In Thailand, the Ghost Business Thrives

Thomas Fuller, New York Times, February 11, 2015

Shortly after midnight, the phone rang in the cramped radio station where Kapol Thongplub hosts a nightly call-in show dedicated to the supernatural.

The caller had recently encountered a ghost in a Bangkok hotel room.

“I saw someone standing in my room, a woman,” she said.

“Did you see her face?” Mr. Kapol asked over the air.

“I heard some sort of Indian noises, some sort of Indian praying,” the woman said. “I felt heavy pressure on my body.”

Mr. Kapol has been listening to ghost stories like this for more than two decades as host of “The Shock,” which from midnight to 3 a.m. broadcasts tales of apparitions recounted by his listeners–taxi drivers, security guards, students and anyone else who is up at that hour.

In the process, Mr. Kapol, better known by his nickname, Pong, has become the leading ghost expert in a country that takes ghosts quite seriously and is apparently full of them.

There are more than 100 types of ghosts in Thailand, he says, including the Pi Pob, which enters human bodies and possesses them; the Preta, a tall, thin ghost that seeks vengeance among the living; Phi Lung Kluang, a variety from southern Thailand that takes a human form with a hole in its back, exposing its skeleton; and widow ghosts, prevalent in northeastern Thailand, which seek to steal men away from their families.

The belief in the supernatural, ghosts and otherwise, infuses daily life in Thailand. Ministers inaugurate their offices at auspicious times, and powerful generals have been known to consult seers before a big decision, such as launching a coup–a relatively regular occurrence in Thailand. Fortune tellers are consulted by everyone from business executives forging multimillion-dollar deals to students facing uncertain careers and couples wanting to conceive.

Thailand’s political elites appear to be among the most superstitious. When the image of a former prime minister, Samak Sundhornvej, suddenly appeared on a large screen in Parliament shortly after his death in 2009, the speaker of Parliament opened an investigation and found no terrestrial explanation for it.

“I believe it is true,” he told the news media. “The spirit of Mr. Samak came back to say goodbye.”

Bangkok has a ghost-themed shopping mall, magazines filled with ghost stories, prime-time ghost television shows and many more programs that feature fortune tellers supplying everything from career advice to lucky lottery numbers.


Jessada Denduangboripant, a science professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok who campaigns against what he describes as a reliance on pseudoscience, said he saw little evidence that the love of the supernatural was waning.

“We’ve been told since childhood there are ghosts everywhere,” Mr. Jessada said. “You can have an iPhone and technology all around you. But you still stick to superstition.”


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