Growing up with my grandparents, there were many taboos and beliefs that were passed down which I needed to obey and follow. As a child, I didn’t think about it much – I just did what they wanted to do. However, as an adult, I’ve learned that these “silly” old wives’ tales do have some truth behind them.
Here are 20 Thai superstitions that locals are familiar with – some of you might even be guilty of using them to scare little kids!
1. Do not sing in the kitchen or you’ll get an old husband
One thing I’ll always remember when I cook with my grandma is her telling me, “Don’t sing in the kitchen if you don’t want to get an old husband!”
I stopped singing right away, worried about having to marry an old man. I still carry on this practice today even though I don’t believe in it anymore.
The real reason: This is a trick many older folks use to make us focus on what we’re doing in the kitchen. One often has to handle things like sharp knives and hot utensils, and singing might distract us from what we’re doing.
2. Sleeping towards the West = direction of death
“Don’t have your headboard facing the west. It’s the direction of the dead,” is something you’ll hear superstitious Thai folks say. It is widely believed that sleeping with your bed facing the West will bring you bad luck, as only dead bodies face this direction, like at funerals.
Many Thais take this very seriously, even making sure not to sleep facing the West at hotels.
The real reason: A reason that makes more sense is that walls facing the West can often directly face the sun all day, making it uncomfortable to sleep during the night.
3. Playing hide and seek at night will attract ghosts
Image credit: Creepy Pasta Collection
This is a common Southeast Asian superstition, with adults telling kids not to play games like hide and seek or catching at night. It is said that an “extra” player will join you otherwise.
These uninvited guests will then use their supernatural abilities to protect you from being found or caught, and then take your soul with them to the netherworld.
The real reason: At night, it can be dangerous for little kiddos to play without supervision in the dark. Parents had many concerns like their kids getting hurt, lost, or even kidnapped. Those who grew up in more rural areas had the risk of encountering dangerous animals too.
Thus, this superstition was born to deter children from wandering off to play with their friends.
4. Do not clip your nails at night
When I used to be in primary school, I had to clip my nails before it got dark to avoid getting into a fight with my grandparents.
Image credit: Slowlife
“Clipping your nails at night will bother our ancestors’ souls!” they’d say, referring to the annoying noise nail clippers make. And if we disturb them, we’d get punished.
The real reason: Using sharp objects at night is never a good idea, especially in the past when lighting was scarce at night. People were only afraid of getting hurt by accidentally clipping a finger by accident, thus came up with this saying to prevent others from doing so.
5. Do not knock your plate while eating
Image credit: Palungjit
If you’re a big fan of Thai horror movies and have watched Khon Hen Phi 10, you may be familiar with the scene where characters started hitting their bowls in order to summon a ghost.
The Thai belief is that knocking on your plates or bowls when eating is a call for spirits to join you for a meal.
The real reason: The secret is plain and simple: good table manners. Parents used this as an excuse to get kids to knock off the habit of making noise at the table.
6. Sweeping the house at night will make you poor
“Sweeping at night will make your life difficult and poor,” is a common saying, symbolising one sweeping their money and luck out of their home.
No one said anything about vacuuming after dark – although it’d probably be a nuisance to the neighbours
The real reason: Rich or poor, the real reason has little to do with money. Tying back to similar reasons for dim lighting at night, many worry about literally sweeping away important items that might have dropped onto the floor.
7. Looking at a naked person will hurt your eyes
Image credit: Eye Bank of Thailand
As teens inched towards puberty, concerned parents would say: If you look at a naked person, your eyes will be damaged.
*Cue horrified kids and teens everywhere*
The real reason: As forward as Thailand may be with topics like the LGBT community, sex is still seen as a hush-hush topic that is not as openly talked about. This superstition is a result of parents not wanting curious children to do things like watch porn.
However, Thais’ attitudes towards sex have changed over the years, with sex education being implemented properly in school curriculums to prepare youths for the real world, with important information like safe sex and unwanted pregnancies.
