BANGKOK — In superstitious Thailand, many think ghosts are wandering tsunami-hit beaches, spooking taxi drivers, making the Andaman Sea hungry for more victims and jinxing the recovery for devastated resorts.
Fish sellers and seafood restaurants are experiencing a severe downturn in business along the west coast because many Thais fear that sea creatures are eating human corpses washed out to sea.
“Foreign tourists will come back to Khao Lak, but many Thais and Chinese will not want to go there because so many people died, and so many ghosts are there,” said Somchai, a cabdriver, as he drove along Phuket’s sleek, undamaged highways.
“Thai and Chinese investors, maybe they will not want to buy property or help rebuild those resorts, because those places are bad luck,” he said.
Most of Thailand’s estimated 5,300 dead perished at Khao Lak, and many still have not been identified.
About half of the total deaths were thought to be foreign tourists staying at the swank resorts in Phang Nga province, just north of Phuket island.
The others were Thais who lived and worked along the stretch of tropical beach.
Thais and foreigners, however, are promoting ghost stories by retelling rumors and hearsay.
“Did you hear the one about the taxi driver who picked up passengers who turned out to be ghosts?” That question — spread through conversations, e-mail and the Thai media — has become an urban legend in Thailand.
Most versions of the tale describe an unidentified Thai cabdriver who picks up a “foreign tourist” and his Thai girlfriend for a taxi ride to Phuket’s airport or elsewhere.
When the taxi arrives at the destination, the driver turns around and freaks out upon seeing an empty back seat.
A Thai volunteer unloading corpses recovered from the tsunami became rattled when he placed dry ice on a dead baby to keep the cadaver cool in the tropical heat, and the tiny body suddenly made a moaning sound.
“I’m sorry!” the volunteer exclaimed, nervously asking the dead baby for forgiveness.
“We finally calmed him down and explained that it was common for gases, when exiting corpses, to strike the vocal cords,” wrote a Belgian doctor, Yves Wana, in a published description of his work at the morgue in Wat Yarn Yao, a Buddhist temple in Phang Nga province.
Throughout Thailand, most perceived hauntings and poltergeist events are thought to be caused by people who had “violent deaths,” which poses a big problem for superstitious Thais pondering the horror and brutality of the tsunami.