Ghosts in a Cute Shell


by Vincent Tan

If you fly to Thailand these days, you might be sitting next to a very quiet “fellow traveller”, quite unlike any you’ve seen before: a Look Thep doll. Believe it or not, a new rule by Thai Smile Airways allows the dolls to occupy airline seats just like real children (as long as they have a ticket).

Look Thep dolls soared to popularity in Thailand since their endorsement by popular celebrities for being bringers of luck. Believed to contain the soul of a child invited in by incantation, they are said to reward their owner with blessings of wealth, health and luck if treated like real toddlers.

Accordingly, if you see doll enthusiasts feeding the dolls, or buying them clothes, and taking them out in public, don’t be surprised. The buffet restaurant Neta Grill, for example, received so many requests for Look Thep dolls to dine with their owners that they decided to serve them food at a children’s price.

Their right to an airline seat is just the latest development in response to the popular wave, though the airlines sensibly still categorise the plastic infants as luggage and do not serve them in-flight refreshments.

Their admittance onto planes has predictably led to some security concerns, such as: will smugglers use the adorable cherubs as drug mules? As it turns out, these fears are well grounded. In January, a doll was spotted in the carpark of Chiang Mai Airport stuffed with 200 tablets of methamphetamine. Certainly after the underwear bomber and shoe bomber, nobody wants to see terrorists get creative with a manikin mine.

There are some concerns that the dolls and their creepy rituals are derived from the kuman thong, a kind of occult practice where human foetuses are used to make good luck charms. The creator of the dolls, Mama Ning, denies this, saying she fills her dolls with seeds and worships the Hindu fertility goddess Parvati.

Though the trend is dying down, these dolls surely add to the sights on the streets of Thailand, and make for moderately creepy company on a long haul flight. (Nothing makes a boring journey memorable like a petite hand on your arm and a pitched voice calling, “Mama…mama…”)