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13 Asian Urban Legends to Share Around the Campfire

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at OSU chapter.

If you’re ever watched an episode of BuzzFeed Unsolved: Supernatural or its spin-off Ghost Files, you’ve doubtlessly heard of the countless urban legends present in various cultures. By now, we all know the stories of Bloody Mary and The Watcher – certainly spooky, but somewhat repetitive after several rounds of ghost story retellings. For a little something new this Halloween season, read up on 13 of my favorite classic international tales!

1. Banaspati

In this Indonesian legend, a red-skinned and horned humanoid demon attacks villagers in the dead of night, destroying everything in its path with fire. Supposedly, strong negative emotions like anger and fear spur it on, putting victims at an even greater disadvantage. The only way to defeat a banaspati is to seek shelter in a religious temple and pray for the protection of the deities. 

2. Bukit Merah (“Redhill”)

A Singaporean classic, Redhill warns against envy and pride. It begins with a village under attack by a deadly swordfish, threatening the local fishing economy as it scares off all the fishermen. Rather than risk the lives of village men at the command of the sultan, a bright boy suggests constructing a wall of banana tree trunks to protect the people and capture the swordfish – a plan that works brilliantly. Unwilling to set aside his pride, the sultan fears a child, whose cleverness and newfound popularity with the people far outmatches his own, will undermine his position and reputation. Thus, he orders his men to secretly murder the boy in his home on a hill. 

At this point, the story diverges into two different endings. The first one claims that the men brutally murder the boy, after which his blood flows down the hill, permanently staining it red; the next morning, the entire village knows of the sultan’s cruelty. The second ending is a happier one, claiming that an old witch protects the boy from certain death, casting a spell that causes magical blood to run down the hills and scaring the men away. From that day on, the hill remains red. 

3. Ghost Taxi

Japanese urban legends are perhaps some of the most famous around the world, and this one does not disappoint. Ghost taxi passenger sightings come in waves, peaking after major fatal incidents. Per the reports, passengers arrive on the taxi in a poor, sickly state, only to disappear just before reaching their destination. They occasionally leave behind proof of their presence in the form of personal belongings or payment for the ride. Taking on a tragic tone, the ghosts in this legend are not malicious; rather, they are wandering souls who are either unaware of their ghostly state or reluctant to leave their loved ones behind in the mortal world. 

4. Hantu Bungkus

Also known as the pocong, this Malaysian ghost simply wishes to pass on to the afterlife. Per tradition, embalmers wrap the deceased in a white fabric shroud in preparation for burial, concealing the entire body and binding the legs. Thus, the individual’s soul is stuck in the mortal world; after 40 days, they will rise from their grave and hop (as they cannot walk with their legs bound) towards anyone unfortunate enough to be around. The only way to combat a hantu bungkus is to unbind it and release its soul. 

5. The Little Girl in Red

This Taiwanese urban legend spotlights the power of media wherein a video recording became the subject of national sensationalism. In 1989, a family filmed their vacation in the woods – a seemingly normal occasion. After reviewing the footage, however, their story turned supernatural: in the background, a little girl in a red dress stands behind the family, blood dripping from her empty eye sockets. One of the family members on the trip also appears to have unnatural body characteristics, including long fangs for teeth, that were not present in real life; he passed away only weeks later. 

The video stirred widespread attention among the public, resulting in reported sightings of the girl followed by poor health and fatal accidents. In fact, the video editor himself claimed to experience illusions of the girl in his work office and home room. 

6. Meat Eater

This Vietnamese horror story takes place hundreds of years in the past. A villager couple preserves meat in their home storage unit throughout the seasons – a necessity when the delicacy is so hard to come by and keep fresh. They soon notice that chunks of meat are consistently disappearing from the unit, so they keep watch overnight to catch the culprit. Shockingly, they discover the elderly woman living with their next door neighbor gnawing on the raw meat; upon noticing the pair, she bares her fangs and flees by launching herself over their fence, a show of superhuman agility given her age. The couple confronts their neighbors the next day only to have the door shut in their face. With no means of taking further action, they go about their normal lives once again. 

