Chilling urban legends from Thailand
The culture of storytelling in Thailand is strong. We love to tell our tales, just as much as listening to others. And while some involve supernatural folk like angels and mythical forests, many are just straight-up scary and have kept me wide awake at night because of how real and plausible they seem.
Many Thai families, like mine, use creepy urban legends to teach their children how dangerous the world can be. But there are also those old wives’ tales that have been passed around for pure entertainment. Here are 8 of them.
1. Children abductors and the white van
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As a boy, my mom always warned me to keep my eyes peeled for a mysterious van in the neighbourhood because they might be abductors who were looking to lure children away from their parents.
If you think snatching scared kids away from their home is the worst, think again. According to my old woman, the abductors would amputate the victims’ arms and legs before forcing their poor little victims to become beggars in the city and make a profit off of them.
Needless to say, this was the ultimate nightmare for parents – and kids – everywhere.
While this story is nothing short of dramatic, the real story is even more morbid and haunting.
There had been news going around about the abduction of children in Thailand from time to time, but the bad guys’ vehicles weren’t always white vans. And as heartbreaking as it sounds, we have almost zero knowledge of what happened afterwards as none of the victims made it back to tell us.
Many reports and news outlets suggest that Thailand is home to human trafficking networks that target children and women. The victims are often smuggled from neighbouring countries into Thailand for sexual exploitation, underage labour, and forced begging.
This gives us a reason to believe that these domestic abduction cases are very much involved with the problem of underworld human trafficking.
2. House ghosts and the mysterious footsteps
Image credit: Sanook
If you grew up in a traditional Thai wooden house like me, there’s a high chance you might have heard the sound of footsteps even when there’s no one on the second floor.
Thanks to our superstitious upbringing, people who have heard these mysterious disembodied footsteps would immediately think of house ghosts walking around to look after the house while the living weren’t around. In this case, house ghosts are believed to be the benevolent ghost of your ancestors.
Turning to science for more sensible explanations, it comes down to what is called “thermal expansion.” This is when the sun’s heat causes the house’s “joints” to make creaking noises that are similar to that of footsteps on wooden boards.
Although this explanation makes so much sense, especially considering that Thailand is super-duper hot, I still jump every time I hear the creaking sound. Old habits die hard, I guess.
3. Movie screenings for ghosts
Image credit: Thairath
Around 30 years ago, a mobile movie screening company was hired by a mysterious villager to screen a movie in a rural northeastern village. However, they were strictly told to leave the area by 4am without any explanation.
The audience came in as soon as the movie started and dispersed once it finished. It was well past 4am when the company was about to leave. However, they discovered there was no road out of the area, and they were instead surrounded by the dense jungle.
Scared and confused, the crew decided to wait until the morning came before heading to the nearby village to ask for help. Soon later, the villagers came and helped clear the jungle so that the movie team’s truck could get out. However, they later found that the payment given by the villagers had turned into a stack of crisp leaves.
This is one of the most famous stories in Thailand that even inspired a horror feature film.
On the surface, this story seems legit despite its bizarre details because it was told by the people who claimed to have experienced it first-hand. However, many news investigations suggested this story was rather sketchy than scary.
This urban legend was later exposed by local news station ThaiPBS in 2019 to be a hoax after they discovered the person who hired the screening company on that day. The man also said the screening took place at the clearing near his home – not the jungle – and that the audience were his fellow villagers who were not ghosts.
Until today, nobody knows why the screening company made up such an elaborate story. Was it just a PR stunt gone wrong or an innocent lie that was blown out of proportion? Or perhaps, were the villagers covering up something more sinister? You decide.
4. The phone call of death
Image credit: TheHOUSE.online
A decade ago, a man in Lampang province was rushed to hospital after he received a phone call from a number he didn’t recognise. The man said the line on the other end was chanting in a language he didn’t understand, and soon after he felt like his entire being was on fire.
During that time, a set of cell numbers went around the northern territory of Thailand in the form of SMS and chain email. With them, there was a warning message suggesting these are deadly numbers that can instantly kill whoever decided to pick up their incoming calls.
Some even said that the numbers will appear to be glowing a scarlet red on the victims’ screen.
Turns out, most of the “deadly” numbers were active and the owners told the media that their daily life was severely disturbed as they had to receive many calls from strangers each day.
