Do you believe in Ghost Stories?

Mae Nak of Phra Khanong may be more than just a legend



Experience

There is a popular legend of a ghost who resides in one of Bangkok’s sub-districts known as Phra Khanong. A shrine has been placed at the temple where people go and make offerings to the ghost of Mae Nak who resides within.

A few things that are commonly asked for from this ghost are from women seeking easy childbirths or requesting that their husbands not be forced into military service. I didn’t come with any of these requests from the disgruntled spirit, though still found it a fascinating spot to explore, especially on the massive temple grounds in which it’s located. This isn’t my first ghost-related situation in my travels, though it’s the first time I actually went out looking for one!

When was Mae Nak alive?

Legend has it that the events are real, and took place somewhere between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. This legend speaks of a pregnant woman named Nak who was deeply in love with her husband Mak. He was sent away to war, and while away she and their child died during labour. This of course is where the themes of the offerings come from. Upon returning home, however, Mak found his wife and child alive and well. They lived together for some time before he eventually realized that the rumours he had heard were true and that he was in fact living with ghosts. He fled and took refuge in a temple, which is off-limits to the supernatural. Enraged, Nak haunted the region of Phra Khanong, until eventually being captured by an exorcist, her spirit put in a bottle and tossed into the river.

There are many variations to this legend and how it ends. Some say that she was actually re-released after being fished out of the river accidentally. One of the retellings speaks of a monk who recaptured the soul and trapped it inside the skeletal remains of Nak’s body. In yet another variation, he convinced her all would be well when reincarnated, and she could join Mak again in her future life, so she left this world. I’m sure there are countless variations, actually, depending on where you ask and who you’re asking.

Most folklore, legends (and other long tales in lengthy books) often have some truth in their origins, regardless. A more traditional version was recently uncovered in an old print from the late 1800s which described a woman, Nak, who was the daughter of Phra Khanong’s leader, who died while pregnant. In an effort to divert the possible remarriage of their father, Nak’s remaining children made up a story of her ghost coming back and acted out some of her actions to scare other possible suitors away.

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SEE – Photos & Videos

Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut - Other shrines in the temple
Various shrines fill the Mae Nak temple’s courtyards
Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut overlooking the Khlong
The Khlong (canal) in which Mae Nak’s temple is located
Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut - cloth around the Bodhi tree
Many offerings are made in the form of cloth tied around the Bo tree (Bodhi tree)
Ghost story of Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut - Mae Nak's Shrine
There are several areas inside the enclosure to pay tribute to Mae Nak
Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut - Bangkok ghost story paintings and clothing
Paintings of Mae Nak fill the room, as well as shelves overflowing with offerings of clothing and toys
Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut Bangkok - ghost story Mae Nak Shrine
There are donation boxes stuffed to the brim with offerings to the ghost
Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut - Bangkok ghost story paintings and offerings
Mae Nak’s shrine in all its glory
Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut - The Pier
This is the pier – an alternative method of transport directly to the Wat’s doorstep
Mae Nak at Wat Mahabut - Thai ritual cloth around the Bo tree
Marianne wraps her own ribbon around the holy Bo tree

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GO – Getting There

We got there via the BTS (sky train) and a bit of good old-fashioned walking. If you decide to take this route, you will want to get off the BTS around On Nut station, and then exit towards On Nut Road Soi 77, on the north side of Sukhumvit. From here, it’s about a 20 mins walk through some busy fruit markets, and past a very large Big C (equivalent to a large Tesco department store). I did see a number of Subaru Songtaews (shared taxis) heading up On Nut rd coming from Sukhumvit, which usually cost about 7 baht, and would have shaved 15 mins off the walk, easily. As you walk away from Sukhumvit, about 1 kilometre down, you will see a small lane on the left-hand side of the street. It is labelled Soi 7. Going down this lane, you will find the large temple complex Wat Mahabut at the end of it, and inside, the shrine of Mae Nak. You can tell you’re getting closer by the increasing number of fortune-tellers on the side of the road. The shrine is quite small and poorly labelled. You would be best asking someone working at the temple for guidance once there.

