Thai Ghost Story

July 18th, 2007

This is a ghost story although, unlike most ghost stories, it actually took place. I know because it happened to me. If I could raise my right hand from the keyboard and type at the same time, I would do it now and swear to you that every word of this is true.

But first, some background.

Thai people, whether they’re relatively uneducated villagers or the most sophisticated city-dwellers, take ghosts seriously. Most Thai people believe in a whole pantheon of ghosts, ranging from benign to horrific. I personally know four Thais who woke one night to see someone in their family — someone who lived a considerable distance away — standing in their room, usually at the end of the bed. Without exception, they learned the next day that the person they had seen — a grandmother, an uncle, a mother — had died. This is accepted. The spirit came to say farewell.

Other ghosts are not so harmless. There are many kinds of malign spirits, and they tend to take up residence where lives have ended badly. From the beginning of construction on the new Bangkok airport (set on a piece of land that used to be called “cobra swamp”) workers complained that there were ghosts everywhere. Many workers resigned rather than have to mingle with the dead. And when the airport opened and the computerized baggage retrieval system broke down, the malfunction was briefly blamed on ghosts. And I mean officially.

While I have no idea what, if anything, may have happened at the prime minister’s official residence (sort of the Thai White House), I do know that almost no one ever spends the night there because of the house’s ghostly guests. We are talking the highest realms of government here, folks. Prime ministers, cabinet ministers, generals. Nobody sleeps there. The general official, high-level reaction to the place seems to be brrrrrrrrr.

So with all that as a setting, here’s what happened to me.

About 20, 21 years ago I was in Pattaya. This was when Pattaya was still a relatively quiet little town, although the nightlife that ultimately transformed it was beginning to blossom. I was staying in a small hotel set into a cliff overlooking the sea. I went to bed about midnight and drew the curtains so I could sleep in. That made the room extremely dark.

At about 3 AM I snapped awake, knowing I was no longer alone. Remember, the room was almost pitch-black. In one corner, diagonally across the room from me, was a figure.

I looked away. I looked back. I blinked heavily. It was still there.

I could only see it by looking slightly past it, but it was a female wearing a shapeless white dress that fell almost to her ankles, and black hair down to her waist. Her head was bent downward so she was facing the carpet, and her face was hidden by the fall of hair. Then, moving slowly, she grasped handfulls of hair and lifted them straight up and let them fall again. Then she reached down and did it again. The second time she pulled her hair into the air, she started to bring her face up.

I knew that if I saw her face, I was dead. I rolled over as fast as I could, snapping on the lights on the bedtables, and when they came on, she was gone. I lay there, fighting for breath, literally more frightened than I’ve ever been in my life. And I stayed there, wide awake, until the sun came up.

When the room was bright enough, I went into the bathroom, pulled the shower curtain, turned on the shower, and let the water hit me full in the face. When I’d had enough, I pulled back from the stream of water and opened my eyes, and something moved very fast on the other side of the shower curtain. I left the water running, grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me, and ran all the way to the lobby, where I demanded, and got, a new room, as far as possible from the old one.

Later that day, I went back with a maid to pack my things — there was no way I was going in there alone — and the maid said, yes, that woman had been seen before in the room, and she volunteered to take me to the temple later that day when her shift was over to burn some incense and do a brief ceremony to release that poor woman’s spirit from whatever powerful force as holding it on this side of the curtain. And we did, and I felt a little better. But that night — even in my new room –I slept with my lights on.

And no, I had never previously believed in ghosts.

22 Responses to “Thai Ghost Story”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim

    Loved this story, but I hope it never happens to me! I know you don’t write horror stories but has your ghost experience been incorporated into any of your books?

  2. Stephen Cohn Says:

    That’s a great story! The image of the woman with long hair and her head bent over is powerful. It reminds of some Japanese horror films I’ve seen recently. Is it said, in Thailand, that if you look a ghost in the face you will die? Your instinct about not looking at her is also intriguing.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I don’t know whether the idea of looking at the face is lethal is part of Thai ghost belief. This was my own personal instinct, and it was as powerful as breathing.

