Tallinn

Flag Report for Female Chiefs Expedition Final (pdf)

Gear list and Info for Female Chiefs Expedition-FINAL (pdf)

Fellow of Explorers Club Justification for Toulmin (pdf)

Presentation on Toulmin experiences at Eckerd College 2003 (pdf)

Rolling Down to Cuba (pdf)

The Toulmin Wedding story (pdf)

George Shorter (left) and Lew at Old St. Stephens (OSS), AL

Volunteer archaeologists' flag at Old St. Stephens

Lew in OSS near the site of Judge Harry Toulmin's 1805 home

A ruined tower in the mile wide city of Si Thep

Khao Amon Rat mountain from the south

Thai Star of the Order of the White Elephant

Large Buddha figure in cave

Letter with sketch of cave by Jim Thompson

Lew Toulmin (right) and monks in the Jim Thompson cave

The Bali Hai expedition documented Ambae island, the "real Bali Hai," in north Vanuatu.

Lew Toulmin and Andrew Vanua with the Explorers Club Flag and the wrecked WW II Corsair fighter engine on the north shore of Ambae.

Lt. John E. Date, Jr., USMC, crashed his Corsair into Nanako village on Ambae, but parachuted out at the last minute. The plane just missed a wedding party of 100 villages, but thankfully no one was hurt.

Children of Nanako village, west Ambae, play with a rusted .50 caliber machine gun from their wrecked Corsair. A few weeks earlier a village lady threw the machine gun on a fire and it "cooked off," sending a round whizzing through the village but luckily injuring no-one. Seventy years of rust and abuse and it still works -- who says American products aren't great?

Lew Toulmin with Malaysian police staff in the Cameron Highlands, investigating the Thompson disappearance.

A 55 year old letter from Jim Thompson (with original signature), re an order placed by Mrs. Harry [Mary] Toulmin, to buy Thai silk items in 1960, when Mary, Harry and son Lew Toulmin were living in Thailand. This letter was found in Mary's bedside bureau on the day in May 2015 when Lew finished writing the Jim Thompson report. Thanks, Jim!

The second page of the order for Thai silk items placed by Mary Toulmin for her friend Mary Partridge [Mrs. Thad Partridge] of Mobile, Alabama and filled by Jim Thompson in 1960. Note the signature of Charles Sheffield in the lower right; he is an (unlikely) POI in the Thompson disappearance, as described in the downloadable report. The shirt for 200 Ticals costs about $10 USD. Unfortunately, the silk order and letter gives no clue as to where Jim Thompson disappeared to, seven years later....

Jim Thompson in World War II. He rose from private to Lt. Col. in the OSS in just six years, undertaking secret missions in France and the Balkans. Later he was a CIA asset in Thailand and resurrected the Thai silk industry.

The Moonlight Bungalow in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia -- this was the "last known point" (LKP) for Jim Thompson in March 1967.

The Launching Pad restaurant man near the start of Route 66

The Cadillac Ranch on Route 66

Lew and his 1968 "Bullitt" Mustang at the Grand Canyon

Route 66--Here it is!

Darth Vader at New Mexico balloon festival

Buddha head from Tha Morat cave

Large Buddha figure in Jim Thompson Tha Morat cave in Thailand

Notari and children of Kerembei with Flag of Explorers (Huang Menders)

Sketch of Chief Hilda Lini

Women of Kerembei in a waterfight at the Festival (Wyrick)

Young Notari of Vanuatu looks to her future (Huang Menders)