Hi everyone! In honour of my favourite holiday, I bring you ghost stories and creepy facts from Vietnam! This article has been spawned from the deepest pits of hell with the help of my friend Rose! We hope you enjoy it.
First of all, a little introduction and a little collection of facts, legends and beliefs to get you in a spooky mood. Some Vietnamese people are apparently very, very superstitious. They have legends passed down from the previous generations to the next for, well, a hell of a long time. Some people strongly believe that ghosts walk the streets and can interact with humans, and the matter of their death will decide if they’re mischievous or nice.
The Vietnamese also dedicatedly worship their ancestors to the point where they have a room reserved for them in the house, furnished only with a wooden altar adorned with portraits of their grandparents, where the family goes and pray for them and offer them fruit and tea on a weekly – if not daily – basis.
Monks have the reputation to be able to feel ghosts, and within their chants is the power to guide lost souls to the afterlife or soothe angry spirits. These gifted, robed men gain a reputation by word of mouth only.
Vietnamese people often see ghosts in their dreams.
Owls, like the Raven of western culture, are the bearers of bad news and harbinger of death, and many people will flat-out run away from them or try to kill them when they see the majestic bird.
Like many cultures, cats are considered to bring bad luck. Were Egyptians the only ones of our fore-fathers that were not afraid of them?
Owls, cats, and now dogs. You know, when you’re at home doing your Netflix and chill, and then all of a sudden your dog gets up and starts staring in emptiness and barking? Yup, the Vietnamese firmly believe that your dog is actively guarding you against angry Lonely Ghosts. Have a nice night.
Some companies will occasionally invite monks from Hanoi to purify their headquarters from Lonely Ghosts who have wandered in.
The Vietnamese also believe that even numbers are lucky, and uneven numbers can bring bad luck. Some businessmen refuse to strike big deals on uneven days (following the lunar calendar, not the Christian calendar) or even on uneven hours. Families will go to a fortune teller to know what is the best day to hold a wedding, or the best hour to honour their recently passed away loved ones (often at 4 am, as I have recently witnessed).
Without further delay, here are some cool stories Rose shared with me over breakfast.
If people die alone (in secluded road accidents for example), if their family didn’t know of their death and couldn’t mourn for them, or if a person dies without a family altogether (for example, orphans), they live in the street where they died, in nearby trees or abandoned houses as no one was there to guide their spirits to the afterlife. Basically, if someone had a violent death, as spirits they’ll be mischievous. Not downright evil, but prone to outbursts of violence. They’re called “Lonely Ghosts”.
One of Rose’s uncle has lost his life in a road accident some years ago. A year after his death, her family wanted to make sure his spirit was at rest and so they invited a monk to the spot where he died. Rose tells me that when the monk reached the road, he screamed at the top of his lungs and held his head with both hands for a good 5 minutes. He then performed the chants and ceremony to guide the ghost back to his house where he could be at rest after that.
September is the “Ghost month” of Vietnam and during that time you can see a lot of people burning paper money in rusty buckets on the side of streets. That money is said to appease the Lonely Ghosts. While I was in Huế, the ancient capital in the center of Vietnam, it seemed to be done on a daily basis, but for different reasons. They burn fake money in the hopes of good fortune, or to send money to their ancestors.
On top of uneven numbers, September is also considered unlucky for business. Businessmen and companies will avoid taking big decisions and making important deals during that month.
If you suspect a Lonely Ghost has been hanging out in your area, you can ask for a month to perform this little ceremony to detect any spirits: first, they will spread a bowl of rice on the ground. In the middle of that, they will stick a chopstick in the dirt. They will then balance an egg on top of it. If the egg can stand “up” and still, you have a visitor from the other world squatting your hood!
A couple of months ago I had an apartment with a big wooden closet in my bedroom. One of the doors had this big mirror on it. My Vietnamese girlfriend at the time always insisted that I cover it entirely with a towel before going to bed. At first, I thought she was shy and didn’t want to see herself during sexy time, but then I learned something else. Vietnamese people believe that mirrors are a gateway to the ghost world (I’m not sure if it’s a parallel world to ours where ghosts live and where they can sometimes reach out and touch us) and it is strongly suggested to avoid looking at yourself in a mirror around midnight. One of my students told me some people believe that if you’re not careful, your reflection can take your place and you can get trapped in the mirror. Is that a Goosebumps story?
Con Dao Island
Con Dao Island is an island in Vietnam that was used as a penal colony by the French colonists. A LOT of people died there (estimated 22,000!!!) and many haunting moments have been reported. There’s tons of information to be found everywhere in the internet and I don’t feel like stealing from other websites, so if you’re interested, a quick “Con Dao Island” google search will satisfy your unholy curiosity. Rose tells me that the locals are afraid of going out at night, so as soon as it’s dark outside, the town becomes very, very quiet. The locals also believe that there are more resident ghosts than living people! As tourists, most Vietnamese will only visit during the day, never stay the night. I intend to go check out this island in the near future.