    Tim

  4. jeff friedberg Says:

    Here’s an excerpt from a trilogy I’m allegedly writing. The book is speculative fiction, but the incident is actually true. It happened to me. I had forgotten about this, but it came back to me when the music on this site’s home page played a sound I’d heard once before—the “tingg…” that it opens with.
    ==============================================
    Derringer Manor, 5:45 AM

    Colt is asleep in bed dreaming of Sirius the dead Rottweiler.

    In Colt’s dream the Rottweiler is asleep next to the bed and Colt has an arm over the side, strokes the dog’s wide back, feels the coarse fur, smells him.

    A small noise in the room, and Derringer lurches up.

    At the foot of the bed, there’s a tall, shadowy shape, it’s head reaches the ceiling. Moonlight pierces the window blinds in narrow strips, a female, Asiatic somehow, wearing a draped garment from neck to floor, like some Goddess, black hair piled high, tiny gold earrings that twist slowly, wink in the moonlight, go “tingg..”

    He turns to snatch his pistol, brings it to bear but she is gone.

    He realizes he is awake?has been awake all along. He?s up, gun in hand, looking at the exact same strips of moonlight, the same room, nothing different.

    Except the shape is gone. And the dog.

    “I’m losing my mind.”
    ============================================
    As I said, the story is absolutely true. I swear it on my dog’s soul. I guess one can’t shoot the Manitou, anyway. Or Persephone. Funny—I’ve no idea where the dream came from, or why the shape would be Asiatic. It must have been a waking dream superimposed on the reality of the room, right? Or maybe something that came to show me my dog one last time. Or maybe something that followed me back from wherever we go when we sleep. It is said that sleep is made from little atoms of death, the place where we are before life…and maybe when consciousness leaves the body.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Well, Jeff, you topped me. Dreaming? Maybe not. As I said in the Thai Ghost blog, I never believed in ghosts until that woman paid me a visit, and after what happened in Bali, I’m wide open about it.

    The dog — brrrr. And smelling something is very unusual in a dream.

    Tim

  6. jeff friedberg Says:

    Tim, I live in a haunted stone farm house that was built around 1780, had one room that felt like something hateful was standing behind me, just like the Japanese horror movies (somehow they are really scary). I forgot to mention two photographs with unaccountable “wavy stick” images on them (like when you shake a pencil & it blurs into multiple images), and then there was the time that heavy ashtray shot UP into the air, and arced across the room for about 10 feet. Had to be a mouse kicked it, right?

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Are you okay with having an ectoplasmic roommate? When I was a kid, I lived in a house that my mother swore was haunted, and she got my father to sell and move. I know I couldn’t live in a place that had a malicious force in it. I take ghosts a lot more seriously since those experiences in Thailand and Bali.

    Tim

  8. RJ Baliza Says:

    very interesting thing to have happen to you, especially in an unfamiliar setting. i’ve been to thailand twice now, and on both occassions, i’ve had flashes of inspiration from looking at houses, and trees, a bench, and a plethora of seemingly mundane objects. but the inspiration is not of the familiar kind, rather, an urge to re-tell its history. i guess Thailand, and the Thai people, are highly-attuned to the spiritual realm than most other people.

    as to the looking away instinct, here in the Philippines, it is believed that when a spirit shows you its face, you are bound to follow.

    i’m looking forward to our next trip to Thailand.

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I didn’t know that about ghosts in the Philippines, but I knew I wasn’t going to look at this one.

    Somebody ought to do a catalog of Southeast Asian ghosts and ghost beliefs. I’ve seen a great, almost encyclopedic roundup of Malaysian ghosts (I’ll put up the URL if anyone is interested), and it would be cool to expand that to the other countries of the region.

  10. Jessie Evelin Says:

    Hi,Tim..
    confirm that this case that happened to you,is not a dream?
    the way you describe the ghost is just like today Jap/Thai/Korean horror film’s lady ghost with long black hair and so forth.
    any idea why the lady ghost looks like it?

    i interested to look at the encyclopedic roundup of Malaysian ghosts.do you mind to put up the URL?
    I am researching on my final year academic paper about why the lady ghost are represented in such a way that they have a long hair,white clothing,etc.that’s why i am interested in this article. Thanks

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Jessie –

    First, I don’t believe I was dreaming. I was certainly awake when I rolled over and turned on the lights, and very much awake in the shower the next AM, when something shot past the partially opaque curtain. As to why the long hair and white clothes, I have no idea — this was in the eighties, long before those films made that image popular. It may be that filmmakers make their ghosts look that way because that’s how many people describe the ghosts they believe they’ve seen.

