One of the loveliest things I see in Thailand is the Thai spirit house or saan pra phum. In every village in Thailand, you will see these tiny concrete or wooden houses perched on top of posts outside houses, shops, hotels and restaurants. Every day, the owner of the building goes out to the spirit house with a floral offering, lights incense and prays to the spirit god, and leaves them food and water to drink. If they do this every day, the spirit house will protect them, their family and their property.
These little houses can also be seen all over Bangkok as the custom has passed down to the big city. Small ones are often perched on the sidewalk outside little shops. Very large ones even have their own alter and are prayed at by people coming to work or just passing by, who also bring flowers and food to offer the god. Every morning when I go to work, the lady who works at the reception desk in my building is outside in front of our spirit house, hands clasping incense, and raised in a wai (prayer) position and head bowed. It makes me feel safe that somebody is down there beseeching the gods for my protection.
These shrines will stay up for many years but at some point they fall into disrepair. Then the owner discards it and buys a shiny new one for his resident god. The old one is left underneath a sacred tree somewhere. There’s one such sacred tree at the end of my soi, and it’s littered with thirty or forty spirit houses all stacked up in piles. I always hope the spirit god managed to vacate the premises, before his cozy home was uprooted and hauled away.
When you drive around Thailand, you’ll also see these spirit houses at the roadsides, sometimes hundreds all in one place. They’re usually put in areas where there have been a lot of accidents to plead with the spirits to help save people, and to warn those who are driving too quickly by. The problem is, the spirit houses sometimes become a catastrophe waiting to happen in their own right. As some drivers drive by, they take their hands off the car wheel to ‘wai’ at the statue for protection. Several new accidents have been caused this way.
The most famous spirit house in Thailand is the big one at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. It was built to ward off evil spirits who were causing problems when the old Erawan Hotel was being built. This one though was damaged very badly by a half-deranged mentally ill Thai man with a hammer. In true Thai ‘justice’ the poor man was beaten to death by two road sweepers who saw him mutilating the spirit house.
Spirit houses are available for purchase all over Thailand. You can buy one on a trip here and take it home to protect your house. I’ve heard that Thai gods aren’t too picky about whose home they protect, as long as the owner feeds them every day. You can also order one from numerous websites, to be delivered right to your front door. Not too sure how well your spirit will take to being mailed over half the world though. Depending on his mood when he gets there, it could be a fortuitous or an unlucky outcome. Your call I suppose.