Thai Ghosts

Thai spirits or ghosts are known generically as Phi. A large proportion of these spirits are nocturnal. As most ghosts were traditionally not represented in paintings or drawings, they are purely based on stories of the oral tradition. Ghosts are believed to be found, among other places, in certain trees, burial grounds near Buddhist temples, as well as some houses, especially abandoned houses.

This ad for Sylvania lightbulbs plays off the ghost theme, with the premise that things aren’t as scary in the light. Thai advertising often pokes fun at ancient beliefs and attitudes of the rural class in an attempt to sell through localized humor.

Kra-Sui – This female apparition often wanders around at night in a white gown, but she is just a detached head and internal organs, usually with a brightly beating heart (which you see in the last two seconds of the ad after the lights are switched off).  She is a particularly troublesome type of ghost and insatiably hungry.  In the old days, bathrooms were detached latrines often located some distance from the house out near the rice paddies.  The Kra-Sui, which eats excrement, was said to hang around these outhouses.  Certainly, more than one young child was afraid to go to the toilet in the middle of the night out of fear of the Kra-Sui.

Kra Hung – This ghost can appear as a man or woman, with feathers and a tail like a bird.  Kind of similar to a vampire that stalks at night looking to feed of internal organs of animals and humans.

Nang Thani– Again in the old days, rural houses often had a small area of banana trees growing near the house.  When children would want to go out and play after dinner, they would be warned away from the banana grove by tales of the banana ghost, a nymph-like spirit that would haunt the trees.

Phi Kanuun – The English translation is incorrect here, although it attempts to convey the cultural message of the jackfruit ghost.  When the boy asks, “Is that a jackfruit ghost?” the father actually answers, “No – a person.”  The lost joke is that in the old days, prostitutes used to ply their wares in the trees along roads and parks, trees that often included jackfruit trees.  When children would point out one of the ladies of the night and ask who she was, the answer from the unable-to-explain-prostitution parent would be, “That’s a ghost.”

Phi Faa – The blue ghost is normally a woman, not a man, and isn’t blue in a “Blue Man Group” sort of way.  Instead, it is just the name for another type of beautiful but frightening female ghost who dines on human flesh.  Tracing how these ghost tales came about, it isn’t surprising that attractive, unmarried village women of a certain age might have been whispered to be blue ghosts or Kra-Sui.

Phi Pret – To return after death as this ghost, as tall as a palm tree, gaunt in appearance and with a mouth only as large as a needle’s point, was the punishment for children who spoke ill of or abused their parents.  Roaming the countryside the tall ghost would plead in a sorrowful voice that sounds like the wind blowing through the trees, for people to make merit for them so they could be released from their sins.