Every country in the world has its own superstitions. Although in modern times these beliefs continue to lose adherents, and fewer and fewer believe in them, they still have many followers. Some countries share similar beliefs, while others are completely different. Thailand is a country of superstitions. As happens in other places, many old superstitions are going out of style in Thailand. But there are still many Thais who, to a greater or lesser extent, believe in most of the 9 surprising Thai superstitions that I’ll tell you about in this article.
Fortune Tellers: a Thriving Business
In Thailand it is very common to visit fortune tellers, who charge a fee to read your fate and advise you on which path in life to choose or avoid. They charge all kinds of fees, usually between 50 and 1500 THB, but sometimes much more than that. Fortune tellers are visited by both humble workers and wealthy individuals. Mo duu (a Thai word that can be translated as “visionary doctor”) give advice on any aspect of life, as their clients seek answers to all the usual topics: work, family, money or love. If you walk around Bangkok for a while, you are very likely to end up seeing a fortune teller giving advice to a ‘client’, perhaps at a street stall or in a cafeteria, as it is one of the more widespread Thai superstitions.
Amulets: The Business of Good Luck
Amulets are another of the prominent Thai superstitions. If you walk through Bangkok (for example behind the Grand Palace) you will surely see street stalls and shops selling all kinds of charms. There are literally thousands of them! The amulets are usually small figures of Buddha, and their price varies wildly: from 50 cents… to thousands and thousands of euros! Amulets are a huge industry in Thailand. Their price depends on many factors like the material with which it is made (for example, the ones made of dinosaur bones are highly valued), its antiquity, the figure it represents, or its good condition. But the main factor that determines its value is how powerful is it supposed to be. In every newsstand in Thailand you’ll see specialized magazines on this Thai superstition.
Floor 13: Almost Nonexistent in Thailand
Although there are dozens of skyscrapers in the country, you are unlikely to find a 13th floor in a building in Thailand. After 12, they skip 13 and replace it with 12B. This belief that attributes bad luck to number thirteen has Western roots, but it has penetrated Thailand even more than in most western countries.
Self-sevice fortune telling in the temples: the Magic Sticks
In many Thai temples there is a wooden glass filled with wooden sticks. Each stick has a number, and each number is associated with a small sheet of paper with a dozen phrases written in Thai and an ancient language used in Buddhist scripts. The method of choosing the stick is to gently shake the glass until one of the sticks falls to the floor. Therefore, it is a way of getting some hints -often quite cryptic- about your future.
Charms in the taxi: A Way to Prevent Accidents
In Bangkok there are thousands and thousands of taxis. It must be one of the cities in the world with the highest ratio of taxis per capita, if not the most. In addition, since they run on gas, they are very inexpensive. There’s so much to say about taxis in Bangkok that it would be enough for an entire post. But I mention them here because of one of their most original characteristics: the amulets they carry inside.
If you take a taxi in Bangkok, you will surely notice many small objects hanging from the rear-view mirror, as well as some mysterious drawings on the ceiling. They are amulets. Thais traditionally believe that accidents happen because of karma (in short, they are a consequence of bad deeds in previous lifes). As a taxi driver cannot control the karma of his passengers, one way to protect himself is through these charms, which will counteract the bad luck that any passenger can carry with him and, thus, avoid having an accident.
Tattoos: Give Powers to Those Who Wear Them
Thai tattoos (roi sak) are thought to strengthen those who wear them. These tattoos are traditionally done by Buddhist monks in temples, and they don’t use any other machine than a needle at the end of a long, slender pole made of wood or metal. These tattoos usually include some writing in the ancient Khom language. The smallest tattoos are done in about 20 minutes, and once done they must be activated for their powers to take effect.
Those who get the tattoos can ask for the type of drawing or design they want, but it is also common for the master tattoo artist to choose what to draw, according to the personality and needs of the ‘client’. They usually draw animals, which are believed to grant different powers. Dragons, for example, are supposed to bring strength and wisdom. Clients pay for the tattoo they get at the temple, but they are quite cheap as they are mainly popular with the poorer classes. There is a celebration in Thailand in which hundreds of men get tattooed on the same day.
Turning 25: The Age of Bad Luck
Turning 25 is something many Thais are not happy about. Actually, many believe that it is one of the worst ages in life, when you’re more likely to be hit with bad luck. The explanation given to me by a friend is that 25 is the age when most Thais start living on their own, finish studying, start to work, etc, so it is a time of change, with all the dangers this entails. The final step into adult life. Some believe that this age can open the doors to bad luck if they don’t make the right choices. So essentially there is the belief that it is an age in which special care must be taken, to ensure to get on the right track.
Ghosts: Thai Scary Stories
Ghosts, or phii as they are known in Thai, are very present in Thai society and culture. There are many types of ghosts, but the most terrifying ones are the spirits of people who had violent deaths or did bad things in their previous lives. Most young Thais know stories about ghosts, and many even claim to have had personal encounters with them, or know someone who has. Many Thais feel a strong attraction to supernatural horror stories, and the most popular Thai horror movies are based on these phii stories. Most Thais of all ages, status and condition believe in ghosts and are afraid of them, so this is another of the most widespread Thai superstitions.
More numerology: Mobile Numbers Worth a Fortune
Numerology is very important in Thailand. As we’ve seen previously, the thirteenth floors hardly exist, and the age of 25 is believed to bring bad luck. But these are only two among many examples of Thai superstitions based on numerology.
The number-related superstition that at first surprised me the most was to find out that many Thais place a lot of importance on the mobile number. Either for superstitious issues or for appearance. Mobile number is one of the first things people exchange, so if you have an original number, say 089999999, you impress people. But the reason you impress them is mainly because they know that you have paid lots of money to get that precise number! The most original or easy-to-remember numbers can reach € 10,000 (yes, I double-checked and there is no mistake in my writing, it’s four zeros there!).
By the way, 9 is the lucky number, so just in case I’ve decided to stop here and talk about only 9 superstitions 😉