KUALA LUMPUR: Today is Halloween, a festival that has long abandoned its pagan roots to become yet another commercialised season of excessive sugar consumption.
As it happens, Malaysians truly love a good ghost story and are happy to tell tales about places where the living ought not to be.
Without further ado, here are just a few spots in Southeast Asia that often send shivers down the spines of superstitious locals:
1. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Cambodia)
Tales of haunted schools are quite common here in Malaysia, but this former Cambodian high school has a far darker history.
During the tyrannical rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, this school was turned into a prison camp for supposed enemies of the state.
Renamed Security Prison 21 (S-21), about 20,000 prisoners passed through its halls, with only seven making it out alive.
As they ousted the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, battle-hardened Vietnamese soldiers reported ghastly sights of bloodstained walls and well-worn torture instruments.
With the horrifying suffering that took place here, the museum that stands in its place today reports hauntings regularly. Cleansing rituals are held twice a year to appease any lingering tortured souls.
2. Thuan Kieu Plaza (Vietnam)
This building complex in District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City is considered to be iconic, but for all the wrong, supernatural reasons.
First erected in 1994, the plaza was supposed to be an early sign of the city’s growing modernity, with high commercial expectations placed on it.
There are tales about fatal accidents during construction and bad luck was said to plague the few businesses that dared to operate there.
The more superstitious claim the complex’s design invokes bad feng shui, with the three towers resembling three incense sticks, a draw for ghosts.
The building remains standing to this day, with a fresh coat of green paint; a high number of altars can still be found throughout the plaza.
3. Ayutthaya Historical Park (Thailand)
Located about an hour’s drive away from Bangkok, the ruins of the former royal capital of Ayutthaya are a tourist magnet today.
Founded in 1351, the city was a magnificent sight during its heyday, with temples and palaces, and was one of the largest cities in the 18th century.
However, that same century would see the city doomed during the Burmese-Siamese War which saw the Burmese army sacking and razing the city.
Since then, the odd spectre has been sighted wandering the grounds of the ruined city, with one report coming from a prince!
Prince Birabongse Bhanudej reported seeing the headless ghost of Pu Som Fao Sap, a guardian spirit believed to safeguard national treasures.
4. Pulau Tekong (Singapore)
The seriousness with which Singapore regards its national service is quite well-known even in Malaysia. And of course, there’s a spooky tale to be told about one of its camps.
There is a famous urban legend associated with the Pulau Tekong camp, which is said to be one of the most haunted spots in the island republic.
According to the legend, during one routine morning march, one of the recruits went missing and was later found disembowelled.
There are also other tales about strange noises being heard in the forest by recruits on guard duty, with distant voices calling out from the trees.
Even the dormitories are not safe from spirits, with quite a few tales being spun about ghostly children watching people as they sleep.
5. Lawang Sewu (Indonesia)
Meaning “thousand doors” in the local Semarang dialect, this historical building is both a tourist attraction and supernatural hotspot.
Built by the Dutch colonials, the building acted as a railway office before being occupied by the Japanese during World War II.
It is said that several atrocities were perpetrated on the grounds during this time, with reports of women being violated and murdered here.
Hence, the dark tunnels and chambers beneath the building are often speculated to be the haunting grounds of restless spirits.
For that reason, the building has been the subject of many Indonesian horror movies, much to the irritation of local authorities.