Since the “deadly number” shenanigans was big at the time, the man who appeared to have been “caught on fire” was thought to have been caught up in the mass hysteria of it all when he was truly suffering from an actual medical ailment he didn’t know he had.
All in all, the true victims here were the owners of the so-called numbers of death.
5. Genie’s number
Image credit: วาไรตี้ – Thaiza
Here’s another story about involving the telephone. In the 2000s, there was news floating around about a mysterious number that a person could dial to ask for anything they wanted.
The story goes that if the receiver is an old man, then you’ll be able to ask for 1 thing without having to return the favour. If it is an old lady, however, the wish will come with a price, and sometimes it could cost as much as the receivers’ life.
Admittedly, this one is almost impossible to debunk or confirm since it was just pure word-of-mouth. However, Thai horror flick “999-9999” came out in 2002 with an uncannily similar plot.
Image credit: MonoMax
The movie tells the story about a group of friends who died in strange accidents after the wishes they made via the strange number 999-9999 came true.
It can be said that this slasher movie inspired the modern urban legend. Or, if you’re a sceptic like me, the mysterious tale could’ve been the result of a brilliant PR team behind the movie itself.
6. The forbidden city of Lablae
Image credit: แนวหน้า
This old urban legend comes from the Lablae district in Uttaradit, a northern province in Thailand.
It is said that a male villager went hunting up in the mountains before accidentally discovering a small but abundant village. He decided to settle there after falling in love with a local woman. They even had a child together.
One day, his child wouldn’t stop crying for his mother while she was out of the house. So, the man lied to the baby and told him that she was actually already at home, just to soothe his tears. In that very moment however, the entire villages magically knew that he was lying, and banished him from the village because of his wrongdoings. Lying was prohibited in the village.
When he returned to his village, people were shocked to see him so scrawny after just a day of hunting in the jungle. The man was confused. Days later, he tried to prove that he wasn’t insane by bringing his fellow villagers to where he discovered the mysterious village, but there was nothing there but trees. While many believe he had discovered a mythical land, others think he had entered another dimension.
While we can’t confirm whether there’s another dimension or a mythical world out there, we reckon this elaborate story is just local folklore that was made up to teach youngsters to always be honest to others, or risk being cast as an outsider.
But hey, I guess there’s only one way to find out if Lablae hides a mythical village or not!
7. Buried alive under the city
The scary ritual depicted in a Thai soap opera
Image credit: CH3
Many Thais believe that in the ancient past, whenever a new city was founded, a special group of people would be selected based on their name and birthdate. Little did these folks know that they had been destined to be buried alive under the pillars of the city’s palace complex. Ouch! It was a superstitious belief that their souls would become the guardian spirits to watch over the city for eternity.
While this seems brutal, it was then considered a privilege to serve your city. Furthermore, even the kings and queens would have to worship these sacred ghosts.
In 2000, a Thai soap opera called Jao Gum Nai Wen televised this never-seen-before ritual and many believed it was something that actually happened – because if it’s on TV, then it’s true right?
Fortunately, renowned Thai history magazine Sarakadee published an article to debunk the famous ritual in the show and simply called it a fantasy.
This is a good example of why we shouldn’t believe anything we see on the telly, or the internet for that matter.
8. Yummy snake meatballs
Image credit: FOOD STORY
We love to eat meatballs here in Thailand – so much so, we put them in all types of dishes like noodles and munch on them with delicious dips.
The popularity of meatballs soon brought about a crazy rumour, which claimed that many manufacturers put python meat into what supposed to be a beef or pork meatball mixture.
It was said the python meat came from leather factories who wanted to make some money instead of throwing them away. So, they sold the meat for cheap to meatball manufacturers who also wanted to save some costs.
After some digging, we found that this story came from a chain email.
Besides, it would make little sense for a leather factory to sell python meat for cheap to meatball manufacturers when there’s an expensive market for strange food like this across Thailand.
Many Thai people love ‘jungle food,’ which is a special cuisine of food that uses rare or uncommon ingredients like snakes, boar, crocodile, and frogs. And these dishes often cost much more than average food.
Keeping urban legends alive
Thanks to the internet, many Thai urban legends are now safe from being forgotten about forever. If you know more spooky Thai old wives’ tales, let us know too!
Most importantly, don’t forget to pass on these urban legends to keep them alive – just remember not to believe everything you read.