Bed bugs and bad plumbing are nothing compared to finding an uninvited guest hovering over your bed at night. We ask a few seasoned travellers to share their tale of encounters with things that go bump in the night.
Melissa Wong sank into her bed at a five-star hotel in Kensington, London. It was winter and darkness fell early. The 28-year-old air stewardess with a Middle Eastern airline was exhausted from a 12-hour flight. Sleep overcame her with ease.
Some time in the night, a gentle triing triing of the phone being dialled woke her up. It was the 1990s and the phones were still old-fashioned ones with round dials. Wong groggily picked up the handset. There was only a dial tone. She went back to sleep.
But there came the sound again. Wong opened her eyes sleepily. Panic seized her. For a dark figure was standing silently by the window. A crack of light through the curtains revealed that he was clutching a knife.
Wong leapt out of bed. She banged frantically at a colleague’s door and fell into the room hysterically. Both women made their way to the leading stewardess’ room, where the terrified pair stayed till dawn before heading downstairs.
“The duty manager just dismissed the incident,” recalls Wong.
“Later, a young receptionist told us that a man had committed suicide in the hotel years ago. I wasn’t harmed but that was the last thing you’d want to see in your room in the middle of the night!”
While hotels commonly deny the presence of paranormal patrons, spooky sightings and unexplainable encounters are rife among frequent travellers.
An entire airline crew at one of Tokyo Narita Airport’s hotels last year was kept awake by what they described as a banshee wailing over the air-conditioner ducts.
“It didn’t surprise us because our rooms were located in the vicinity of a room that had been left with its door opened and a red tape strung across it,” recalls one of the crew members.
Insurance agent Mary-Jo Thomas, 38, felt an eerie sensation upon stepping inside her room at a popular Taipei hotel.
“I can’t explain it, but I just felt a chill,” Mary recalls.
“We’d just come in from a long-haul flight and we were beat. The room was oddly angled. The small window partially faced a courtyard wall so little sunlight penetrated the room. It felt cold and musty. I was tired so I ignored my instincts. Plus my luggage had been sent up.”
Mary slept till 5pm and went out for dinner. She returned at 9pm and watched television. As she leaned back on her pillow against the headrest of the bed, she felt a presence doing likewise by her side. The pillow next to her was conspicuously sunken in.
Mary started breathing fast. But she refused to budge.
“I’d heard that restless spirits visit when we’re drained physically, emotionally or spiritually. Whatever it was, I refused to give in or they’d probably visit me more often! Plus, it didn’t feel sinister. I started swearing as I heard that spirits are turned off by bad language. After 20 minutes, I saw the pillow puffing up again as if the weight that was on it had been lifted.”
Paranormal activities sometimes manifest physically.
Fashion buyer Syarina Yusof, 25, took a nap before dinner after checking in at the same Taipei hotel. She woke up to find her cosmetics scattered all over the dressing table and floor. Perplexed, Syarina recalled a colleague who’d spoken of Taipei’s constant earthquake tremors, and assumed it must have happened while she was asleep.
After dinner, Syarina returned to her room and called it a day. But the stillness of the night was punctuated by a distinctive click of a lipstick tube opening in the dark.
She quickly flicked on the lights. Again, her make-up and skincare were scattered all over the dressing table when she’d earlier lined them up neatly for her morning routine. And she had not felt any tremor. The next morning, a fellow guest said he’d seen a little girl sitting alone in the lobby at midnight, which he’d found odd, as nobody else had seen her.
Syarina’s encounter wasn’t an isolated incident as frequent travellers have related numerous experiences in the same hotel, leading to rumours of the site being a former burial ground. With stories of haunted hotels so rife, it can be difficult to sift fact from fiction, reality from imagination, or urban legends from truth.
Former air stewardess Yvonne Lee, who related her hilarious experiences in her book The Sky Is Crazy! recalls: “I was watching television at an old hotel in Sydney when I heard the kettle gurgling. The mirror behind the mini-bar was fogging up with vapour. I started praying! Now I rationalise that perhaps the kettle was on auto-timer.”
But Lee could not explain the incident at the infamous Taipei hotel.
“The dimly lit rooms are creepy with lots of dark mahogany wood,” she recalls. “In the morning I was wakened by a colleague. She was concerned why my door had been left open. I remember locking it! But my experience wasn’t as bad as a colleague’s; she went to bed and woke up on the floor by the door at an Ipoh hotel. And no, she hadn’t been drinking!”
Lee laughs, adding: “All of us have heard so much about ghosts in hotels that we subconsciously anticipate an encounter at some point. Sometimes I think it could be jet lag, exhaustion, poor lighting or just bad hotel design that made us ‘see’ things.
