Tales of troubled pasts haunt many locations throughout Asia in the most literal sense of the word. If you’re into scaring yourself silly, we know some of the most haunted places. We’re not saying that we believe in ghosts (we’re not saying we don’t either), but you know what they say – where there is smoke, there is fire. And if you’re braver than we are, go on and visit these spots for yourself, just don’t give us the details of what you find.
#1 Old Changi Hospital, Singapore
Built in 1935 when Changi was a military base focused on defending the Johor Strait, the hospital (then named the Royal Air Force Hospital) fell into the hands of Japanese soldiers during the Japanese occupation that began in 1942. The notoriously cruel Kempeitai (Japanese Secret Police) made it their prison camp where they would torture and execute prisoners – made up of local civilians and military personnel. When the war ended, many Japanese soldiers were executed on the grounds, and eventually, it was reinstated as a working hospital, finally closing in 1997.
Beware: The hospital was deemed haunted long before it closed, with stories of haunting cries and shadows of previously tortured souls. Now that the building is abandoned, locals warn others not to wander the grounds of the hospital after dark. Filmmakers even used the old hospital as their main inspiration in the movie Haunted Changi.
#2 Bhangarh Fort, India
Surrounded by lush greenery, Bhangarh Fort is famous for being one of the most haunted places in India, though you might not guess that just by looking at the beautiful ruins. Built in 1613 by King Madho Singh, legend has it that the fort garnered a dark reputation when a holy man cursed the town if ever anyone were to build a house taller than his — which we’re guessing happened. Another famous legend tells the story of a wizard (not of the pointy hat kind) who fell in love with Ratnavati, the Princess of Bhangarh and tried to cast a spell on her but she didn’t feel the same about him, which led to his death – but not before he cursed her and the entire town.
Beware: Take heed of the sign put up by The Archeological Survey of India prohibiting tourists to stay inside the fort area after sunset and before sunrise. Locals say those who have tried to stay inside after sunset were never found.
#3 Lawang Sewu, Indonesia
Built in 1904 as the headquarters for the Dutch East Indies Railway Company, its name means “Thousand Doors” for the numerous doors and arcs used in designing the building. The colonial building was completed in 1919, made up of four structures on a large plot of land. World War II saw Lawang Sewu fall into the hands of Japanese soldiers who used the basement of one of the buildings as a detention center. There are endless stories of brutal torture and mass executions that haunt the old, dilapidated building till today.
Beware: Among the ghosts reported to inhabit the establishment are a Dutchwoman who committed suicide inside and a kuntilanak; a vampire.
#4 Karak Highway, Malaysia
After several years of construction, the highway was launched in 1977, its 60-kilometre stretch connecting Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur to the country’s third-largest state of Pahang. The highway is infamous for being long and windy – treacherous especially at night, which has led to numerous fatal accidents. That in turn, over the years, has attracted a host of superstitions and spooky stories. Whether these stories are true or otherwise, motorists driving along the highway tend to speed along with caution once the sun goes down (we all know that’s when ominous spirits come out to play).
Beware: There are many stories, including one of a yellow Volkswagen that appears only at night. It’s said that the car will move slowly, prompting the other car to overtake it and once that happens, the same Volkswagen keeps reappearing. Another famous story is of the schoolboy that can be seen wandering along the highway at night, looking for his mother. Legend has it that an accident caused the mother and child to be killed, but the mother was flung out of the car and away from her son on impact.
#5 Tat Tak School, Hong Kong
Dubbed as one of Hong Kong’s most haunted places, the Tat Tak school in Ping Shan Village is said to house many spirits. One documentary interviewed an eyewitness who claimed to have seen a ghost squatting in one of the rooms. Another story that keeps surfacing is the ghost of a teacher who supposedly hung herself in the girl’s toilets, apparently wearing a red dress (we hear that in Chinese lore, taking one’s life in a red dress means that one plans to come back as a ghost in 7 days).
Beware: A few years ago, there was a story of a group of students visiting the school, and one of the female students became possessed (apparently by the teacher’s spirit), attacking and biting her classmates in a sudden rage and even tried to hang herself.
#6 Fort Santiago, Philippines
Constructed in 1571, the oldest Spanish fortress in the Philippines, Fort Santiago was originally the site of a kingdom led by Rajah Sulaiman before the Spaniards conquered the region. Used as a fortress against the Americans during the spice trade, it later became the headquarters of the US Army during the colonial period.
Despite the long history, most of the fort’s hauntings stem back to Japanese occupation during WWII. In the dungeons, approximately 600 Americans and Filipinos were tortured with some executed and others either starving or suffocating to death.
Beware: The most famous prisoner of Fort Santiago was Jose Rizal, a national hero and key member of the Filipino Propaganda Movement. Rizal was kept at the fort in the days leading up to his execution. To this day, visitors claim to see him in many areas of the fort, especially around the execution site. Others have claimed to hear his voice and even his footsteps.
#7 Lumphini Park, Thailand
One of the rare vast, public spaces in Bangkok Lumphini Park was created in the 1920s by King Rama VI and on royal property. Initially, the park housed a museum and became public after WWI. During WWII, however, it became a Japanese Army camp.
It’s believed that somewhere within the parks 142 acres, there is a haunted wooden house, and at night people often hear shrill cries emanating from it.
Beware: During the 2013-2014 protests of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, many protestors camped out at the park. Many reported hauntings and a security guard is believed to have been possessed by a spirit.
#8 Aokigahara, Japan
No hauntings of Asia list is complete without mention of Aokigahara, commonly known as the Suicide Forest. Featured in anime, manga, films, literature, music and video games, the forest has long had a reputation for death, even before it became Japan’s most popular site for suicide – in 2004, at its peak, it’s reported that 108 people killed themselves there.
The reputation for death stems from ubasute. It’s believed that ubasute; the bringing of a dying loved one to a remote location and leaving them there to die, was practised here well into the 19th century. The forest is reportedly haunted by the souls of those who were left behind.
Beware: As a result of the densely packed trees and the lava floor, the forest is deathly quiet. At night, it’s believed that you can hear the voices of the spirits within, many of whom will try to lure you off the path and cause you to remain there with them.
Editor’s Note: If you spot someone who appears distressed and is travelling alone in Aokigahara, go out of your way and be kind. All it takes to save a life is a few friendly words. (Actually, always be kind, no matter where you are.)
Do you dare visit these places?
This article was originally published in October 2015. It has since been updated.