From the BTS it only took us about 20 mins to get there, and that was hiking through busy streets with a bit of sightseeing being done. A taxi or tuk-tuk may charge upwards of 100 Thai Baht ($3 USD) to get there, though you can take the shared taxis for only 7 THB a person (25 cents USD). There are also ferries which cruise the canal behind the temple, and have a stop conveniently located right at Wat Mahabut, though we didn’t wait around for it, as it was a pretty hot day, and we had other items on the agenda.

The Shrine of Mae Nak, Bangkok, Thailand - Map
The Shrine of Mae Nak, Bangkok, Thailand – Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

No matter what really happened, there is a shrine set up in her honour. It’s taken quite seriously, and no photography inside is to be permitted without special permission. The shrine is located in Wat Mahabut, which is a massive complex of temples, pagodas and shrines. Inside there are countless paintings of what Mae Nak may have looked like. There are baby toys brought in as offerings. Many clothes, dresses, and gowns are hung everywhere. Colourful ribbons are tied around trees and incents burn, as money is stuffed into the small shrine. Some people also release fish and other aquatic creatures into the Klong (canal) behind the shrine. I would not suggest partaking in that, mind you, as many of the creatures go into shock as they are not from that ecosystem, and will die only a few meters downstream (greatly defeating the purpose, though tradition seems to trump that). It is not huge and can be found down some small alleys near the temples. It is mostly visited by women, but men are of course allowed to come as well.

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Stay – Accommodation

There are no accommodations inside the temple grounds. We’re not sure you’d really want to stay in a haunted temple though, either! πŸ™‚

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Eat – Restaurants

There are no real restaurants on the site of the temple grounds, but there are some snack vendors which pop up from time to time. If you need to grab a bite to eat, the temple is located very near to Sukhumvit Rd, which is loaded with both Thai and international restaurant options. You won’t need to go hungry for long, before finding some food to make as an offering to your stomach ghosts.

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

You can generally visit the shrine during normal temple hours, between 7:30 am – 5:30 pm. There is no seasonality, though it may be harder to get in during peak Thai holiday times, or around auspicious days, such as full moons.

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Safety – Possible risks

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

Admission to the shrine is free. Admission to the temple is also free. If you’d like to make a donation (generally between 20-100 Thai Baht – approximately $1-3 USD), that is generally greatly appreciated.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Wearing appropriate temple attire is not only appreciated, it’s generally expected. The most traditional temple attire for men would be full-length pants/trousers, and a shirt with sleeves (even if short sleeve). For women, having shoulders covered, as well as knees is the traditional wardrobe of choice. That being said, as long as you are dressed respectfully, without too much skin showing, and with proper shorts and sleeved t-shirts, this should be ok for entering, to not upset any of the locals in attendance. Don’t worry about footwear – you’ll be asked to take shoes or sandals off before entering any temple in Thailand. Try to also maintain a level of calm and quiet, as you would in any other church or place of worship. Being guests in another country, it’s always responsible to act in the most respectful ways possible for our hosts.

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Reality Check – Be Aware

This was a really interesting day trip in Bangkok. I thought the folklore surrounding the shrine of Mae Nak was quite fascinating as it has some elements of animistic undertones. These may be remnants from what existed in Thailand before Buddhism and Islam were the dominant religions. The shrine itself is nothing fancy. It’s little more than a slumped building with an eerie set of paintings – though looks aren’t everything. Its spiritual significance is quite deep, especially in this sub-district, though people travel great distances to pay their respects, make offerings and ask for favours from the ghost of Mae Nak. Depending on what your motive is in visiting, you may either have a very educational experience or just find it quite lame. Use your best judgement as to what you like. Granted – I don’t just post anything up here unless I find it worthwhile myself.

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off-the-beaten-path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something β€˜this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

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Have you ever had any experiences with ghosts or the supernatural? Have you visited shrines of the undead? Have you ever made offerings to the undead in hopes it would help you in this dimension? Please feel free to share your stories in the comment section below!