“For example, I was at a Narita Airport hotel in Tokyo that had long stretches of dark corridors. I was walking alone to my room at an isolated annexed building in the middle of the night. A loud ‘crashing’ sound made me jump. When I calmed down, I realised it was just the ice-making machine!
“Another time, I woke up to a shrill sound in the night. I was terrified. Then I realised it was coming from the air-conditioning vent. The fan or some wires were loose inside.”
Laura Pennace, lead investigator for the New York Paranormal Society, explains in an e-mail interview, that over a century ago, wealthy families in the West commonly leave the cities where they lived and worked, to holiday at hotels for the summer.
“Many families would return to the same hotels year after year, and develop an attachment to the area. Some hotels are haunted because although departed guests do return to their own homes, some spirits linger where they were the happiest,” she says.
Tom Cooney from the Foundation for the Study of Paranormal Phenomena, adds that the existence of ghosts cannot be proven from a purely scientific point of view.
“In order to prove anything scientifically, it must be studied in a controlled setting and should be possible to be duplicated at will. This cannot happen since spirits will not allow themselves to be studied in a lab. Still, there are mountains of evidence that point to the probability of ghosts existing. There are simply too many examples to ignore. Ask anyone who has seen one,” he says on his website.
Sightings on our shores
Shanthini R. was on the graveyard shift at a luxury resort in Langkawi last November when she caught sight of a “white misty figure” floating past the reception.
“I was frozen to the spot and my blood ran cold. At that moment I knew what that phrase meant,” she recalls. “I knew what I saw. But I couldn’t reason what it was.
“Several colleagues have seen the same thing. Another time we got calls from the spa in the early morning although the building was locked up. When we picked up the phone, all we heard was a humming tone. But the truth is all hotels and resorts have ghostly beings. It’s common knowledge within the industry. After all, we never know what the land was or who inhabited it before it was developed. A resort spreads over acres of land and we know that spirits dwell in trees, rocks, streams, even on the land. Why should we expect them to leave just because a hotel was built?
“Guests are never informed whenever we call in a trusted bomoh to appease these patrons. They are dressed like anyone else, except that they are here to quietly conduct their rituals.”
Joyce Lee, another hotel employee, recalls an incident at another beach resort in Langkawi.
A teenager was taking a bath in the outdoor shower of her seaside villa while her parents were watching television in the living room. Suddenly the girl’s screams rang through the villa, sending her parents sprinting to the outdoor shower, which was a small, walled-in garden extending from the bathroom.
“She was still hysterical when security arrived, but managed to report what appeared to be a man standing by the wall staring at her while she was showering,” says Lee.
“We didn’t know how to assure her. The walls are 8ft (2.4m) high without ledges or niches. There was no way anyone could have climbed over it. But that means it was a different kind of visitor, which was worse! Security found no footprints on the sand around the wall or any sign of human disturbance. We upgraded the family to a bigger villa but the girl freaked out upon seeing the outdoor shower. So we put them in a standard room on the second floor of the main building.”
Thomas Lian, a seasoned air steward, recalls: “I was checking out at a hotel in Johor Baru one morning when another stewardess queued behind me. She was pale and uncharacteristically quiet. She related that she hadn’t slept all night. She was watching television when from the corner of her eye, she saw a vague white mist gliding from her bathroom into the closet.
“Moments later, her closet began rattling. She was too scared to go outside as it meant having to pass the closet.”
The story didn’t end there.
After the crew checked into their Penang hotel, the phone interrupted Lian’s sleep.
“It was the same colleague,” he says. “She was screaming, ‘come to my room, come now!’ My legs were trembling as I hurried to her room. When she opened the door, she was distraught and crying. All she kept repeating was, ‘she is here’.
“I didn’t dare to enter her room so I coaxed her out to the corridor. We ran to my room and I called our captain. He is a devout Muslim known for strictly adhering to his prayer times. He came immediately and started quietly reciting prayers. Then he looked up and calmly said: Dia dekat pintu (She/he is by the door).
“I went, Oh my God! This is terrible; there was no way I was going to sleep in my room now. Our captain arranged for my colleague to be sent home as she was quite shaken. I stayed at another colleague’s room. That incident six years ago changed my travel pattern. Previously I slept in total darkness. Now, I must have two lights and the television on.”
In the 1980s, at a Terengganu beach resort, Shaheen Burhanuddin, a retired sales trainer, recalls being awakened in the night by something biting her legs. She flung back the duvet. To her horror she found herself staring into a pair of gleaming bloodshot eyes belonging to a small “gremlin-like creature”.
“It was about five to six inches (12.7-15.2cm) tall. I kicked at it and it scurried off from my room, shrieking. My Malay colleagues explained that it was a toyol, a goblin-like creature that performed secretive tasks for its owner. The locals said they were common throughout the island.”