8. Do not sit on staircases
Locals believe that every house has a ‘house ghost’ or guardian that protects its inhabitants from bad luck and wicked spirits. This is the main reason for spirit houses and shrines which you will see outside almost every Thai home.
These guardians, although unseen, walk among us, which is why we are asked to keep places like staircases clear so we don’t obstruct their way.
The real reason: Sitting on steps can cause accidents like tripping on somebody or slipping down the stairs. But mostly, it’s so that children don’t block the path of humans – especially if they’ve got the habit and sit on steps in public places.
9. Eating food with ants will make you stupid
Friends and family members have always told me tha eating 1 ant can make you stupid for 7 years. I never thought about it much, but it scared me enough to be extra careful when eating.
The real reason: Stupidity is the least of your problems when the main reason is health and hygiene.
Ants can be a nuisance, especially with leftovers and unattended food lying around, which is why this is a good trick to make kiddos keep the place clean and free from bugs.
10. Lying down while eating will turn you into a snake
Image credit: healthline
Having a child sit still at the dining table is a difficult task for many families, especially getting them to sit properly on a chair instead of lying on their beds or on the floor for a meal.
With Thai beliefs of the afterlife and reincarnation, my grandparents always used to tell me that I would be born as a snake if I were to lay on the floor when eating.
The real reason: Again, table manners. But more importantly, lying down for a meal can pose serious health threats like choking or even Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
11. Do not leave your clothes to dry overnight
Luckily, we live in the age of indoor dryers
Whenever I get lazy to pick up dry laundry after a day of hanging them outside, one thing always gets me up on my feet: Leaving your clothes to dry overnight isn’t good, because Krasue will use it as her napkin.
Image credit: Phisayong
In Thai folklore, Krasue is a spirit that takes the form of a floating female head with hanging entrails – quite a gory sight. It is said that she goes hunting for fresh blood and meat at night and cleans her mouth using clothes she finds before leaving to hide.
The real reason: Leaving your clothes out to dry at night while you’re asleep means you might miss it if it rains at night, leaving you with extra wet laundry the next day. Plus, your clothes could get dusty or dirty.
12. Point at a rainbow = lose your fingers
Image credit: Dewang Gupta
Rainbows are always fun to see no matter how old you are, but as a kid, I used to hear adults say that pointing at a rainbow will make us lose our fingers. It is believed that rainbows are created using supernatural powers which must be respected. Obviously, this was never proven, but we never dared to point at it anyway.
The real reason: The reason behind it is pretty simple, which is our parents do not want us to be out in rainy weather. Knowing that kids probably wouldn’t listen to direct orders, elders came up with this tactic to scare and protect us at the same time.
13. Sleeping in the afternoon is bad for your soul
Image credit: TNews
When I was a child, I avoided taking naps after school as my grandparents would tell me that my soul would be taken or even lost in the world of death while doing so. The time between 4-6pm is a period when the worlds of the living and dead are said to meet. Thus, some spirits, probably thinking we are “dead” while asleep, can bring our souls into their world.
Some people also believe that our soul wanders while we are asleep, which can get lost.
The real reason: Our body clock is the main culprit for this superstition. Sleeping earlier in the day for extended periods of time can mess up our system, resulting in a lack of proper sleep later at night.
14. Don’t leave your house if you hear a house gecko making a sound
Image credit: story.motherhood
This Thai superstition is what I’ve heard all along since I was a kid. People always say if you are leaving your house and a house gecko makes a sound, it means a warning that you shouldn’t go out at that time, especially if the sound comes from behind you and above your head.
The real reason: House geckos are pretty rare these days, and we barely hear their sounds. So, many old people assume that if they make a sound while we are leaving our house, they are sending a warning for us not to leave.
15. Do not comb your hair during nighttime
Image credit: freepik
Thai people have many beliefs about things you shouldn’t do at nighttime, and combing your hair at night is one of those. The elderly believe that combing hair at night means cursing your grandparents.
The real reason: It’s a lie told to young women in the past to prevent them from going out at night because they might not be able to comb their hair and look presentable.
