Thai Ghosts

“Nang Nak” – a popular Thai ghost story

Nearly every Thai is a firm believer in ghosts. After living here two-and-a-half years, I’ve heard a hundred ghost stories. These are not the tongue-in-cheek-let’s-spin-a-good-yarn-by-the-campfire sort of ghost story. These are hushed first-hand accounts from firm believers whose story ends with some sort of misfortune caused by an evil spirit. Ancient spiritism and animism is alive and well in Thailand–even on a modern 21st century university campus graced with a radio station, computer labs, a modern engineering building, and all the other trappings of modernity.

One of my students had a near-fatal motorcycle accident two years ago late at night. He had just driven by a dark temple compound, which is sometimes feared like graveyards are in the west. Temples are where bodies are burned and ashes are buried into crypts in the compound walls; so spirits are thought to linger about the area. My student friend tells me that just after he passed the temple compound, someone glancing his way saw a lady dressed in white sitting behind him on the motobike. The apparition matched the description of a “Pob” ghost–a strikingly beautiful lady who glides about in a mysterious long white dress. However, she is only a “head.” Inside the dress is only bare internal organs, not enclosed by a body. She’s considered to be a very dangerous and malevolent spirit. Hence, the explanation for his accident. (By the way, at 80 miles per hour, and drunk, he hit a dead dog lying in the road, which sent him out of control. Another possible explanation for the accident.)

A few months ago, one of our younger professors who just won a Fullbright Scholarship to study in the USA for three years, came into my office late at night, as he was preparing to leave.

“Staying late tonight?” he asked with obvious consternation.

“Of course, probably until about 11pm or midnight. Why?”

“Aren’t you afraid to stay by yourself?”

“Not really. Should I be?” I thought maybe he knew of some prowling murderer loose on campus.

“What about ghosts?”

I was taken aback. I didn’t really expect that comment from someone who had just gotten his master’s degree from one of Bangkok’s more progressive universities. But my teacher-friend was Isan to the core, which included a solid belief in malevalent spirits–which especially like to plague people who remain alone in big empty buildings.

His wide eyes and sincere concern actually rattled me just a bit.

So that same night, after shutting out all the lights, and powering down the noisy air conditioners, things seemed unnervingly quiet. Then, wandering through a cavernous dark room to the distant door on the far wall, I was just a little more alert to strange sounds and fleeting shadows. What is that white thing in the far corner? A lady in white? No, just the faculty refridgerator in the pantry area.

Never afraid of ghosts in my life, and now I start this in my mid-50’s? Get a grip!

Almost every night you can count on the TV to dramatize one or two ghost stories in a thriller. Although it scares them, the Thai cannot help watching these, the way morbid onlookers are drawn to the scene of an accident. Every Thai child is told the story of Nang Nak (you can read a brief description of it at www.thailandlife.com/nangnak01.html )

The Thai have many categories and types of ghosts and every Thai person knows all the “species” by name. Thus, I share with you a great article on page 2 which spells it out in ghoulish detail. I’m gradually learning these names, because it’s so much a part of daily conversation!

15 responses to “Thai Ghosts

  1. JD, welcome on your first blog entry here! 🙂

    Interesting subject, those ghosts. Like you, I was taken aback the first time I saw a PhD student seriously worried about ghosts in the dark, in an abandoned reservoir. I guess it’s something associated with children’s imagination in the West.

    Since then, I got used to it, accepted it, but never believed it. However, I usually keep that to myself… 😉

    You wrote about ghost stories regularly featured on TV; I saw the same thing in magazines. At first I thought they are some kind of an occult literature, but then I realized it must be part of the ‘ghost culture’.

    Good topic, looking forward to read more.

  2. Nice blog entry, jd. Thailand is a living ghost world. Ghost believers aren’t as prominent in the West, at least not where I have been these days, save for those old old stories from years or decades ago. But Thailand has many.