“I think I would prefer to have met a ghost.”
The names of the airline crew and sales personnel have been changed.
Nothing to fear
Augustine Towonsing, founder of Malaysian Ghost Research, explains why we should not be afraid of ghostly visitors.
Why do former guests or employees haunt hotels?
There are many reasons why ghosts haunt a place, and it need not be a hotel, as ghosts are everywhere. A ghost basically haunts a place due to some unfinished business.
Findings by Malaysian Ghost Research show that the main reasons ghosts anchor to a place are because they committed suicide there; are victims of violent or sudden death; are confused spirits; or are addicted to something in their previous life.
If a ghost haunts a place, it is simply due to a “silent death”, in that the spirit returns to figure out what had happened to him or her. The place then becomes haunted until the spirit reaches a personal realisation of his demise.
Why don’t these departed guests return to their own homes?
Departed guests have the free will to remain in a place or to leave. However, this only applies to those who have reached a state where they realise they are already dead. Spirits who are still in a confused state, in that they do not know whether they are dead or alive, would remain in a particular place until they attain realisation or accept the fact that they are dead. Only then can they choose to leave for the spirit world.
Are there signs or warnings for guests to know that a hotel is haunted?
Generally, there are no signs indicating a hotel is haunted. But there are signs where particular areas or rooms are haunted.
From my own experience and my family’s, the most basic sign a room has an unseen occupant would be the presence of some kind of smell; you feel uneasy or feel that you are being watched, you hear someone’s movements or see someone when nobody is inside the room. Sometimes, an extreme drop in temperature may occur.
What should we do when we realise our room is haunted, or when faced with a ghost in the night?
If you feel the room is haunted, you should ask to change rooms. If none is available, then you have to do something about it because once you realise that a room is haunted, you are already intruding someone’s “private home”.
Therefore, you need to apply a few basic rules. First, be open-minded that ghosts are “people”, too, in spirit form. Secondly, immediately greet the “home owner” and introduce yourself, state your purpose and explain how long you intend to stay.
Always show respect when communicating with ghosts. You can also ask the ghost(s) concerned to mark a particular spot in the room, so that you will know the exact place that they consider their “private and confidential” spot.
When you leave the place, always thank the “home owner”. You do not need to do this if there are no signs or warnings that the room is occupied by an unseen being. Never show disrespect, unless you are willing to go through an unpleasant welcome from the “home owner”.
Can a hotel evict its resident ghosts, whether through exorcism, threats or a lure?
No. Exorcism does not guarantee that the resident ghost will leave. Dr Dave Oester, founder of International Ghost Hunters Society, says that exorcism does not guarantee the removal of pesky ghosts, as most of the time, such actions would only anger them. The only way to remove pesky ghosts is to find the source of its haunting.
However, threats or lures may bring about positive outcomes, depending on how they are carried out. Malaysian Ghost Research realises that the only solution in dealing with ghosts is nothing other than promoting the Universal Love Concept. That is by showing respect and reverence not only towards the living but also towards the spirits of the dead that have chosen to remain within our domain for whatever reason.
Some sightings were of ghosts holding knives or looking very sinister. Will such ghosts harm a guest?
No. It is almost impossible for a ghost to harm the living. There is no scientific evidence that documents that ghosts can do that, except in Hollywood horror movies, where filmmakers suggest that ghosts in the form of demons have the ability to harm us.
However, our research suggests that the ghost/spirit/soul exists in the form of an electromagnetic field. But because the soul used to exist in a physical body, therefore they still prefer to have a “body”. Thus, even though the soul creates a “body” of energy that is similar to their earthly body, they are unable to harm the living.
Furthermore, seeing ghosts holding knives or looking sinister is only symbolic of their momentary psychological state. If we do encounter such a scene, it is actually an early sign or warning that we are unwelcome.
It becomes dangerous when a person who has no ability to control his own mind and fears, starts to think negatively about ghosts. Such a state can lead to a person becoming injured, not through any fault of the ghost. (Further reading about the psychology of the dead and how to deal with ghostly pranks can be accessed through the Malaysian Ghost Research’s article at www.malaysian-ghost-research.org/articles/the-psychology-of-the-dead-our-existence-fear-and-dealing-with-ghost-pranks.html).
From my own experience, ghosts have the ability to manifest themselves. But it is easier for them to send out signs and warnings to the living whenever we “intrude” into their territory. They do this by sending out negative energy which causes us to feel uneasy or threatened.
Can you share one or two experiences you’ve had with haunted hotels?
I’ve had two experiences and both times, the early signs were present – the room had an unpleasant smell lingering in the air.
