Mae Nak Shrine
It would be difficult to find a more vibrant and lively city than Bangkok. Bustling streets lined with every color and people constantly shuffling to fill empty space is the norm for this expanding metropolis. Although Bangkok seems to be abundant with the living, there are some hidden areas of the city that are far more tranquil and ruled by the undead.
The Mae Nak Shrine is one such place, a well-known haunt within Bangkok, considered by many people to not only be a place of ghosts but also worship. While most ghost stories exist as spoken or written words, this shrine gives a physical representation and credence to Make Nak, one of the best-known ghost stories in Thailand. Mae Nak’s shrine exists near other temples of worship and is one of the most popular places to make an offering in the area. Many people travel far and wide to make offerings to this special ghost lady. Buy, why? Who is Mae Nak? And how did her ghostly legend come to be?
Ghost of Mae Nak
The story of Mae Nak is a scary and sad one. The tale focusses on a loving husband (Mak) and wife (Mae Nak) who lived a happy and humble life along the Phra Khanong Canal. Unfortunately, their lives were disrupted after Mak was enlisted to go off to fight in a war. He did not want to leave, particularly as his beautiful wife was pregnant, yet duty called and he left her alone.
Soon after Mak’s involvement in the war he was badly injured and moved to central Bangkok for treatment and recovery. Around this time, Mae Nak had gone into labor and experienced complications, which tragically saw both her and her baby die. After Mak had fully healed he was able to return home. Upon his return, he was greeted home by both a healthy child and his lovely wife. Little did he know, his family were now, in fact, ghosts. Despite the many warnings from well-meaning locals trying to let Mak know his family were not as they seemed, Mak refused to believe his perfect family were anything less. He kept this belief true even as the local people who attempted to warn him of these ghosts mysteriously began to die.
Interestingly, the thing that snapped Mak to his senses was seeing his wife, Mae Nak, perform a seemingly unnatural action. One day as she was preparing food, she accidentally dropped a lime off the porch of their house. Not realizing she was being watched by her husband, Mae Nak stretched her arm out to an unhuman length to retrieve the lime with ease. This filled Mak with fear and he began to devise his escape.
Once night had fallen, Mak ran away and hid within the Wat Mahabut Temple, a place that contained holy ground that ghosts are unable to walk upon. This action filled Mae Nak with grief and anger. She lashed out, beginning to terrorize the locals of the Phra Khanong Canal for driving her husband and her apart.
It is said that an exorcist intervened, trapping Mae Nak’s ghost in a jar and disposing of it in the canal. Though stories vary, it is said that this jar was later retrieved from the river and opened. Once again releasing the fury of this angry spirit upon the locals of the canal. That is until another powerful person, this time a monk, intervened once again. It is believed that this monk was able to locate Mae Nak’s skeleton and trap her spirit within her own forehead bone. This part of the bone was then bound within the monk’s waistband (or amulet in some versions of the story). While no one truly knows what happened to this bone, some legends state that it is currently held by the royal family.
Although this story is a tragic one, another alternative ending to this tale exists. In this version, the monk was able to convince Mae Nak’s spirit that if she moved on to the afterlife, she would eventually be reunited with her husband and child. This prompted her to make her own decision to move on and leave the people of the canal in peace.
Whether or not there is any truth behind these legends, a large shrine is in place to this day for Mae Nak. Many visit the shrine to place offerings to her ghost, whom some people claim is still lingering around the canals.
Visiting the Haunted Mae Nak Shrine, Bangkok
The Mak Nak Shrine is open daily to visitors and is an interesting place to see a unique part of Bangkok culture. The shrine can be entered by anyone who wants to make an offering. Small stalls are set up to sell offerings to visitors also. Offerings include incense, candles, flowers, dresses, toys and even food. Many people offer these items to Mae Nak in exchange for a smooth pregnancy or to avoid being drafted into the military. Many even believe the spirit of Mae Nak may even help them select the next winning lottery numbers. The only people warned to stay away from the shrine are those of pregnant women, as it is thought this could anger the spirits.
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