16. Think and say nice things when a monitor lizard comes into your house
Image credit: @supree76 via Instagram
One of the Thai superstitions that would surprise you is when a monitor lizard comes into our house, we’re told to say and think nice things to bring in fortune. I guess the first thing I’d do if I saw a giant monitor lizard in my house is get shocked and seek ways to get it out.
The real reason: Many people fear monitor lizards and may harm them, but these creatures are harmless and play a crucial role in the ecosystem by consuming carcasses. This superstition can help change people’s perceptions, fostering a more positive attitude toward these lizards as bearers of luck.
17. Wash your face and feet before entering your house after returning from a funeral
Image credit: allure.com
Every time I attend a funeral, my mom insists that I wash my face, hands, and feet before entering the house. According to Thai superstitions, this ritual is meant to prevent evil spirits or negative energies from following you into the house.
The real reason: In the past, when many diseases were prevalent and body management was not as advanced as today, attending funerals could expose you to viruses and bacteria. As a preventive measure, people would wash their faces, feet, and hands after returning home to cleanse their bodies and prevent the entry of harmful microorganisms into their households.
18. A house member will pass away if a barn owl lands on your house’s roof
Image credit: @sarawutintanil via Instagram
Thais can become quite worried when a barn owl lands on their houses because it is believed to signal an impending death in the household. Most Thais also believe barn owls are ghost birds.
Among Thai superstitions, I always found this one particularly frightening when I was little, given the way Thai news media reported on it.
The real reason: Thai people often find barn owls frightening due to their large, round eyes and eerie, high-pitched sounds. These characteristics contribute to the belief that owls are considered evil birds. Additionally, barn owls are nocturnal hunters, so if you spot them near your house, it usually indicates the presence of potential food sources in the vicinity.
19. A newborn with a birthmark is a reincarnation of a person from the past
Image credit: story.motherhood.co.th
Whenever I see babies with birthmarks, it evokes thoughts of the belief that these babies might be reincarnations from previous lives. According to the belief, babies with birthmarks are believed to have been born in a previous existence but passed away in infancy, leading their parents to mark their bodies.
The real reason: While birthmarks are often linked to cultural beliefs about past lives, it’s important to note that they can also be caused by factors such as malfunctioning skin cells or an overgrowth of blood vessels, and in some cases, they can be treated with laser therapy.
20. Twitching eye means bad luck is coming along
Image credit: HowStuffWorks
I guess we all experience eye twitching from time to time in our lives. In Thailand, it’s considered a sign that accidents or tragedies might occur, which can be a cause for concern when people’s eyes twitch.
A lot of times when it has happened to me, I would frantically search on my laptop to learn what eye twitching on which side meant. It goes to show how much old Thai superstitions still affect even the younger generation.
The real reason: Eye twitching is caused by a lack of sleep, stress, and eye strain from looking at the screen for a long time. So, no worries if your eyes twitch, nothing bad is coming your way. Just get enough rest and avoid stress and you’ll be fine.
Sneaky Thai superstitions to keep us well-behaved
While many Thai superstitions revolve around ghosts, luck, and other unexplainable things, lots of old wives’ tales are still rooted in logic and reason.
And while they do the trick to make the younger ones behave, getting older has made us realise that we’ve been fooled the whole time. As our lifestyle and society change, so do these methods of discipline, and superstitions can also be a funny reminder of our childhood and upbringing.
We hope you learned something new today and aren’t so afraid to do things like sweep the house at night anymore!
Know more interesting superstitions from your culture? Let us know in the comments!
If you enjoy our articles, also check out 8 spooky Thai urban legends that will send a chill down your spine, 7 most haunted places in Bangkok for daredevils to visit on vacation, and 8 disturbing Thai folklore & fairy tales you won’t believe we tell to our kids.
Cover image adapted from: Palungjit, TNews, Creepy Pasta Collection, and Slowlife
Article originally published by Petpailin Kirdsaeng on October 2019, last updated by Bank Fasaisirinan on October 2023.
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