Rise of Thai ghost hunters and the fight for spirits

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A ghost-hunting group in Thailand investigates the paranormal amid criticisms by older generations that they are disturbing the dead.

The house had been abandoned for more than 15 years, evidenced by the broken windows, faded paint and cracked tiles. But behind the faded veneer and crumbling masonry lay a story of tragedy.

“The house was abandoned after the wife’s suicide,” said Aerin Sathiwong, a member of a local university’s ghost-hunting club.

“She killed herself because her baby had died, and no one has moved in since because the place is haunted,” she explained, as she fumbled with a voice recorder and night vision camera.

As she set up her equipment, other members of her group used small flashlights to investigate the ruins, pausing at the faded paint of the nursery and the room where the wife hanged herself.

The Hunters, as Aerin and her friends call themselves, are part of a growing number of ghost clubs and amateur paranormal investigators sprouting up around Thailand.

But while Aerin and her friends insist they are just pursuing the truth and having a bit of fun, the rise of ghost-hunting groups has drawn the ire of some older Thais who accuse them of bad taste and disrespect.

“They have very little respect when they go to these places,” said Luang Phee Phrom, a Buddhist monk at a Bangkok monastery.

Buddhist beliefs place ghosts or spirits at a transition point between this life and the next, he said.

“These spirits are stuck and cannot be reincarnated,” he explained. “They often have unfinished business or have experienced the deepest of tragedy.”

He said exorcism ceremonies performed by monks do not actually vanquish the spirit or destroy the ghost. Rather, they ask the spirit to move on and bless the house or the person experiencing discomfort.

“There is bound to be conflict whenever the old world clashes with the new,” said Parinya Laohateeranon, an anthropologist who works with the government.

Parinya cites a recent ghost eviction ceremony at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology as a perfect example of a country between tradition and modernity.

“For the most part, Thailand is still a very Buddhist and Animist society,” she said. “We see spirits in the trees, in the land, protecting homes, and to disrespect them is very taboo.”

Yet despite the pushback from traditional elements of society, the trend of amateur ghost hunters continues unabated, fuelled in part by radio shows and television programmes eager to capitalise on the fad.

“I suppose some of these groups can be a bit irreverent,” said Kapol Thongplab, more popularly known as DJ Phong.

Kapol is best known as the host of The Shock, one of Thailand’s highest-rated radio programmes, where listeners call in to share their ghost stories or offer tips about where hauntings are known to occur.

He also hosts a television show that investigates alleged sightings around the country.

“It’s not new, Thais have been obsessed with ghost stories and spirits since I was very little,” he said. “What is new are these ghost-hunting teams that have only sprung up in the last five or six years.”

Kapol does not take credit for the trend, instead attributing it to the prevalence of social media and the inquisitive nature of younger generations.

“Still, we try to warn the younger generations that there are real risks when investigating these places,” he said. “Whenever we visit a location, we ask permission from the locals, we inform police because there are real dangers from thieves and drug addicts.

“We also make sure we’re respectful because we are disturbing an unknown entity that does not know if we come in peace or malice.”

But for Aerin and her friends, the warnings are “too much worrying.”

“We’re just after the truth, I don’t think the truth ever hurt anyone,” she said as the group packed up the gear and began the long drive back to the city and their dormitories.

After several hours at the house they had turned up very little. No one felt a presence, nor saw glimpses of the supernatural.

But in the car on the way back to Bangkok, as they played back the night’s audio recording, they heard several minutes of background noise followed by a barely audible whisper, and something that sounded like the cries of a baby.

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