Chiang Mai Thai

Ever wanted to learn Thai, in Chiang Mai? I did just that from November 2010, returning home in October 2011. If you don't want a headache, start HERE, it will explain the preceding posts. I'm Snap, Stray's other half. COOEE is our (other) travel blog.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Home Alone - Spirit Houses

A building in my area was recently knocked down to make way for a new hotel. In front of the now demolished old building stands two spirit houses (san phra phum - ศาลพระภูมิ). They're big, colourful, adorned with ribbons, vases, dead flowers and ornaments and stand side by like centurions on guard. This isn't them.
Outside MBK shopping centre - Bangkok
Rumour has it that birds and animals will rarely make their home in a spirit house, or eat the fruit and food left to appease the spirits that might be taking shelter inside. Fact of fiction? I'm not sure, but come to think of it, I've never seen a bird sitting on or near one, unless it's dead, featherless and has been left as an offering.
In a nearby park a group of them stand neglected, old, teetering and huddled under a large tree, like a spirit house graveyard. Why are they there, who did they belong to, where are their you ever actually 'own' a spirit house?

The wrecking balls have long gone and the rubble of the previous building has been removed from the construction site. These two remain standing...alone, without their home to protect.

The concrete trucks and cranes will no doubt be moving in, what happens next?


See what else we're up to at Cooee!


  1. Hi Snap, I have a HUGE fascination with spirit houses. I embarrassed myself in a cultural way on my second trip to Thailand but I'll wait for my post to tell that tale :-D

    I've seen birds and squirrels eating the spirit house fare. And I can only imagine that rats take their fill as well. Rats are everywhere (city and country) so makes sense.

    There are two main types of spirit houses. One for the ancestors in the home and the other for the ghosts on the land. They are usually two different styles to donate that but yours are the same so I'm not sure what's up with that.

    I've deleted the rest of my comment because I do tend to natter on...

  2. Snap I've never seen birds or animals eating from the spirit houses but as Catherine has a fascination with them and says she has then that point is answered.

    These spirit houses are everywhere but I do wonder if the younger generation have got the same belief in them as their elders. Wilai doesn't have a spirit house at our village home.

  3. should feel free to natter on..I do :)

    I didn't realise that there were two types...I thought they were all for the spirits. So it appears that Thai wildlife aren't afraid of no ghosts!

    When I was completely ignorant I thought they played some part in praying to Buddha, or am I still completely ignorant? I can't find much other than basic information about them on the internet, in English.

  4. Martyn, next time you speak to Wilai, could you please ask here what happens to them after the owner leaves?

    My two look odd standing all alone and is if they are waiting for something...or as if the construction workers don't want to move them?

  5. Gawd... denote NOT donate!

    There is Brahamanism and there is Buddhism. In Thailand they sometimes get all jumbled up to where some practicing don't know the difference.

    Spirit houses are all about animism and have nothing to do with Buddhism. When a Spirit house is either torn down or put up, Brahman priests handle that end. I've read about monks jumping in at times but... TiT.

    The spirits and magical power associated with tattoos? That's animist too but you can get them done at Thai wats by famous monks. It's all wrapped up with mysticism, animism and the occult (I've read).

  6. @Catherine@CatherineCatherine, I read it as 'denote'...scary!

    I've just (literally) returned from having a chat with a Thai friend. She explained similarly that the smaller houses, for dead ancestors, originate from another religion and some people mix up the two beliefs. Yes, she assured me that my two spirit houses won't be going anywhere or be replaced unless a monk comes to do so.

    She also insisted that one of the two houses would be slightly higher than the other? Never the same height!

    I've seen a couple of the tattoos, acutally quite nice from an arty point of view.

  7. She said monks would remove them? Or Brahman priests?

    The spirit houses I've seen are at two levels. But, I don't have all the details in my head but I do have books on the subject. I'm headed off for bed soon so I'll have to look it up tomorrow.

    For tattoos, there's a famous tattoo wat nearby Bangkok I went to last year. I took a video as well so if you have the time please check it out.

  8. @CatherineYep, yep, she said monks, but maybe she doesn't know the words for Brahman priests? I hope I'm around when whoever comes to do the honours.

    She also tried to explain the varying height thing...but I didn't quite get it. She related it to the taller one being like a king and the shorter one, being like a nobleman, lord or earl?

    Will take a look at that video soon, thanks Catherine.

  9. Snap, Like cat I have a fascination with spirit houses also...have taken countless pics. I have seen birds eating the fare but I have also seen homeless people eating from spirit houses.

  10. @TalenI always feel like I shouldn't be looking at them, like I'm getting too up close and personal. I've yet to take a photo of the spirit house graveyard in the nearby park and of another really interesting odd arrangement up the road...but will soon.


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