    Even I get the chills just reading about it. Sometimes I’d read on the news about ghost stories. There are quite a few stories about all the ghosts of the tsunami victims, one a few months back showed a picture of a Thai doctor being snapped on someone’s camera phone and when the snapper looked on his phone, there was this man (blurry pic but he looked very dark like Indian or Malaysian, I’m not sure how to describe him) and his eyes were red and bulging and he had an angry look on his face. He wore a blue t-shirt and stood very closely to the doctor in the pic but no one was next to her. Seeing that picture really freaked me out. There are quite a few other ghost stories I’ve read and been told by my mother.

    Anyway, again, good blog. Keep posting.

  3. The Thais have some classic Thai stories and you ought to see this TV program thats broadcast at night about a bunch of ‘Ghost finders’ using hidden cameras! Quite a farce, if you ask me.

    Never written about ghosts but will do. Lotta funny stories going around.

    Welcome to thaiblogs.

  4. Due to a technical hitch on my part, page 2 of the ghost story posted by JD didn’t show. You can now read about the different Thai ghosts.

  5. Its easy to imagine ghosts if we are living in the rural areas, where it can be quiet and the forests and hills with the moon above, can project so many shuffling images at night-time. You can feel life in everything and … beyond. As against cities, where the lights are so blinding!!

  6. Very interesting comment, Trangam. This subject is so colored by our cultures!

    In my culture, the forests and dark quiet rural areas are places of rest, peace and comfort.

    I have taken two-week hiking trips by myself in the dark forests of the mountains of my state (Washington), and didn’t see another human being for 14 days. I also never had one thought about ghosts or spirits during that time. It was a refreshing, rejuvinating time to soul, spirit, and body!

    However, when I took my Asian guests on a camping trip once (they were hill tribe people from Northern Thailand who had immigrated to the USA), they were terrified to sleep overnight in a tent in the forest.
    I just couldn’t understand it!

    Amazing, our varied perspectives, isn’t it?

  7. I was told because I was born on a Tuesday, I am less sensitive to the supernatural and because of that ghosts don’t bug me too much. For all I know my mom and aunties could’ve made that up! Since my imagination usually runs wild, that’s probably a good thing. HAHAH. But I still haven’t had an encounter with the Netherworld. But I don’t disrespect what’s beyond either. Trying not to cosmically p*ss people off. 🙂

    I was an intern at Warner Bros. when BW got to Sundance and one of the guys there couldn’t shut up about it being footage. Totally bought into that, and sold it to us interns. So I saw it thinking it was real.

    Once the “truth” is out, Blair Witch was just silly. Except one part that REALLY scare me was when they found the cottage at the end. *shudder*

  8. JD:

    I, a fellow Washingtonian, agree with you on your comment (being in the woods for 14 days, no thoughts about ghosts).
    I would be very hard-pressed to even give spirits or ghosts a thougth out there; bears, cougars, bigfoot…another matter. 🙂
    I will tell you a movie that did freak me out a little about being out in the woods…”Blair Witch Project” Ewww…I get goosebumps just thinking about it!! Ever seen it? Freaky!

  9. any idea where i can get “Thailand, Into the Spirit World” book published around 98 or 99. It’s out of print and i would love a copy. All about the ghosts of Thailand. thanks.

  10. Hi there,
    I notice this is an old subject. However, I am doing research for a project involving tales of Thai ghosts and the superstitions surrounding them. WHile I have found out quite a lot regarding adult apparitions, I can’t seem to find any tales about child ghosts. Are they regarded as unlucky or lucky, malevolent or good by Thais? An old Thai folk tale about a child ghost would be perfect but am looking for anything that could help me.

    Thank you in anticipation!

    Roz

  11. Hey–I’ve just begun my research on the same subject, but I recall a story of a Thai/Lao ghost baby known as Goumonthong (or “Golden Boy,” because of the color of the preservative) or “Lok Grok.” This phi is a still born fully formed baby that is preserved, and given offerings, and in turn grants good luck and help/protection. A slightly different relationship than the wandering ghosts–more along the line of a ‘good luck charm’–but still considered a “phi,” I believe. Try a search for those terms, and see if anything comes up…

  12. muslim ghost? that’s new, since when do we associate a ghost with a religion?

  13. Thank you very much. Sunny article.

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