Magic, Mysticism & Mana: Superstition in Thailand (2.10)

2017-11-15T23:03:14+07:00December 12th, 2016|Bangkok Podcast Season 2|4 Comments

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At the risk of offending some 70 million Thais, we’re looking at the religious, spiritual, and magical thinking endemic to Thailand. At least from the point of view of a couple of skeptical, non-religious Westerners.

Buddhism isn’t the official religion of Thailand. But the overwhelming majority of people are Buddhist. Still, what you think of as Buddhism may not match up to the reality of the world. This is Theravada Buddhism that draws heavily on Hinduism and has more than a dash of animism mixed in. That makes things rather interesting.

One thing Westerners often comment on is all the shrine-like dollhouses at every condo, office building, and house around the city. Those are called “spirit houses” and they are meant to be a home for… well, spirits. If you want the full details, check out our interview with Marisa Cranfill, an expert on the topic of spirit houses in Thailand.

Have you noticed the (mostly) guys all blinged out with heavy necklaces sporting a variety of “charms”. Those are amulets, and they are believed to either attract good tidings (e.g. wealth) or offer protection from oddly specific maladies. It’s like taking the lucky rabbit’s foot and Ash Wednesday and cranking them up to eleven.

And if not on their person, a lot of Thais let protections/powers like that get under their skin. Literally. Thailand is famous for the magical sak yant tattoo, and the annual highlight for sak yant aficionados is the Sak Yant Tattoo Festival in Wat Bang Phra, just north of Bangkok. No, it’s not your typical tattoo festival. Picture thousands of Pentecostals in the throws of speaking in tongues, but ambulatory and hell-bent on rushing toward the stage, regardless if you’re directly in their path or not. It’s the most intense, odd thing Evo’s experience during his time in Thailand.

But we draw the line at the recent craze of Luuk Thep dolls. Clearly, these people haven’t seen Child’s Play. Chucky needs a date, I think.

We wrap the show with another installation of Love, Loathe, or Leave. Today’s topics: saluting security guards and sharing the sidewalk with motorcycles. If you’re a fellow Bangkokian, you likely have intimate experience with these two items. Drop us a line and tell us what you think. Or if you’ve an opinion or observation on local superstitions, tell us about it. Go to and leave a comment. Or you can Tweet to us at @bkkgreg or @evoterra. See you next week on The Bangkok Podcast!


  1. Sion December 12, 2016 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    Loving the new podcasts, keep up the good work guys! It’s been a few years since I visited S.E Asia but I love the place and it’s great to hear good conversation about the place. Cheers, Sion (from Wales)

    • Greg December 14, 2016 at 2:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Sion, thanks! Let us know if there’s anything you’d like us to discuss. 🙂

  2. Georges Dreyfus December 14, 2016 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    Happy that the podcast is back on and loving most of it. a couple of details to add to your last show. the lug theb or magical dolls are indeed a very recent craze that has already faded but it is based on a well known folk practice, the propitiation of kuman thong (golden boy). ideally, the kuman thong is the spirit of a foetus or of a dead baby. the body is then preserved and consecrated. the idea is that the spirit of the deceased baby angered by its premature death can be used by the owner of the kuman thong to obtain all kind of worldly advantages. in practice, however, most kuman thongs are simply statues of babies that get consecrated by a monk or a spirit doctor (mo phi). after this, the kuman thong is considered to have been activated and must treated like a real child, otherwise harm might happen to its owner. many owners report hearing the steps of a child at night after their adoption of the kuman thong. kind of creepy, but, hey what do you expect! this is real thailand for you, not some kind of watered down tourist attraction.

    • Greg December 14, 2016 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      Wow, thanks Georges! Great insight, we’ll discuss this on an upcoming show.

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