There is a fad currently sweeping through Thailand involving life-like looking dolls. The dolls are known as “luuk thep,” which is Thai for “child angels.”
These dolls are taken to monks to receive a special blessing known as “plook sek.” This blessing is supposed to encourage a wandering spirit to inhabit the doll and give it a soul. There are also dolls available for sale that have been pre-blessed and can be purchased at stores throughout Bangkok.
The dolls are believed by many to possess supernatural powers. Many Thai people, whose culture is steeped in superstition, believe the dolls can bring them good luck, wealth, and health.
The craze started a little over a year ago and seems to stem from celebrities in Thailand who claimed their careers improved after feeding and the dressing the dolls, as if they were “real” human children.
The economy has been hit very hard in Thailand, and people—especially the middle class—are willing to pay exorbitant fees for these “child angel dolls.” Typically, these dolls can cost from $72 USD all the way up to $2,000 per doll.
Mananya Boonmee, a 49-year-old who owns and sells the dolls, said, “The economy is bad right now. Everybody needs something to hold on to.”
Mananya told Reuters that her doll, Nong Petch (Baby Jewel), told her via dreams what numbers to buy in the lottery, and she won.
Panpimon Wipulakorn, deputy director-general of the Department of Mental Health, said the economic downturn exacerbated the phenomenon.
“There have always been groups in Thai society that hold such beliefs, and economic worries only help to heighten these beliefs,” Panpimon told Reuters.
“These people do not have mental health problems,” he added.
These dolls are more than just an amulet or good luck charm for the people buying them. The purchasers are treating these dolls as if they are living, breathing beings. Their owners take them everywhere from grocery stores to restaurants to planes.
Earlier this week an airline, Thai Smile Airways, offered specially priced airline tickets for “luuk thep” dolls. The airline claimed it would give the dolls drinks and snacks, and their own airline seat. Their reasoning was that the doll could be treated like a “human,” because the special blessing made the dolls “spiritually alive.”
However, this past Wednesday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) declared that “luuk thep” dolls are “non-human beings that cannot be considered passengers. Carry on baggage must be stored inside overhead lockers or underneath the seat.”
Thai “angel child” dolls have been garnering attention for more reasons than just superstition. Drug smugglers, earlier this week, tried to use the dolls to smuggle drugs like “yaba.” Over 200 methamphetamine pills were found inside a “child angel” by police in the car park area of Chiang Mai International Airport on Tuesday, according to Thai PBS.
In addition to drug smugglers using the dolls, the dolls have been seized from vendors because the vendors did not pay import taxes on the dolls. Over 100 dolls were seized when three vendors were arrested in Bangkok for allegedly failing to pay import taxes on the dolls.
“Mostly they imported [the dolls] from China,” Colonel Kriangsak Kanrayawattanajaroen, deputy commander of the Economic Crime Suppression Division, told AFP. He stated that vendors had avoided paying more than 100,000 baht ($2,750 USD).
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also weighed in on the topic. The Prime Minister suggested people should not buy the dolls, if they cannot truly afford to spend the money on the dolls.