    The Malaysian ghosts site is http://www.bogleech.com/blather-vampires.html, but on a new viewing it seems to focus more on vampires than on ghosts.

    Good luck with your paper. I’d love to see it when it’s finished. If it gives me any book ideas, I promise to credit you in the acknowledgments.

    Tim

  12. Elizabeth Says:

    I am from Thailand and I do know the hotel he had stayed at but I have never been there of course there are ghosts in Thailand my house in Thailand are surrounded by temples and ghosts like to hang around the temples mostly at night in my little village in Bangkok you can here most of the dogs howling and yelping then hear something running around great little story though.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Elizabeth –

    Thanks for writing. The hotel was in Phuket, and I never stayed there again. I know about the temples drawing ghosts, because I spent some time in small towns in the Northeast, and was told there. A Thai acquaintance of mine (a molecular biologist who reads my books before they’re published to catch the worst mistakes) told me that her grandmother, who was in Chiang Mai, appeared in the young woman’s Bangkok bedroom on the night she died.

    Can, or would, you write something more about your experiences with ghosts and post them here?

    (By the way, I also posted your response in the PHNOM PENH FLIPSIDE thread here.)

  14. Arm Says:

    Hi Tim,

    That was a fascinating read. I’m Thai and firmly believe in ghosts, although I have lived in England all my life. I think I have somewhat a theory to why lady ghosts looks the way they do (I’m not talking about the face, even I wouldn’t seek the answers to that!) (1) Thai girls love their hair long since they are only allowed to grow it after high school, observe. (2) I’m not too sure about the white dress…although ironically, it is said if you should thoroughfair through a cemetary ‘pa-chaa’, its best to wear all white to be invisible to the ghosts eyes. This is probably why thai nuns wear white.

  15. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Wow, Arm — Thanks so much for a fascinating response. The speculation on why Thai nuns wear white is especially interesting.

    I also think it’s interesting that so many Asian filmmakers, from many cultural traditions, have focused on this precise description — long-haired girls in white, often wet (the Japanese, anyway) as the image of the ghosts in their movies. Makes you wonder whether there’s some very broad experience with spirits (or whatever) that look like this.

    Anyway, once was enough. I don’t really want to bump into another one.

  16. Susan Says:

    Hi Tim,

    I’m not from Thailand, but I am Laos. The culture between Thai’s and Laos are the same.

    I never believed in ghosts until a few years ago, my ex-husband and I moved into an apartment here in the US in NC. Nothing happened after the first few months we moved in, but one day my two sister’s came over. My youngest sister was in the living room watching tv and the other sister was with me in the computer room. The living room and computer room was about 10 feet away from each other. My sister and I suddenly smelled a foul odor, not knowing where it came from we asked my sister in the living room if she smelled it and if she had passed gas or something. She said no. We went into all the rooms and couldn’t find anything that would have that smell to it. It smelled like old meat. We looked under the sink, in the refridgerator, in the trash and outside of our apartment. Nothing. Then I called the apartment owner and told them to come look in the vents, maybe something crawled in there and died. Now, these apartments are fairly new. We left a few hours later to go to the store and left all windows opened to get the smell out. We came back the smell was still there, we were gone for 3-4 hours. The guy that checked the vents said he couldn’t find anything.

    A couple of weeks later, my ex-husband went out of town and I was home with my dog. She was sleeping on the foot of the bed and I layed there, falling asleep. Suddenly, my dog jumped off the bed and ran to the computer room and just stared just right outside of the room looking in. I called her back to the room and we both fell asleep. While I was sleeping I felt like something was coming up on the bed from the foot of the bed, but seemed heavy and was coming up from under the covers near my feet. It felt like something crawling up the bed. In a hurry I woke up and found my dog beside me breathing heavy in my face. She seemed to be scared.

