CHIANG RAI – Ghosts and Spirits (Phi) are alive and well in Northern Thailand and stories are extremely popular and come in many varieties from the comic to the gruesome.
Cinemas are guaranteed a full house for the opening of a new Thai ghost movie or indeed a re-run of an old one. In Dansai near Loei there is even an annual Ghost Festival.
But ghosts and Spirits are no laughing matter in Thailand. If pressed, the majority of the Thai population will admit to believing in ghosts and many claim to have seen them.
This phenomenon is not restricted to the elderly in rural villages but is even taken seriously by university students and people in all walks of life and is particularly strong in Northern Chiangrai Thailand.
It is bad luck and tempting fate to talk about ghosts but nearly everyone has a tale to tell. Many Thais wear amulets to protect them against evil spirits and everywhere you go in Thailand you will see Spirit Houses (San Phra Phum).
In Dansai near Loei there is even an annual Ghost Festival.
There are many different kinds of ghosts in Thailand all of them to be feared and each posing a different threat. To combat this proliferation of evil spirits Thailand has its own special kind of “Ghost Buster”, the Mho Phi or ghost doctor.
Different techniques are employed depending on the type of spirit to be banished and some of this Mho Phi has gained celebrity status.
Phi Graseu is always depicted as a female with a head only and entrails hanging out. This is possibly the most feared ghost and she is always on the hunt for dead bodies or human excrement but will gladly consume live bodies. She is said to haunt the area around cemeteries and has the effect of lowering property values in areas around them.
Phi Tai Hong
The Phi Tai Hong is a ghost with a grudge. These are the spirits of people who have died in particularly bad circumstances eg. Murder or traffic accidents or even a baby who has died shortly after birth. Their untimely death makes them want to take it out on the living.
Phi Tai Tong Glom
This is a seriously evil ghost. The Phi Tai Tong Glom is a female who died giving birth and her baby died also. This doubles the evil strength of this spirit and is definitely one to avoid. This ghost is actually a variant of Phi Tai Hong and is sometimes referred to as Phi Tai Hong Tong
Phi Pret (Preta)
Phi Pret is a ghost with an enormous appetite for almost everything, food, money, power or sex. The cause of this unending desire is that Phi Pret has has a tiny mouth no bigger than the eye of a needle. Never satisfied Phi Pret is ill tempered and aggresive.
Phi Pop inhabits the living and eats off their intestines. Usually depicted as a desirable female, Phi Pop lives on flesh and blood of humans.
This ghost is one of the most difficult to get rid of Mho Phi will perform a whirling dance to catch the attention of Phi Pop and as the dance reaches a crescendo, the Phi Pop gets carried away in the whirl wind.
Phi Ton Mai
These are spirits that live in trees. Female tree living spirits are referred to as Phi Nang Mai. Travelling in Northern Thailand you will see many trees with cloth wrapped round them to show that it is the home of a spirit.
In the past, Buddhist Monks used this fear of tree ghosts by blessing trees and wrapping them with saffron cloth to try and prevent de-forestation. These trees cannot be cut down without first providing an alternative residence for the occupying spirit.
Phi Tanee is a variant of Phi Ton Mai and lives in banana trees. It is said that when the banana tree blossom is about to open these spirits become visible to humans.