Perhaps the two most feared things in Thailand are ghosts and lizards. Thai ghosts aren’t of the friendly “Casper” kind, nor do they look like someone draped in a white sheet with holes for eyes. Almost all ghosts are both female and truly terrifying – some taking the form of simply a head and digestive tract. Probably the most famous ghost is Mae Naak. Born about a hundred and thirty year ago in Bangkok (that’s according to some versions of the story – there’s really no historical evidence for her existence, and some sources claim she lived in the Ayutthaya period), she died during childbirth and was buried with her unborn son. However, her spirit pined for her husband who had been conscripted to fight a foreign war, and she refused to pass on. When her husband returns from the war she disguises both herself and her son as human. However, when her husband sees her reach through the floorboards of their wooden house to retrieve a fallen lime he realises she’s a ghost. Not surprisingly, he flees, only to be pursued by his wife. She then goes on the rampage, killing everyone who crosses her path.
The story continues with the attempts of the villagers to get rid of her spirit, involving black magic and “spirit doctors” in the process – but nothing works. Her terrorised husband takes refuge in a temple, but the monks can do little to protect him. At last a gifted novice from a far away province captures her soul and puts it in a clay pot which he drops in the river.
All scary stuff. And as for Thai ghosts, you certainly wouldn’t want to meet one.
The fear of lizards is perhaps less understandable. Most houses have a few small lizards hanging around the light fittings of an evening, eating the occasional passing mosquito. OK, they are inclined to poo everywhere, but only in tiny quantities – and it’s far less offensive than essence of dog or cat.
Anyway, the belief is that if a lizard falls on you it’s bad luck. And today I can confirm that’s true: as I was opening my bedroom balcony doors this morning an adolescent house lizard fell on me. I’m not sure if I or the less-than-sure-footed critter was more startled. Anyway, I stepped backwards and caught my heel on my bed frame. Soon blood was gushing from my wound. So, proof definitive: having a lizard fall on you is bad luck.