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 )

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!

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