Mae Nak: Visiting the weird, wonderful shrine dedicated to Thailand’s most famous ghost

Photos: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photos: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Thai lore has it that Mae Nak was a pregnant young woman living along Phra Kanong Canal in central Bangkok with her husband during the mid 1800s. Her husband, Mak, was drafted into the military. Nak and her baby died during childbirth while he was gone. However, Mak returned to find them, seemingly, alive and well, in their home. As neighbors tried to warn Mak that Nak and the baby were ghosts, each mysteriously died.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Once he sees Nak reveal herself as a ghost by stretching her arm beyond human proportions to retrieve a dropped lime, he sneaks off. But his loving, dead wife pursues him. He hides inside a temple complex that ghosts cannot enter. It’s here that Nak has haunted him for all eternity and where her spirit is still worshipped at a strange canalside shrine inside the Wat Mahabut temple complex in On Nut, not far from her former home.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

The story of Mae Nak is among the most famous ghost stories in Thailand. It has been adapted for screen, television and stage for generations, and it’s this story that forms the basis for the famed Thai horror movie Pee Mak.

This famous shrine is a popular visit for pregnant women seeking easy childbirth, men hoping to avoid the military draft, and all kinds of people seeking lucky lottery numbers — which she’s supposedly pretty good at delivering. On the nights of lottery draws, the shrine is especially busy and draws ticket sellers, tarot readers, and fortune tellers as well as worshippers.

Read Coconuts’ full guide to Thai ghosts here.

For foreigners, Mae Nak is most often visited by lovers of the weird and wonderful.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Luckily, she’s pretty easy to reach. About a 20 minute walk (or THB40 moto-taxi ride) from BTS On Nut, walk up the neighborhood’s main drag (Sukhumvit Soi 77, also called On Nut Road) and go left on Soi 7, walk to the end of the street, past vendors selling temple offerings and snacks, and enter the Wat Mahabut complex on the right.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

The large complex contains several shrines and buildings, as well as market stalls on the weekend. Once inside the complex, go left and walk toward the canal through an alley of sellers, between the two largest buildings. You’ll see people selling fish, eels, turtles, and birds, these are offerings that can be released into the air or canal to accompany prayers.

About 50 feet before the canal, turn right and go under a pavillion. The shrine to Mae Nak in ahead on the right.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Less spooky and more weird than we thought it would be, the small plaza has a colorful tulle-wrapped tree shrine growing through the middle of it. Purchase some incense sticks or candles to light for Mae Nak and kneel down for a prayer on the lower level, or up near the golden statue of the woman herself, her various portraits, and her tiny golden infant. On the upper level you can leave baht notes in golden trays or even tuck them into the statues’ clothing.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Rows of traditional Thai dresses hang along the left and right and a shop sells them to one side. These were purchased and left for Mae Nak by people who prayed to her and believed their wishes were fulfilled by the spirit. Returning and buying her a dress is the traditional way of giving thanks. Many believe that, if you don’t, your blessing can be taken from you.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

There is also a creepy TV that simply shows a 24-hour live feed of the shrine. We assume that this is for when the shrine is particularly busy and visitors can’t get a good view. But it could also be for those afraid to face the effigy of Nak full on.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

 

FIND IT:

Mae Nak Shrine at Wat Mahabut
747 On Nut Soi 7
Open 24/7
BTS: On Nut

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