Chasing Ghosts: Asia Pacific’s Favourite Late Night Spine Tinglers!

Wrap your blanket around you and huddle closer. Halloween is just around the corner and we’ve put together some of our favourite ghosts, demons, bogeymen and crypt-walkers from Asian folklore and urban legends that (may; we don’t know exactly how ice cold cool you are) trigger goosebumps and make your skin crawl. Caveat lector!

#1 Aswang, Philippines

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When you’re just a part-time #Aswang with nothin to do. #spooktober #chicagotheatre

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You may have met an aswang without even realising it. These day-walking, shapeshifting evil spirit comes in many forms (and have many names such as tik-tik or wak-wak) but are in general, human by day before morphing into a form of animal by night. It is said that if you look into someone’s eyes and your reflection is upside-down, you should probably turn around and walk away… or run!

The aswang is known to steal corpses, drink human blood, and is especially hungry for the livers and hearts of in utero babies that some of the more superstitious neighbourhoods set up patrols in front of the homes of a pregnant woman to protect her from wandering stray animals in case they are evil spirits in disguise (be careful who you pet!). Aswangs have also been known to replace the lives stolen cadavers with replicas made of tree trunks or supplant their victims with doppelgängers that return home to “die” of natural causes.

#2 Pocong, Malaysia and Indonesia

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A pocong is the soul of a dead person trapped in its shroud. Islamic burial rites wrap the body of the deceased in white fabric that is tied over the head, behind the neck, and at the feet only to remove these ties after 46 days so that the soul may be set free. If the ties are not undone, the soul is entrapped and turns into a pale, shrivelled, eyeless face with a floating, decaying body that is only able to hop or roll after its victims, or cause freak accidents.

This South East Asian mummy spends its time haunting cemeteries and abandoned houses after dark, tormenting and attacking anyone who ventures into its path. Urban legend suggests lying down and playing dead or running down a long, winding road until you are out of sight spirit should you ever encounter one – as if any one of us would ever choose the first option. We’re kind of curious but don’t really want to know what you were doing hanging out in a cemetery or abandoned house at night in the first place!

#3 Okiku’s Doll, Japan

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In the Mannenji Temple in Iwamizawa on Hokkaido, lives, well, stands a doll with hair that needs to be trimmed regularly. Wait… what?

Once upon a time, a young boy bought his two-year-old sister, Okiku, a doll. Standing about 40cm tall and dressed in a traditional kimono with shoulder length hair, the doll immediately became Okiku’s favourite toy. She spent the next year talking to it, playing with it, dressing it up and down only to have the friendship tragically cut short when the little girl passed away from a severe fever at the age of three.

It was some time afterwards that the family realised the doll’s hair had grown from shoulder length to past her waist! They concluded that the spirit of their daughter now resided within the doll and decided to hand the doll over to the temple. Over time, the priests confirmed that the doll’s hair did indeed grow in varying lengths to her knees and would trim the hair periodically, adorning the shrine around the doll with different pictures in memory of Okiku. Would you stop by for a visit the next time you’re heading to Kiroro or Niseko for a ski trip?

Read also: Meet Kiroro – Everything to know about the Japanese Ski Resort

#4 Jenglot, Indonesia

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Muaya Beach, Jimbaran is one of the most romantic beaches in Bali. Here you will find white sand, spectacular sunsets, beach bars, cafés, sunbathers, and if you’re unlucky, a jenglot! These deformed humanoid creatures have the appearance of tiny dolls between 12 and 20 cm in length and are said to be living mummies with long hair and long nails. Jenglot “keepers” feed their creatures with blood and use them to take full control over victims leading them to suicide or to commit murder.

According to internet legend, a couple of evening joggers came across two jenglot on the shoreline. They were saved by traditional healer, Jero Mangku, who neutralised the power of these mysterious creatures before the joggers lost their minds. No jenglots have been spotted on the beach since, but… you never know? That sunset though! Perhaps there’s sinister reason for its crookedness…

#5 Phi Tai Hong, Thailand

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This spirit is the most feared ghost in all of Thailand. Phi Tai Hong are the spirits of those who suffered excessively cruel deaths and were left without funerary rites. They are vengeful and full of resentment as they often involve young people who died before their time. This ghost will try to kill hoping that this will free it from its spiritual bondage. They will also haunt their own family members or anyone else who they believe wronged them during their lifetime.

The most feared version of the Phi Tai Hong is the Tai Thang Klom, which is the spirit of a woman who was killed or committed suicide while pregnant. This spirit is said to be ultra powerful because it has the power of two ghosts combined. The only way to get rid of a Phi Tai Hong is to carry out a very complicated exorcism ritual but the ghosts are notoriously difficult to exorcise. Another way is to simply allow them to carry out their revenge as long as you don’t mind them killing people. Okay… but how do you make sure they’re killing other people?

#6 Yara-ma-yha-who, Australia

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This 1.25-meter humanoid has red skin, a big head and an enormous mouth without any teeth, and suction cups on its fingers and toes that are used to attach itself to its victims and drain their blood. It likes to lurk in trees and if you happen to pass underneath, it will drop down onto you and suck your blood, but just enough to weaken you so that you cannot move or run away. Once you are weak enough, the Yara-ma-yha-who will swallow you whole, drink some water, and have a long nap.

When it wakes up, it regurgitates you, still alive and in one piece, but with just a little less of you than before, and with a reddish tint to your skin. This process is repeated again and again with you growing smaller and redder each time until you turn into a Yara-ma-yha-who yourself. Are we absolutely sure this isn’t just a drop bear or some kind of bush diet?

Ready to be spirited away?

Chloe Pharamond

This nomad's natural habitat is napping under a shady tree on the beach with a book clutched in hand. She likes fresh coconuts with a healthy splash of rum, organic conversations that meander into the night and getting lost in new places.

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