The Female Psychic, Phan Thị Bích Hằng
Phan Thị Bích Hằng is a reputed Vietnamese psychic. She’s really popular and documented and you can also find tons of info on her easily (now that you know her name). Here’s what Rose tells us about her:
As a child, Phan Thị Bích Hằng was playing with her friend when they were suddenly attacked and bitten by a rabid dog. She became very sick, but she survived. Her friend perished. She claims that following that incident, she could see through soil and earth to spot the remains of dead people. Apparently, a lot of people have called on her special powers to find remains of lost loved ones and she has an astonishing success rate, to the point of performing on TV.
If that’s not a cool X-Files episode, I don’t know WHAT is.
Here’s a very interesting anecdote that Rose used as an example:
Not so long ago, a few city workers were tasked with widening the roads in a certain area of the city. So they started clearing the rubbish and cutting down the trees populating the sidewalks.
When they got to a big tree growing right next to a women’s hospital, the workers kept getting injured trying to cut it down. Believing that they were dealing with Lonely Ghosts, they decided to call the famous psychic. When she arrived on the scene she saw right away that the tree was full of ghosts of the children that died from abortions in the nearby hospital. They had nowhere to go for their afterlife and were rather mischievous (I guess I would be too if someone was trying to destroy my house and my parents killed me in the womb).
She acted out a ceremony that let her move the lost souls of dead children to a nearby temple so the monks could chant for them and liberate them. There were no more accidents after that.
As I give my Halloween-themed lesson to a class, I candidly start talking about her, to know if anybody heard about her. Many students knew her name. Some guys kind of laughed at her story. One dude, however, sitting in the back of the class, usually always smiling and laughing had a serious face. When the laughter stopped, I asked him what he thought.
“It’s true. I saw her. She came to my village. She found the bones of an old soldier”.
The class was pretty quiet after this.
Rose’s Vũng Tàu High School
Rose used to be volunteering for her High School, where they had a swimming pool. She tells me that there were often kids falling in the swimming pool when they were walking by and they would say that they felt pushed. Sometimes a group of kids would be sitting near the pool, chatting when one of them would suddenly lose his balance and fall right in. People who would swim in it would very often get cramps. The pool slowly gained a reputation of being the home of a Lonely Ghost.
One year, during Tết Holiday (the Vietnamese equivalent to Christmas and New Year), Rose got a call to come to the school and help with something. When she got there, she saw an old monk chanting by the swimming pool. He lived in a monastery perched in a mountain nearby, and was invited by the principal to bless the school for the lunar new year.
The monk felt two ghosts in the pool, a brother and sister of age 7 and 4, respectively. They were Lonely Ghosts, and they were a little bit mischievous. They didn’t want to drown the school’s students, just play a prank on them by pushing them in the water. The monk was trying to appease them with prayers.
After he left, the security guard came around and asked Rose why the monk was chanting near the pool. Rose told him about the children, and the security guard suddenly became very pale. He said that when he slept inside the school, he would often dream about them.
Dark Magic of the Mountain Tribes
“Vietnam is a multiethnic country with over fifty distinct groups (54 are recognized by the Vietnamese government), each with its own language, lifestyle, and cultural heritage”, Wikipedia tells us. A lot of these minorities live in the mountains as tribes and seclusive villages.
Elders from some of these people who live near the Cambodian border have the reputation to be able to grow a plant called CÂY NGOI.
These plants have a soul and can harm people that their masters order them to.
Prior to making a request, the masters – or gardeners – of these plants have to give the plants egg yoke for 100 days. After that, for 49 days they have to give some of their own blood to the plant during a ceremony, to give the plant energy.
Apparently, a lot of entertainers come to the masters of these plants for their help. They ask for bad luck on their rivals or to harm their career, using the plants’ magic. There are many reported incidents in tabloids and it can cause public outrage. Imagine Drake and Meek Mill visiting the countryside in secret, looking for a specific gardener in order to get back at their nemesis.
There’s a movie based on a true story called Scandal, and you can watch it on youtube HERE!
Rose tells me the true masters of this dark art are from Thailand.
General Trấn Hưng Đạo
General Trấn Hưng Đạo was pretty intense, and you can read this great article about him here, presented by Badass of the week.
I won’t talk about his many war deeds (like pushing back Mongol hoards) since Badass of the Week did a great job covering it, but I’ll let you know that due to his epicness, General Trấn Hưng Đạo achieved the status of living god. There are many statues of him and streets named after him. He is said to be the watcher of temples, so if you do something disrespectful while visiting a pagoda and he catches you, bad luck will come to your family.
Don’t fuck with General Trấn Hưng Đạo, in this life or the next.
TORAJA: THE INDONESIA’S WALKING DEAD
Yup, I saved the best for last. Apparently, in Indonesia, some people have the power to chant to the recently dead. These corpses will then proceed to get up and start walking instinctively towards their home. You can also Google “Toraja” and check out the info on there, and choose to believe it or not (I choose to believe).
Here’s a quick youtube video explaining the very basics of this phenomenon.
Reading a little bit more on the subject, it seems that mostly, the ritual is to “clean” the corpses and give them a change of clothes every year or two.
Some believe that a few people can make the corpses walk nonetheless.
Have a horrid Halloween everyone!