Wednesday, August 03, 2005


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 are 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 refrigerator in the pantry area.

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

lmost 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 which spells it out in ghoulish detail. I'm gradually learning these names, because it's so much a part of daily conversation!

Picture from a book on Thai ghost stories.


A Guide To Thailand's Ghosts and Spirits

The Thai spirit world is populated by a plethora of ghosts, ghouls and demons - some good, some harmful, and some openly dangerous. Among the most interesting are:

Phi Peta - A hungry ghost. Everyone who is preoccupied with material attachments to the exclusion of the spiritual will be reborn as a Peta, having a giant belly and an mouth as small as the eye of a needle. Peta may sometimes be heard whistling at night, looking for people to make merit for them. This ghost is relatively harmless.

Phi Am - A ghost which sits on the chest or liver of sleepers, causing discomfort. It can be harmful.

Phi Chamob - A ghost which haunts the place where a woman has died in the jungle. This spirit does not do any harm.

Phi Ha - The spirit of a woman who has died in childbirth. This ghost is considered to be very violent.

Phi Krahang - This ghost appears as a man with feathers and a tail like a bird. It eats filth and glows at night. An unpleasant and frightening spirit.

Phi Krasy - This ghost lives inside a witch and leaves her body during sleep by way of the mouth. The Krasy is the colour of fire, has a head the size of an electric light bulb and a half-metre long bluish tail. A Krasy ghost likes dirt and does not generally harm human beings, although when it consumes entrails (hardly surprisingly) it can cause death. Krasy witches have a sleepy appearance during the day. Their eyes don't blink and they can never look anybody in the face. Also, they don't cast any reflection in the mirror. Before Krasy witches can die, they have to find somebody who will inherit the Krasy by consuming some of the old witch's spittle.

Phi Lok - A ghost which haunts various localities. It frightens and misleads people, and can be seen as well as felt.

Phi Phrai - The spirit of a woman who has died in childbirth and whose body has been used to make phi thai hong lotion. A sorcerer must hold a candle under the corpse's chin, and from the resultant melted oil essences are manufactured which drive men mad and attract women.

Phi Tai Ha - The spirit of a woman who has died of malaria. The ghost will also spread this disease.

Phi Thuk Khun - The substance of a living person which has to be sent out on astral journeys every week, or harm will come to its owner,

Phi Khamod - A spirit in the shape of a red star which, like a Will o' the Wisp, misleads wanderers.

Phi Nang Tani - A female tree spirit which is essentially beneficent and may fill the alms bowls of itinerant monks.

Phi Pa - A forest spirit. Hunters may leave a piece of the foot, lip, tongue or eyelid of a killed animal to show respect to this spirit.

Phi Poang Khang - A spirit in the shape of a black monkey which likes to suck the big toe of people sleeping in the jungle. It is said to live near salt licks.

Phi Ka - These spirits are inherited through women and can be contagious. The Ka, if not properly treated (with raw eggs) will attack and possibly possess people without the owner's knowledge. Perhaps understandably, ordinary people are said to be reluctant to marry into Ka clans!

Phi Hai - Hungry, amoral spirits associated with places where people have died an unnatural or violent death. Phi Hai are easily offended, and take every opportunity to possess people. Normally, they can be induced to leave their victim if suitable offerings are made, but on occasions an exorcist has to drive them out. In such cases, when incantations and lustral water prove insufficient, a whip may need to be employed.

Phi Pob - A malicious and very dangerous spirit which manifests itself as a beautiful woman. Phi Pob float through the air because they have no legs or lower body. They generally appear as a length of internal organs and intestines suspended from a strikingly lovely face - therefore, beware beautiful women gliding mysteriously by in long dresses! This type of ghost is probably more feared than any other species in Thailand.

learly, there can be no doubt that belief in ghosts and spirits remains widespread throughout Thailand....Chinese "bouncing" ghosts have long been a staple of Thai television and children's fantasy. Muslim ghosts have appeared which can be driven off by flourishing a piece of pork (preferably a pig's head) at them, and even vampires have made the long journey from Transylvania to Thailand. In this age of mass communication and international tourism, ghosts too - or so it would seem - have become world travellers!

Text of above article, copyright © Andrew Forbes / CPA 2003. Found at

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