Weeks later, though, they run out of their supply of meat. After a long day of work, they come home to find the woman devouring their infant child. Immediately alerting the public, the villagers chase down the woman and burn down her home in an attempt to kill her. Just before vanishing within the flames, she reveals her demonic form and lets out a cackle. The next day, the only trace of her and the neighbors’ existence is a tiny skull left where the house once stood. 

7. Nale Ba Ghost

A popular folk tale, this Indian urban legend tells of a witch who wanders around town, attempting to enter villagers’ homes to murder the residents and abduct their children. To deceive unsuspecting victims into opening their doors, she sometimes adopts the voices of their loved ones. In fact, responding to her calls in any way could cause the victim to vomit blood until they fall dead. Villagers have found only one way to deter her: write “nale ba” (roughly “come back tomorrow” in English) on any entrances to their home, prompting her to leave and return the following day. 

8. Phi Am

In this Thai urban legend, a sleep paralysis demon sits on people and watches them sleep throughout the night, causing extreme discomfort and even death in extreme cases. Supposedly, the phi am only targets men, so they have resorted to putting on lipstick to trick the creature into thinking they are women. 

9. Phi Kong Koi

This Lao entity is small, though horrifically hideous and dangerous. It darts around with a single leg and eye, one foot facing backward to throw hunters off its trail. Scouting out potential victims in the dead of night, it repeatedly cries out about its hunger as it chases them down. If they survive until dawn, the haunting echoes of the mantra “koi koi koi” will be forever ingrained in their minds. 

10. Promat Promong

Deviating from the other entities on this list, Cambodian tales of horror classify the promat promong as a human rather than a demonic creature. He stalks villages at night, abducting and murdering children to harvest their organs – most prominently the gallbladder. Parents often share the story to warn their children against sneaking out at night. 

11. Single Braid Road

Taking place near the Chinese University of Hong Kong, this tragic tale centers on a young couple in love. Due to the girl’s illegal immigrant status, they had to tread carefully for fear of deportation. Thus, when a police officer trailed down their row during a train ride to check passengers’ passports, she leapt from the moving vehicle. Her braided hair became ensnared in the machines, ripping her face clean off. 

Her lover moved on quickly, leaving her spirit to wander for eternity. In the present day, male students report sightings of a crying girl on the school grounds late at night. She disappears almost as soon as they approach her, revealing her blank face just long enough for them to see. 

12. Tiyanak

According to this Filipino urban legend, the tiyanak is a vampiric creature residing in the jungle that takes on the form of a crying infant. Nearby travelers are likely to approach it, unwilling to leave behind a suffering innocent. As soon as they pick it up, however, it morphs into its true demonic form, murdering the traveler and abducting their children. 

Traditional beliefs maintain that tiyanaks are spirits of children whose mothers passed away before giving birth, while postcolonial beliefs adhere to the idea that they are the souls of aborted or unbaptized children. Either way, the creature preys on victims in the mortal world as they are unable to pass on to the afterlife without a name. Several methods of combating it exist, including wearing one’s clothes inside out to amuse them or creating loud noises to drive them away. Naming it and sending it off to the afterlife with a white candle can also be an effective measure, ensuring that it will never again be able to inflict harm. 

13. “V” Picture

In this South Korean horror story, a man drove by the scene of a fatal car accident, instantly noticing the photograph of a girl holding up a peace sign fixed on the dashboard. Enchanted, he decided to keep it on his own dashboard, only to end up in a car accident that took his life just days later. Like clockwork, another man drove by the scene and noticed the photograph, this time of the girl holding up three fingers. 

Have a frighteningly fun time spooking your friends (and maybe yourself) with these tales! 

Michelle Wang is an Ohio State pre-law student majoring in Criminology and History. Beyond academics, her interests include creative writing, Wushu, Korean- and Mandopop and all things history (with a particular fondness for Tudor England). She hopes to share her love for writing in all its mediums!