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Mae Nak Haunted Temple in Bangkok

21 Responses

    1. Mate – it’s a phenomenal city with SO MUCH to check out!! I’ll let you know the next mission I go on, though it may not be until May (as I’m off travelling as of this weekend!)

  1. Interesting place Ian. I do like a haunted house if I can find one, but I do have to admit I don’t usually go looking for ones. But it’s always interesting to hear about local super natural stories.

    We were driving around the English country side a few weeks ago, and found some ruins. We heard from a local woman who was passing by that the family had been cursed, and the castle had burned down shortly after that.

    1. Hey Jarmo, that’s awesome! It’s not something I generally do in my spare time either, but it was only a couple blocks from my flat, so why not!?

      Did you explore the ruins? Was there anything spooky about the visit? Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  2. Looks like an interesting place. I think I have had experience with a ghost before. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but later saw a weird shadow that I couldn’t explain on a photo. It was during a cleansing ritual by a shaman in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Very spooky!

    1. Wow, Tammy! That sounds awesome (and spooky)! I’d love to know what the shaman would say about that experience!! Did you ever get the chance to ask them?

  3. I’m interested in seeing the shrine but also scared because my mom who is Thai says that it’s not a place to visit if you’ve ever had an abortion or not someone of pure heart or intentions–she will not bless you or want you there. I’m half Thai & grew up in U.S.–but always attracted to paranormal or supernatural but my mom stresses that Mae Nak is not just some spooky story or regular ghost, not something to mess with. I actually made the mistake of just using her name as password recently & something weird happened to my husband. Sleep paralysis, where black figure was holding him down and trying to go in his stomach & mouth. I told my mom about it & she said to change password because I didn’t have permission to use her name. And call out to her, I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Which, I did & I don’t know if it’s related but I’ll definetely be more catious and respectful especially being half Thai. My mom told me people in Thailand won’t even name their kids after her because they don’t want her to come around because her spirit is too strong. Some might think it’s all a silly ghost story but I definitely believe the legend about her. I just don’t know if I ever visit Thailand in the future, if I’ll go see her shrine or not. But thanks for sharing your experience and details about it. I enjoyed reading it, as well as, seeing the pictures that you included.

  4. I am a Brit (no Thai heritage, but some Thai relatives through marriage) and lived in Phra Khanong in the 90s. It’s kind of a weird one how this has spread into the backpacker consciousness as a spot to visit. I wonder what captures their imagination about it?

    It’s not a shrine for women, my aunt told me, but she blesses men who want to get out of the army. She warned me not to go, not because anything bad would happen, but because why would I want to waste my time, hanging around a shrine where people pray for lottery numbers. πŸ˜€

    1. Hi Nic, many locals bring children’s clothing, as well as women’s dresses, to honour the spirits of Mae Nak and her lost child. That said, cosmetics would likely be fine too πŸ™‚ Anything that you feel they might benefit from in their afterlife.

  5. Hello, I would like to share my two interactions with spirits. I was staying in a facility on the 2nd floor, I was about to lay my head down when I felt on the foot end of my bed what I would describe as a cat jumping on my bed and taking a few steps forward towards me. I knew there was not any animals in the building for they were not allowed. Before entering this facility, I had to leave both of my cats with my sister until I could join them again later. But come to find out shortly after my incounter, that one of my cats had disappeared to never return. I believe that was my cat visiting me to say goodbye. 2nd inter action was right after my neighbor/ good friend had died. Our other friend and I were talking to someone in my apartment about our friend that just had died not too long ago. When out of nowhere I smell this overwhelming smell of perfume. I didnt say anything to anyone until my close friend said she could smell a strong sense of perfume as well. But the strange part is the guy we were sharing our friend stories to was right next to us and could not smell anything! FYI all windows were closed. Neither of us wore perfume that day. I was not burning sented candles or doing any laundry and us 3 were the only ones in my apartment that day! I do believe our friend that had just past came to say goodbye to us. I must add, I also believe my friends spirit stay with me for about a week longer. Some how I felt her presence with me. May my friend rest in peace.

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