Sakon Nakhon’s “zombie village” became a news story in 2004, after a scholarly paper was published by Ajarn Somchai Nillathi of Maha Sarakham University. Ajarn Somchai’s paper explored the myth of the “Phi Pob Village” (หมู่บ้านผีปอบ), which translates closer to “ghoul village” rather than “zombie village”. The Sakon Nakhon village of Ban Na Sao Nan (บ้านนาสาวนาน) in Phanna Nikhom was discussed in the paper.
Ban Na Sao Nan’s infamous reputation for attracting ghouls began in the 1920s, when Tongkam Chaitaman moved his family to the village after he was accused of being a phi pob, also spelled phi pop (ghoul). News soon spread of Tongkam Chaitaman and his relocation to Ban Na Sao Nan, and eventually other people who had been accused of being ghouls sought refuge in Ban Na Sao Nan. Note that long ago to accuse someone of being a ghoul was a tactic sometimes used by powerful people to ostracize a troublemaker from a village.
The Isaan people of Northeast Thailand believe in different types of ghouls (as well as both good and bad Thai ghosts). Ghouls can possess both people and some animals, such as monkeys and pigs. Legend has it, that a person possessed by a ghoul (phi pob) can actually be eaten from the inside out, the ghoul eating the liver, kidneys, and intestines of the accused. This is what in part causes the person’s insanity or sudden death, and fuels their sometimes violent or unusual behavior.
Ghouls are said to only haunt those who have a sensitive mind and weak body. When ghouls are thought to have appeared in a village (often after two or more people have inexplicably died soon after the other) a dharma healer or monk must lead a Siang Khong (เซียงข้อง) ritual, which involves the beating of rice stalks in the field to drive out and catch the ghouls in jars, which are then set on fire.
However, in the case of Ban Na Sao Nan, the ghouls were eventually gotten rid of by the building of a sacred well, which curiously is identified on Google Maps as the “Ban Na Sao Nan Community Primary Health Care Center” (ศูนย์สาธารณสุขมูลฐานชุมชนบ้านนาสาวนาน). This holy well is said to have caused all of the ghouls to disappear after each citizen drank from the blessed well water, which has healing properties. Ban Na Sao Nan is thus known today not as a “village of ghouls” but a “village that heals ghouls.”
If you visit this Thai holy well, you will see a small pavilion next to the well, which is filled with figurines of the Buddha, incense sticks, and flowers. There is also a temple nearby named Wat Chai Mongkhon.And just 5 minutes from the village is the must-see temple of Wat Chang Saeng Arun, which has a large, extraordinary collection of Hindu and Buddhist statues.
We would say that Ban Na Sao Nan is indeed no longer a “zombie village,” as we felt no negative energy during our visit, but instead had a rather remarkable opposite experience. When stopping on the roadside to take a picture, a puppy suddenly emerged from nowhere and ran toward us. It jumped up, cried, and licked us like we were its long lost owner. We had to stop and play with the pup for a while before it agreed to allow us to leave. Then he promptly disappeared.