Do you believe in Ghost Stories?
Mae Nak of Phra Khanong may be more than just a legend
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.
SEE – Photos & Videos
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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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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!