The Thais take their ghosts pretty seriously. Foreigners, who are more likely than Thais to regard ghosts with a grain of salt, sometimes make jokes or do ghost-impressions, only to feel like idiots when the Thai with whom they're joking shows every sign of actually being afraid.
Generally, village people are less likely to question the reality of the undead, and Thailand offers up a vast spectrum of phantasms for them to worry about. In the more worldly cities, though, some sophisticates scoff at (or pretend to scoff at) ghosts. There are even the occasional Halloween parties, especially in the tourist zones. This year's party on Khao Sarn Road, the backpacker's ghetto, is nine days long. I may be wrong, but I think the Thais enter into the celebration in a much more complicated frame of mind than the farang do.
Many Thai ghost stories have at their center the bond between mothers and children. Mothers who died in childbirth, returning to protect the infants they inadvertently abandoned; dead children returning to seek the mother from whom they were separated. Both themes occur frequently in Thai movies, an astonishing percentage of which are screamers about ghosts. Around the corner from my apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is a theater which is given exclusively to Thai ghost movies, and there's a new double-header all the time -- complete with enormous, horrifyingly bloody, hand-painted posters.
The otherworldly nature of the mother-child link is at the center of a real-life ghost drama that's playing itself out right now. In early October, newspapers reported the story of a mother who went to Bangkok to visit her married daughter but was told by her son-in-law that the woman had run away weeks ago. Several weeks later the daughter appeared in a dream and told her mother that she'd been murdered and buried beneath a mango tree behind the house. About fifty people from the neighborhood dug up the site, finding nothing. But the daughter returned again to say they hadn't dug deeply enough. Sure enough, they found the skeletal remains of a woman, the back of her head broken in. The husband is a person of interest, but for now the authorities are waiting for DNA results.
One more (although this has been a very big year for ghosts): a young man recently left a Bangkok party on his motor scooter to get some more food and drink. He was hit by a car and killed on his way to the store. The kids at the party all remembered seeing him afterward -- and he even showed up in a video taken there after his death. I've seen a clip of the video, and it's pretty spooky; there's a kid sitting cross-legged in a group in a brightly-lighted living room, and behind him is a door to a darker room. Visible directly over his shoulder is a pale, reddish face, as if someone were sitting in the other room, looking on but not joining in.
So if you go trick-and-treating in Thailand, make sure to look over your shoulder from time to time.