KAO KALA, Thailand—Everybody from fund managers to jet-setting diplomats is talking about the world's center of gravity shifting to Asia. Now, extraterrestrials appear to be taking notice, too.
Trackers in Colorado at the Mutual UFO Network, one of the oldest unidentified-flying-object research organizations in this world, say that since the slump of the Western banking system in 2008, UFO sightings among Asia's fast-growing economies have accelerated. Suspicious UFOs have shut down airports in China, buzzed resorts in Borneo and lit up the night sky in Myanmar.
All of that is dealing a fresh blow to the prestige of the U.S., which, as the DreamWorks animated movie "Monsters vs. Aliens" observed, "is the only country aliens ever seem to visit."
"It's not surprising, really," says Debhanom Muangman, a 75-year-old Harvard-educated physician and one of Thailand's leading UFO investigators. "Aliens have been coming to Asia for decades, but now they sense a change. This is where the progressive countries are, so they are coming here much more often now."
Extraterrestrials first hit the public imagination in a big way in Thailand in 2006, when villagers in the rural northeast found discarded fever-cooling gel packs and mistook them for visitors from outer space. One woman told local newspapers she cooked a gel pack and served it to her children in the hope that it would make them more intelligent.
In Nakhon Sawan province, 160 miles north of Bangkok, scores of UFO enthusiasts now regularly camp out on a hill known as Kao Kala, which they regard as a kind of Stargate to another dimension. It's a diverse group, including medical students, interior decorators and a soap-opera actor who goes by the name Pete.
On a recent evening, devotees wearing necklaces depicting alien portraits trooped to the top of the hill to harness extraterrestrial energy to treat illnesses by laying on hands, or to meditate before a statue of Buddha. Periodically, people jumped up with video cameras when planes or other, less obvious, light sources appeared before settling in for a night of chanting.
"The aliens have been coming here to Kao Kala for at least 10 years," said Dusadee Prasomsuk, 39 years old. "When we meditate we can understand what they're trying to tell us—we feel it through our bodies and we understand."
Regardless of whether aliens exist, the slew of sightings is providing yet another measurement of how the world is changing as Asia becomes wealthier and more successful.
Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California, uses radio telescopes and other advanced equipment to scour the universe for signs of intelligent life. He reckons the growth of Asia's economies is one of the primary factors contributing to more and more UFO sightings.
"I ascribe this simply to two things," Mr. Shostak says. "The greater reach of TV, which means that more people have seen television specials dealing with UFOs, and the widespread availability of the Internet, which allows people who would formerly describe strange sightings to their neighbors to now send me an email."
Dr. Debhanom in Thailand, for instance, says he saw his first UFO in New Hampshire when he was training to become a doctor in the 1950s. When Dr. Debhanom returned to Thailand he heard about many more sightings as the country went through its economic boom of the 1980s and 1990s and media networks expanded to include cable TV and, more recently, the Internet.
Still, these aren't American-style alien encounters. The aliens that Thai researchers say they have encountered bear little resemblance to the typical creatures depicted in Hollywood films, which have included resource-grabbing monsters or eerily calm, environmentally friendly creatures.
The aliens that allegedly visit Southeast Asia tend to have a rather different view of the universe, following Buddhist precepts such as reincarnation and greeting one another by cupping their hands together in the shape of a lotus flower.
After years of trying, Dr. Debhanom says he finally made contact with bona fide aliens one morning at 2 a.m. in 1996. Surprisingly, he recalls, they called him on the phone, using an ordinary land line.
"They said they were from Mars and spoke a strange version of Thai. They also said not to worry about the phone bill," Dr. Debhanom recalls.
Since then, he reports that aliens often have contacted him with warnings about where they will appear, enabling Dr. Debhanom and other researchers to report a series of UFO sightings. Their conclusions: Aliens are typically slightly taller than humans, communicate telepathically and sometimes are accompanied by pets resembling hairless dogs.
One alien visitor calling itself "Kai"—the Thai word for chicken—often visits to warn of natural disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or political upheavals that could affect Thailand's economic progress, Dr. Debhanom says. Kai previously presented himself as Eddie to U.S. authorities at Area 51, the famously secretive U.S. military base in Nevada, while he told officials in the former Soviet Union to call him Ivan, Dr. Debhanom says.
Other researchers have gone further. Several members of the Chansamnuen family in Nakhon Sawan province say they have managed to communicate with the aliens telepathically. It began with Cherd Chansamnuen, an army sergeant, who used to go into a trance and then begin speaking and issuing commands in a strangely altered voice.
"The air began crackling," says Thanyasak Patamatanasun, 39 years old, a member of the Kao Kala group who once attended one of Sgt. Cherd's attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial beings. "Then an alien voice spoke to us through Sgt. Cherd and told us he was there to help human beings reach the next level of development."
Sgt. Cherd has since died, and his mission is now pursued by his three daughters. One of them, Wassana Chansamnuen, a 38-year-old nurse, says she, too, is able to enter a trance and receive messages from otherworldly entities.
Says Ms. Wassana: "Everybody can develop this ability."—Wilawan Watcharasakwet contributed to this article.
Write to James Hookway at firstname.lastname@example.org