    A few days later. I layed in bed not asleep, my dog beside me and my ex-husband went to work. Our master bathroom door was facing the bed I looked over to the left and saw a shadowy figure standing in front of the bathtub. It was a little girl. I froze blinked my eyes and turned to my dog and noticed she was under the covers. I looked over again and it wasn’t there. I fell asleep with lights on and while I was sleeping, in the middle of my dream I heard giggling and the room in my dreamed turned into my bathroom. I quickly woke up to my dog barking.

    I couldn’t take it no more so my mom and I got the monks to come bless us and the apartment. After they blessed the apartment, nothing else happened after that. I put this on anything, that I experienced this.

  17. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Susan, and BRRRRRRRRRR. That’s as scary a ghost story as I ever read. At the end of the first of my Bangkok novels, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, a ceremony is done to clear a ghost out of the apartment my hero and his Thai wife and daughter live in, but it’s just a temporary fix in the middle of the night, on the understanding that the monks will come in the next day.

    I’m curious as to what the monks actually did. Can you let us know?

    Also, I’m going to link to this post at the top of the blog so people can read your story.

  18. Timoth Hallinan - The Blog Cabin Says:

    [...] “Thai Ghost Story” Revisited February 13th, 2009 In 2007, I wrote a post about a ghost I encountered in Thailand, one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.  Every now and then someone posts an answer, and today a woman named Susan, who was born in Laos, wrote her own ghost story in response.  The post and her answer are here. [...]

  19. Sylvia Says:

    Tim, I’m glad you linked back to this as I would have missed it.

    Susan, how frightning! How long had you been in the house? I’m curious as to what “woke her up” – or had you newly moved in? I’d also love to hear what the monks did.

  20. Susan Says:

    After that last experience, I called my mom and said “either take me to the temple up north, or have the monks bless this apt.” (There is a temple in VA where alot of buddahist go to get blessed) Luckily, we had a temple in town. My mom took me to go see the monks. I explained everything to them and they agreed to go over to the apartment. I had 4 monks there the same day. The head monk asked for my ex-husband’s and my clothing. This is so that the spirits know that the belongings in the apt is our’s and we were there to stay. Then he asked my mom to measure me with these long candles. The monks could not do this because they are forbidden to touch women and we (women) can not touch the monks. My mom measured one of my arms, then pinched the candles to mark where my hands ended at. Then she measured around my head. We couldn’t do my husbands measurements because he was out of town, so we just guessed at his measurements. The monks would light these candles and in a special bowl with water he let the candles drip into the bowl. They would chant for a pretty long time. At the same time my mom and my family would pour water into our bowl from our glass and chant with the monks. Of course you don’t have to chant with them, you can say whatever you want. I said to the spirit, “please leave me alone and leave the apartment peacefully.” When we were all finished. The monks would use that water that he blessed with the candle drippings and bless the apt with water. I took my water outside and poured it into the bush right outside of the apt. As I did that I said a few good byes to the spirit. Later, the monks handed us bracelets that were specially braided by them and blessed by them. These bracelets ward off evil and give that person good luck. Any left over water from the monks, I had to use that water to bathe with and pour that water on my head. After the monks left I placed the bracelets on door knobs and on top of my bed. I never had any hauntings after that.

    Sylvia, I woke up from something crawling up the foot of my bed. It was like a child or something trying to crawl up on the bed, but very heavy. The monks said, there is a spirit in every house. They can either protect you or try to scare you away because they want to claim their place back. He said when you first move into an apartment or a house, make sure you bless the house/apt yourself and ask to stay in it.

  21. Timoth Hallinan - The Blog Cabin Says:

    [...] In the meantime, read Susan’s description of how the ghost in her apartment was exorcised.  It’s beautiful, and it’s right here. [...]

  22. usman Says:

    Fun to read this, especially for a person who in his teens was a pro at the Ouija Board. Said person was actually invited to arrange meetings with the dead ones…for money. Being a uni student, the temptation was great, but the person politely declined. Had had enough to do with ghosts as it was.

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