In 2005, three months after the deadly tsunami that killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, I was sent to Thailand to cover its relief and recovery efforts.
A huge chunk of our time was spent exploring what Phuket and Krabi had to offer tourists in the post-tsunami world, so it was understandable that Klang, our tour guide, didn’t want to talk about ghosts. “Anywhere in the world there are ghosts,” she gently chided me.
I had stupidly Googled ghosts in Thailand and read about phantom tuktuk passengers and floating bodies on the beach, scaring myself silly even before leaving Manila.
But I had no supernatural experiences on the trip, leading me to write in one of my articles, “I did not find ghosts of tsunami victims in Krabi and Phuket. During my four-day roller coaster ride in Thailand, I found strength, beauty and resilient hope.”
The night before that article was set to come out in Inquirer, I sat in a cinema with my friends, waiting for the Robin Williams film “The Final Cut” to start. I decided to scroll through the photos in my phone and stopped at one that I had taken in Krabi just before I slept. My hair looked extra messy so I zoomed in.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. There was a face on my hair—a woman’s face. Her mouth was open and her teeth were bared.
Refusing to believe what I was seeing, I showed the picture to my friends without saying anything. “Oh my god,” they said. They could all see the face, too. “It looks like it’s in pain,” my friend Jason said.
The photo freaked me out for a few days until I eventually deleted it. I was just glad that I didn’t feel the ghostly presence while I was in my hotel room.
But not all ghosts are as considerate as the one in Krabi.
A year later, I was in Japan on another work trip. There were two beds in my hotel room. I am not a fan of hotel rooms with two beds.
An empty bed seems like an invitation to unwanted elements, so I always cover the spare bed with my things. I’ve done that since 2001, after a travel agent in India told me a scary story while we were having breakfast.
She said that, on another trip, there was a travel agent who was sleeping in a room with two beds. His roommate kept moving and the noise kept waking him up.
“Pare, magpatulog ka naman,” he said, trying to fall asleep again. But the noise coming from the other bed wouldn’t stop. He sat up, ready to admonish the other guy for being so inconsiderate.
But what he saw stopped him. The guy on the other bed was doing sit-ups at supernatural speed. Then he realized that he didn’t have a roommate—and that whatever was on the other bed wasn’t human. He ran out of the room and refused to come back.
That story is why second hotel beds have become a dumping ground for my luggage, my backpack, even my discarded clothes. But sometimes, even a completely covered bed couldn’t deter supernatural annoyances.
On my first night in Tokyo, I had to switch beds before I could fall asleep. The second night was even more difficult. Strange noises kept waking me up. Every time I’d start to drift off, I’d hear a thumping sound. More annoyed than scared, I finally fell asleep at five in the morning.
I was so grateful when my friend Lai, one of the journalists I was traveling with, decided to stay in my room on the third night. But despite her presence, the ghosts didn’t stop.
The entire time we were there, from the corner of my eye, I kept seeing black and white things passing by. Just before we left, we found out that there was a big hospital right beside our hotel.
I didn’t always have to travel far for creepy experiences. I was in Tagaytay with a big group of journalists for a tech seminar over a decade ago. We had all been assigned to different rooms—mine was a suite with a living room and a dining table.
The scares started just minutes after we arrived.
We had been given time to freshen up before the sessions began. I placed my bag on a chair in the bedroom before I headed to the bathroom. When I stepped out of the bathroom, the book that had been at the bottom of my big bag inside the bedroom was on the dining room table.
Eyes glowing red
Our session lasted all day and I dreaded going back to my room. There was just something really creepy about it. I was so relieved when the other journalists invited us back to the cabin they were sharing to hang out after dinner. And when they said we could sleep over, I jumped at the chance, happy that I wouldn’t spend the night in that creepy place alone.
But the spirits followed us to the cabin. One of the journalists with us was a spirit questor and he confirmed their presence. My memories of that night have gotten hazy but I remember someone pulling the curtains shut, the lights flickering and the sinking feeling of knowing that something was there with us.
I remember us huddling in a group in front of the fireplace, waiting for the sun to rise and freaking out because we saw one of the wooden ducks on the fireplace mantel move. I remember one of the journalists asking, “Why are its eyes glowing red?”
The next morning, when we told the other journalists what happened, they laughed at us, refusing to believe. But I know it really happened because one of the spirits followed me all the way back to Manila.
I first realized it was still with me when I started telling my mother what happened in Tagaytay. I began to get chills, like I shouldn’t have been telling her the story. I got the same chills that night while I was talking to a friend. The phone line got cut, disrupting our conversation.
There was a sudden brownout, my flashlight, which had fresh batteries, refused to work. And my grandma, who was normally a light sleeper, stayed sound asleep even as I tried to wake her.
The next day, I kept seeing a shadow pass by the bathroom door as I showered. I poked my head out and asked our cook if my grandma’s brother had just walked by. But he hadn’t—he was at his favorite place, reading the newspaper by the window on the opposite end of the house.
I told my best friend Jason what was happening but he was understandably skeptical. Then, one night, as we were dropping him off in his house, he said he was going to be alone that night. I joked, pretending to talk to the spirit, “O samahan mo muna siya.”
It was an obedient spirit. Jason first heard the sound of someone throwing pebbles on the ground as he walked to the door. But the sound didn’t stop even after he stepped inside. He said it sounded like someone was throwing pebbles against the walls inside the house. Shaking with fright, he called my mother and they prayed on the phone.
Days after that trip to Tagaytay, I’d had enough. “It’s not funny anymore,” I said. “You need to leave now.” And the presence, which I was sure was male, soon disappeared.
A few years ago, as I was about to enter an empty villa in Clark, Pampanga, I saw a kid run into the room before disappearing into thin air. The driver, who was about to park in the garage, saw the same kid run in front of the van.
That same year, while covering events in Cagayan de Oro, we had been given an afternoon off. One of the photographers with us had relatives who owned a house there with a pool and they invited us over for a swim. Everyone who used the bathroom there said they all felt someone watching them. And the spirit, this time female, got into the car with us as we sped back to the hotel.
Deadlines, all-nighters, crazy people—I was ready to face them. But ghosts? They were a work hazard I was not prepared for.