When unexplained deaths of seemingly healthy and young men occur around the same time and same place there are many Thai people who believe it is the Widow Ghost who is after their men, and they have their own way of holding the seemingly paranormal death at bay. 

In some parts of rural Thailand, especially in the northeastern parts, men are afraid of falling asleep in fear of dying because a ghost sought them out as a mate. There are sometimes waves of panic where a fear of the widow ghost trying to take them during the night, are keeping them awake. 

But whether it is a paranormal explanation or a scientific one still has the local villagers and medical personnel divided. 

Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome or Lai-Tai

From time to time, there will be cases where more than one man in a geographic area will die during the same time, perhaps under mysterious circumstances at first glance. Like in the 1990s there were many unexplained deaths of a group of Thai workers in their sleep in the northeastern parts of Thailand. It was referred to as ‘Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome’ by Thai doctors. 


This particular syndrome (SUNDS), is a disorder found in southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Japan, Philippines and Cambodia, which causes sudden cardiac death, mostly during sleep. In Thailand it also goes under the name lai-tai Lai (dreaming, screaming) Tai (death). It is however not the name of the Widow Ghost as it is cited as in many articles. But what is this ghost?

The Widow Ghost 

The unexplained deaths got a more paranormal explanation to it and the legend of the vengeful spirit or the widow ghost fitted the narrative. She is an evil spirit that hunts men at night and steals the men from their bed. 

Protection from the Widow Ghost: A scarecrow dressed in red with an erect penis was considered the remedy when the fear of her reached Nakhon Phanom in 2018 // Photo: AsiaWire/thairath

The story about the widow ghost is not a particularly new one, but it definitely is one of the more persistent ones. Around the same time as this was happening in northeastern parts of Thailand, more of the same mysterious deaths occurred among Thai workers both in Malaysia and Singapore. What was this thing that took the lives of so many of their men? Over the years before there was anyone trying to explain this in a scientific way, they had figured out ways to protect themselves from the sudden deaths.  

To protect themselves from this, the men themselves as well as their mothers or wives took measures according to superstition to defend themselves and their men. Some put on lipstick or nail polish, or even dress up in womens clothing before going to bed. By doing this, they hoped to fool the widow ghost into thinking they were in fact women and would leave them alone. 

There was also a very traditional Thai way of protecting their home where they hung phallic symbols around their necks, over the doors and at the village gates for protection. Many Thai people believe that phallic symbols bring good luck and good business. The bigger the penis, the better the business. There is also the habit of putting scarecrows with erect penises to distract or even hunt the Widow Ghost. 

This is the case in Thung Nang Oak, a rural village in Thailand where they have a very phallic symbol for their commune, more than 3 feet long and weighing 22 pounds. One of the reasons for putting that on display was because of the terrible nightmares to the local men that was an indication that the Widow ghost was on her way. 

Deadly Health and Diets

However, even with this protection, there would still be death, and a man died in his sleep, even though he wore red nail polish. The Thai public Health Ministry concluded the deaths were not caused by a spirit, but a bad diet of carbohydrate and sugar worsened by both physical and mental strain. This was after the Thai health authorities investigated over 700 of these mysterious deaths from Thai  workers in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei since 1983 to the 90s, and many more back in Thailand. 


This seems extreme, but the fact is that at least back in the day, the Thai workers from the northeastern provinces lived on just white rice with a sweet syrup, overproducing insulin and lacking both potassium and vitamin B-1. 

Since then, the Public Health Ministry launched campaigns where they tried to advocate for the value of a more balanced diet with more nutrients to stop the panic. But did it work?

Fighting Ghosts with Phallic Symbols

Seems like this is not a problem that only existed, ‘back in the day’. In 2018, there was another wave of panic after five young men died in a few weeks. This was also in northeast Thailand in the remote Nakhon Phanom province. In a small village of 90 people, they resorted to old ways when five of their healthy and young men died suddenly in their sleep. 

They were otherwise seemingly healthy and went to bed after taking a bath as per usual. They were all found dead by their families the next morning. 

There are no man here: Red shirts are hung up in the fences, trees and doors. They are all trying to tell the widow ghost that there are no men in the house and urging her to pass on over to the next. //Photo: Sanook

The legend of the Widow Ghost came back and so did the old remedies to fight her and protect the men. Huge scarecrows with an impressive 80 cm erect penises were placed on the gates. They hung signs saying ‘There is no man here’ ( “บ้านนี้ไม่มีผู้ชาย”)  to confuse the ghost. Often they also hang out red t-shirts as it is a color for women and alludes to the fact that there are only women at home, in the hope the ghost will ignore the house and move on to the next. The men were dressed in dresses and painted with makeup to protect them from being stolen by the ghost in their sleep. 

As not a single man died the following week since the scarecrows were put up and the nails painted, they thought that it must have worked. 

However, in neighbouringing villages and other cities there were similar cases and panic about the widow ghost. Most of these deaths most likely didn’t have an official autopsy, as it often is. But authorities claim that there is a more logical explanation to it all. In many cases where they have done autopsies, there is the case of malnutrition as well as heart diseases, respiratory failure and other illnesses or accidents. 


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