July 4, 2012

spirit house

Living in Thailand I have learned a lot about Buddhism and how it complements Thai culture. Most Thai people believe in spirits (known as "phi") and dutifully keep them happy in their afterlife. When traveling in Thailand it is hard to miss these beautifully adorned "spirit" houses in front of every business, hotel, temple and home.

spirit houses at a resort on Koh Samui. 

Spirit houses are constructed and taken care of by occupants of a home, business or pretty much any establishment in the Kingdom, after the location is picked for its austerity by a monk. It is also the responsibility of the Thai people to give offerings to the spirit houses to keep its occupants happy. Some are magnificent houses, decorated with things like flowers, pictures, figurines, food offerings and other gifts to their ancestors. Some others are makeshift shelves turned into a comfortable final resting place for the ghosts, depending on the location and economic standing of the keepers.

The spirit house at my school

Every day my co-workers pass this mini temple and stop for a few moments to "wai" and say a short prayer. They put fresh flowers, food, drinking, incense, and other religious symbols to appease this spirit house and keep our school safe. The belief of spirit houses is that if you keep the deceased happy, they will look after the people that are living and good luck is ensured for the current occupants.

At shopping centers

I have noticed  the protectors in the spirit houses have a  few favorites, one being either a o range or red fanta-like drink and lots of it! You will also often see  zebra statues (apparently this tradition has something to do with the "safe zone" on the road, but there are several discussions about the true origin) surrounding a spirit house. I once saw one with at least 1000 zebra's surrounding one!

photo from bangkokeyes.com

Spirit houses are just one of many kinds of shrines you will find all over Thailand. I think they are beautiful and tell an interesting story about Thai culture. Some days it still shocks me that I live here...


  1. I was just trying to explain these to my dad last week! We were at a Thai restaurant and they had one up on the wall.

    1. Oh, interesting that they still have them even when they live abroad! I think they are a very hard concept westerners to understand unless you have seen it for yourself!

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