They are everywhere. Large or small, clean or not, ornate or austere, the spirit houses of Thailand shelter the spirits of the land. Most Thai are Buddhists, but they are also animists, Spirits hold an important role in their lives. At homes, coffee shops, massage parlors, hotels, restaurants or small repair businesses, the Thai spirit houses sit in a place of honor and guard the land.
The spirits live in there, so people cherish them, honor them and share their news with them. They tell them when somebody died, a baby was born or whenever something important happened. They drop off gifts to keep them comfortable and happy. The offerings are many. There’s always incense and water.
Fruit and rice are a must. So are flowers, whether natural or made of silk.
Candles and and garlands are seldom missing.
The coffee shop down the road shared what they do best.
Food is always a good bet. Also cigarettes, since some spirits smoke. Sometimes beer. And money, of course, since the spirits have to do their shopping too.
You’ll often find toys and statuettes. Elephants and horses and cars are there for transportation. Dancers and clowns provide entertainment.
Some get decorated with Christmas lights. Spirits celebrate Christmas too.
The local hospital, Chiang Mai Ram, is obviously very popular. I wonder what offerings you’d find at an American hospital’s spirit house? McDonald’s? Hydros? Coke?
Some houses are glittery and ornate.
Some are old and cherished.
Some are derelict and look abandoned.
Each spirit house is unique to the plot of land it’s built on and to the people who live there. When people move out, the spirits move out too. The new people must get their own spirit house. Rich, if they happen to be rich, small, if their house is small.
The spirits get neglected when people move out.
The old spirit houses who have nobody left end up at Buddhist temples, or they are set to rest under a holy banyan tree, where they slowly fall apart.
But even then, kind strangers will often leave a gift – a garland? flowers? a little soda? reminding them of the good old days.