Thailand is a country steeped in myth and legend, with a storied history of ancient kingdoms, terrifying ghosts and national icons. Here are 10 popular Thai tales which have survived through the ages.
Back when Thailand was known as the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Naresuan’s reign was marked by one of the most legendary battles in Thai history. Atop his elephant, the king called out to the crown prince of Burma Mingya Swa to face him in single combat. He accepted and Naresuan killed his opponent, winning the battle that secured Thailand’s later victory in the war. Whilst today elephant riding is hugely frowned upon, it’s one of the most enduring stories from this era of the country’s history – and one that they’re fiercely proud of.
One of Thailand’s most feared ghosts, Krasue was a lady who was promised to a Siamese nobleman yet loved a soldier of low rank. After being caught with her lover, she was sentenced to death by burning. A sorceress attempted to cast a protection spell, but its effects came on too late, leaving only her intestines, viscera and head unscathed. Today, it’s thought that her ghostly remains roam the night in search of food, be it blood, flesh or faeces, and many people claim to have seen her in the night.
Thailand has its fair share of spooky stories, and perhaps none is more terrifying than that of Mae Nak. Nak was pregnant and very much in love when her husband was conscripted to fight in a war. During his absence, both Nak and her baby died in childbirth.
The husband returned from the war, however, to find both his wife and child waiting for him at home. Villagers were killed by Nak before they could warn the husband, and he later only found out when he saw her stretch out her bony arms to the floor to pick up a lime. He fled, hiding firstly in a plant that ghosts are afraid of, and secondly to the temple, where ghosts can’t enter.
Mae Nak was eventually exorcised twice; firstly into a jar, and secondly into the waistband of a monk. To this day, it’s said that the Thai royal family are the ones in possession of the waistband that contains her spirit.
One of the most revered and respected monks in Thai history, Phra Luang Phor Tuad first caught national attention as a child when a snake constricted him, yet it didn’t bite; instead, it gave him a pearl from its mouth and left. After becoming ordained as a monk, he left for Ayutthaya by boat, which was then caught in a huge storm. Fearing that the monk was the cause, the others on the boat considered throwing him overboard, until he performed two miracles — calming the seas and turning the water around the boat into drinking water. He later cemented his fame by solving a puzzle that nobody else could.
He lived until he was 120, and was thought to have performed several more miracles whilst he was alive. Today, Thais remember him by wearing amulets depicting him, as they’re thought to be magic.
Revered as the father of Muay Thai, Nai Khanom Tom was a Thai prisoner of war in Burma. The Burmese wanted to compare their martial art with the martial art of Thailand, and so called for the best fighter amongst the Thai prisoners to take part in a bout. Nai Khanom Tom stepped forward, and dispatched of 10 opponents, one after the other with a break. Impressed, the King granted the Siamese prisoner freedom, and Nai Khanom Tom has been revered as a legend ever since.
Phra Chao Sua, or the Tiger King, was the ruler of Thailand from 1702 to 1709. This man was known for his passion for sports, in particular Muay Thai. The king was such a huge fan of Thailand’s national sport that he often entered competitions in disguise, where he beat champions without revealing his true identity. Despite later descending into alcoholism and overseeing a national famine, he’s more fondly remembered for his ability in the ring.
You might have noticed statues at Thai temples that look similar to a snake or dragon, but in fact they are neither; they are Naga. Semi-divine beings that feature in both Buddhism and Hinduism, Naga are believed by locals to live in the Mekong river. More interestingly, they’re thought to be the cause of the Naga fireball phenomenon, which sees fireballs rise from the supposedly-inhabited Mekong river high into the air. Not to worry, though; Naga are guardian-type figures who keep away bad spirits, so they’re worth having around — just be careful if you’re going for a swim in the Mekong.
According to legend, the mountain of Doi Nang Non in Chiang Rai takes its unusual shape from that of a sleeping lady. A beautiful princess was betrothed to a man who ran away, leaving her pregnant and alone. She waited for him, and went out looking for him, fearing he was lost. After walking for several days, she collapsed to the ground and, realising he had left her, cried out in despair before dying. As her ghost left her body, it grew to a large size and eventually become a mountain range, that’s today called Doi Nang Non — or the mountain of the sleeping lady.
Rice in Thailand is a big deal, standing as the world’s second-biggest exporter providing plenty of jobs and income to the country. As a result, many people involved in the industry routinely pray to or make offerings to Phosop, aka ‘the Rice Goddess’. This is done at every stage of the cultivation of grain, and it’s thought that Phosop will ensure that everyone has enough to eat. Thailand’s Queen Sirikit also acknowledges the practice, and it’s common for a woman to play the role of Phosop during rice festivals and celebrations.
Another Thai ghost story, Krahang was said to be a sorcerer involved in black magic who now manifests himself as a shirtless man who roams through the Thai countryside. He’s granted powers of flight thanks to two rice baskets he uses as wings, and rides with a long wooden pestle between his legs. Well-known by virtually every Thai, Krahang has been blamed for attacks on women in remote villages.