On one occasion in a hill resort, my family stayed in two connecting rooms. One room smelled unpleasant, similar to the body odour of someone who is very ill. When the rest of my family was outside and I was alone in the room, I felt that someone was watching me.
When I was about to sit on the edge of an unoccupied bed, I landed on the floor as though something unseen had prevented me from sitting on the bed.
Another time in Langkawi, my wife complained that one of our two rooms had a strange smell. But I did not bother to check it out; we were on holiday! Late at night when my kids were asleep and I was working on my laptop, I heard my door being opened by someone in the adjoining room. Yet nobody came in. Soon, I sensed someone watching me.
The next morning, my sister told me that she saw a man who looked like me in the dim lighting in their room. The “man” laid down on the unoccupied twin bed next to where she and my daughter were sleeping.
Which hotels in Malaysia are known for being haunted?
For the sake of not tarnishing the good name of our hotels, I think it’s best not to highlight them because, after all, they cannot do anything about their paranormal patrons.
It is enough for the general public to be aware of the existence of paranormal patrons in hotels, rather than continue having distorted misconceptions about them.
My job is to shed some light on their existence, so that the living will understand them a little better, and know how to respond appropriately.
Is there a difference between ghosts in the West and the East?
No. Research has shown the same evidence regarding ghosts, including ghost orbs, ecto balls, apparitions, ectoplasm, human shadow, vortexes, ghost orbs in motion, as well as ghost voices in the form of electronic voice phenomenon (EVPs) that explains the existence of ghosts in the form of energy in a unique electromagnetic field. Ghosts exists in the form of a pure energy that retains its intelligence.
However, there are still differences in terms of the terminology when referring to ghosts, based on people’s cultural background and beliefs.
Do toyol and Hantu Raya still exist today?
Yes. But toyol cannot be considered ghosts because they have a physical form, while ghosts exist in multi-energy configurations based on the first law of thermodynamics that states: “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change form.” Thus science has already provided solid evidence that ghosts exist.
If a guest can’t change rooms, but demonstrates respect and reverence to the spirit in his room, will this encourage the spirit to “possess” his physical body, especially when he is exhausted?
If a guest shows respect and reverence towards the spirit of the dead, he or she is demonstrating unconditional love. In return, the spirit of the dead will also display the same respect and reverence towards us. In this regard, there is no reason why a spirit should possess someone physically, even if the person were to be exhausted.
However, a spirit can possess a person if he were to allow his body to be a host in a ceremony, such as being a medium or channel. This process is safely in the person’s control.
The most dangerous condition is when we are so heavily laden with uncontrolled emotional burden that we become psychologically ill. This condition will then become attractive for low level spirits from the astral planes to feed on the emotions.
In my experience in communicating with people who have experienced being possessed, I found that most of them were laden with uncontrolled emotional burden. So the only way to help people who are possessed is not through exorcism, rather, by finding the source that causes a person to be possessed by spirits in the first place.
Since ghosts are “people” in spirit form, if they had died in a horrific way (gunshot wound, suicide or stabbed), will they appear to us in their injured form, or what they were like before they died?
They might appear to us in a horrific, injured form, but it doesn’t mean that those spirits have any bad intentions towards the living.
Paranormal research has found that places that hosted tragic events such as a murder, a battlefield, a tragic accident or when someone’s life ended very suddenly, would cause confusion to the victim because he or she did not have enough time for any realisation of impending death.
So to see a ghost in a horrific way is just the confusion that the ghost is going through in the process of attaining personal realisation; it’s when the ghost returns to the place or even “replays” the scene of tragic events just to figure out what actually happened to them prior to their death.
Unfortunately, these events would continue endlessly for such ghosts, anchoring them to the place where they lost their lives. It will continue until these spirits realise that they are dead, or when someone comes to help them. In this regard, help from the living, especially astral projectors who are able to retrieve lost souls, is needed to help spirits cross over to the spirit world.
Based on some of my over 600 EVP recordings, some of the spirits stuck in the world of the living actually need help. They are trying to communicate. Yet, there are also spirits that choose to stay in places where they were happy or comfortable in their daily routines.
So if you experience meeting spirits, do not panic. Instead, stop a while, tell the spirit who you are, respect their presence and tell them to continue their journey to the spirit world as they have died.
I have discovered that our personality consists of the logic or the mind, the physical body, and the inner soul or spirit that become our personality (Mind + Body + Soul = Personality). Even though the three components are important in our daily life, when we are in the transitional process through physical death, only the Soul or the Personality will exist as a force known as the Life Force in a unique geomagnetic field. – Stories by Chin Mui Yoon, Photo Illustrations by Art Chen