A Cultural Journey Through Thailand, Part II


Part II of Donielle Steven’s blog from her semester with USAC’s Chiang Mai, Thailand program (Read Part I to catch up!)

Cultural Curiosities: Spirit Houses and Shrines 

up-close-spirit-houseA spirit house or san phra phum in Thai language is a shrine to the spirit that protects the general area of an establishment; these are usually found in Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos). They look like miniature palaces and houses. The little house is to provide shelter for the spirits who it is believed would create problems for the living if they are not appeased. They are placed outside restaurants, schools, cafes, homes and other meeting spots. So pretty much everywhere. I’d say I pass about two dozen just walking around the city. These houses have been around since the very first establishment of Thailand. They can range from being ornate and intricate with small figurines or simplistic and detailed, they are decorated with flowers, food and other offerings. Each spirit has personalities and before offering items to the spirit you have to determine the spirit’s likings and tastes.
For example, my favorite spirit house is the one outside the main gate to Chiang Mai University. The spirit is said to love elephants. No, he/she ADORES elephants.

elephant-spirit-houseIf you want to get accepted to the University you must go to the shrine and ask the spirit to allow you to attend. If you are granted acceptance it is custom to bring a small elephant figurine to pay thanks to the spirit. The result is hundreds of elephants around an incredibly ornate shrine, left by the students who now attend the university.

Creating a shrine to the spirit is actually a very crucial and tedious process. Here’s an important list of what you’ll have to consider and what you’ll need:

1. Owner’s Preference: Ask yourself how much can you spend on the shrine (ornate vs. simple)
2. See a fortune teller (one well-known for determining Spirit preferences of course). The fortune teller needs to see the site of the future house and also will need to know the birthday of the owner (which is very important). The fortune teller will tell the owner what the Spirit likes and where to put the shrine on the property.
3. Set up an auspicious date
4. Celebrate the Spirit and the new house by having friends and family join in a House Warming Party.

You only need property, an incredible craftsman, a fortune teller, an auspicious date and a party!

Now you have a recipe for a happy spirit!

Find out more about our Thailand program and the adventures you can have!

Read Part III of Donielle’s Thailand’s adventures.