The Fascinating Thai Spirit Houses

Bangkok is a feast for the eyes, from its gleaming, modern skyscrapers to its colorful street vendors. But nothing charms and intrigues me more than the mysterious Thai Spirit Houses that grace every property – both residential and commercial. These little houses are delightful miniature replicas of a Thai-style house or temple mounted on a pillar.


According to traditional Thai belief, the Spirit House provides a home for the roaming resident spirits of the compound. These spirits are believed to wield considerable power, and can play a major role in the fortune and destiny of the inhabitants of the compound. If the spirits are offended by disrespect, neglect, or inappropriate acts, then bad luck and misfortune will befall the owner and residents of the house.

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To appease and pacify the spirits, a daily offering of incense sticks, fresh flowers, and food is presented. The shrines often include images of people and animals.


The location of the Spirit House is of primary importance. It must be placed in an auspicious spot. Thais believe that a badly positioned Spirit House can bring misfortune to the residents. Great care is taken to insure that it’s never placed in a location where it’s in the shadow of the main building, so the Spirit House is often found in the northeastern corner of the property.


The votive offerings are so interesting, particularly the modern-day treats. My favorites so far are Ferrero Rocher chocolates and a five-pack of cigars. These spirits are livin’ large!


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We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

22 thoughts

  1. It is quite peculiar to see these spirit houses dotted around with “modern” offerings! Tomorrow I am off to Bangkok from Phuket. Looking forward to exploring the city!

    1. Hi Ros, So glad you stopped by. Bangkok is a city of contrasts that I love. And the Spirit Houses and their offerings just add to the wonderful mix. Hope you have fun! All the best, Terri

  2. Hi James this is a 4 faced Buddha. And there’s a huge and famous one at one of the junctions in Bangkok that you can go pray to and it’s so accurate that people go back to thank the Buddha every year. My uncle told me that. 🙂

  3. Such a primitive concept, but they are so beautiful in the detail! I love the zebra. 🙂
    Just going to have breakfast. Half a grapefruit for me, half for the spirit. Think I’m getting the hang of this.

    1. Thanks Cathy! We’ve seen spirit house in several countries, but the ones in Thailand definitely put on a great show! Hey, only a few more weeks and you’re on your way. Woohoo! 🙂 ~Terri

  4. Very important to keep the local spirits happy, Terri. I’d find food offerings near huge cottonwood trees in Liberia to accommodate the tree’s spirit. And whenever anyone died, a full night of drinking rum was required to make sure the spirit of the dead person was sent off properly. Otherwise, he would hang around and do really bad things. –Curt

    1. How interesting Curt. In Sri Lanka we saw similar reverence for the Bodhi Tree in a Buddhist Temple. Was the rum drinking meant to appease the dead person or protect the mourners? ~Terri

      1. I suspect a little of both, Terri. The spirits were particularly powerful right after the person died. The young man who worked for us would always borrow a flashlight and a knife for protection when he was walking home at night and someone had died. –Curt

  5. These Spirit Houses are so intricate in their detail. They remind me of the shrines to the folk saints we often saw in Latin America. It makes me think we are not all that different from one culture to another.
    I look forward to more of your Saturdays in Bangkok series in anticipation of seeing these sights firsthand one day. – Mike

    1. Thanks Mike. Isn’t is amazing how similar themes are repeated around the world with each culture’s personal twist. I would love to know more about the Latin American shrines you mentioned. Have you written about them? ~Terri

      1. I never thought about writing about the roadside shrines or folk saints because it struck me at the time as a religious custom which is not my area of expertise. However, I think it would make an interesting story. Thanks for the idea, Terri.

  6. Very interesting, thanks for sharing Terry! So one question…what happens to the chocolates and cigars the next day? Is it customary to throw them away afterwards?

    1. You’re welcome Lindsey. We wondered the same thing, so we paid attention to the Spirit Houses we passed every day. Each morning they were cleaned and new offerings were in place. We posed the question to our Thai friends who explained that it is assumed that the Spirits have enjoyed the past day’s offerings and are ready for new ones. I’m not sure how the old offerings were “disposed of.” 🙂 ~Terri

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