Make an offering—or else
One of Thailand’s scariest legends involves the spirit of a woman that went on a rampage after her husband caught on to the fact that she was, in fact, a ghost. Those willing to risk being cursed in exchange for witnessing a spiritually potent scene can visit a shrine dedicated to the ghost of Mae Nak near the site of her 19th century home in Bangkok.
The story stars a beautiful young woman, Nak, who married her beloved man, Mak, and intended to live happily ever after. For a while the couple enjoyed a simple life in a stilted house beside the Phra Khanong Canal, but then the Siamese army conscripted Mak to go fight in a war. As he recovered from a battle wound some months later, Nak endured terrible pain while attempting to deliver her first child. Neither she nor the baby survived.
But both of them lingered as ghosts that were life-like enough to convince Mak, who had not heard of his wife’s fate, that they were alive and well when he returned. From there the tale takes on many terrifying twists involving villagers, witch doctors and ghost-busting monks—we won’t spoil it in case you want to investigate for yourself. Adaptations in popular Thai entertainment have included two feature films: Nang Nak went for a straightforward version of the story in 1999, while 2013’s Pee Mak Phra Kanong mixed in some comedy to ease the suspense.
Nowadays, the epicentre of all these fears and fascinations is the Mae Nak Shrine located on the bank of the same canal where Mak left his pregnant wife nearly two centuries ago. Inside sits a stern-looking image of Mae Nak depicted holding her ghostly infant. Both are wrapped in purple robes, covered in gold leaf and surrounded by portraits of Mae Nak (aka Nang Nak) in various styles.
Visitors offer flower garlands, incense, money and traditional women’s clothes, along with toys for the baby. With light-green walls, fluorescent lighting and plenty of offerings to keep the ghost distracted, the shrine room has an eerie feel. It draws all sorts of people but is especially popular with women who come to pray that Mae Nak help to spare their son or husband from being selected in one of Thailand’s random lotteries for military conscription.
Just beyond the shrine by the canal and along the entry road, a bunch of Thai fortunetellers ply their trade beside freaky masks and other bits of curio. Vendors sell eels and fish that visitors can buy to set free. There’s also plenty of fish food for sprinkling into the canal along with dry bread to feed the many pigeons. Still lined by foliage and a few old houses that lean over the murky water, this stretch of the canal doesn’t appear to have changed all that much since Nak’s days.
The shrine is located at Wat Mahabut, an old village temple that Mae Nak’s husband flees to in the story. While the shrine is the main attraction, you’ll also find an image of Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, along with the usual Buddha images and halls. Many Thais purchase a pre-packaged donation for the monks before making an offering to Mae Nak.
Some Westerners will no doubt find the story far fetched, but do keep in mind that most Thai visitors actually believe in the spirit of Mae Nak and other ghosts. Do show respect for their beliefs by paying 20 baht to offer incense, a candle, a flower garland and some gold leaf, which you can stick directly on to the image of Mae Nak. Skipping the offering and walking right up to take photos of the shrine would be seen as distasteful by the locals.
Located 1.5 km northeast of On Nut BTS Station, Wat Mahabut is at the dead end of On Nut Soi 7 and you’ll find the shrine tucked beside the canal at the back corner of the grounds. You could take a taxi or motorbike taxi from the BTS or leave the station through exit 1, turn back on yourself at the bottom of the stairs and walk west up Sukhumvit Road to On Nut Rd (aka Sukhumvit Soi 77). Turn right and cross the road when possible, and you’ll find Soi 7 on the left.
Address: Wat Mahabut, On Nut Soi 7 (On Nut Rd is also known as Sukhumvit Soi 77), Bangkok
Coordinates (for GPS): 100º36'26.96" E, 13º42'56.45" N
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David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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