Mae Nak Phra Khanong (Lady Nak of the Phra Khanong Canal) is a female Thai ghost. According to Thai legend, she is the ghost of a woman who died during the reign of King Rama IV. He was the fourth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri and ruled from 1851 to 1868.
The Shrine of Mae Nak
There used to be a shrine to Mae Nak (Lady Nak) located next to Klong Phra Khanong at Wat Mahabut, but in 1997 is was relocated to Bangkok’s Suan Luang District.
The centerpiece of the shrine is a statue of Mae Nak and her baby.
Those who make offerings to this shrine are usually wives who want their husbands to be exempt from military conscription, or pregnant women seeking Mae Nak’s help to attain an easy childbirth.
Typical offerings include lengths or colored cloth, lotuses, fruit and incense sticks. Sometimes toys are left for the baby.
A collection of fine dresses offered to Mae Nak are on display by the shrine.
Offerings to Mae Nak can also be made in the form of live fish that are set free into the Phra Khanong canal.
The happy couple
Nak was a beautiful young woman who was very much in love with her husband Mak. Together, they lived in a house on the bank of the Phra Khanong Canal.
When Nak got pregnant, they were both very happy, but soon their happiness turned into despair as Mak was conscripted and sent away to fight in the war.
Mak isn’t killed in the war, but he is seriously wounded and have to remain in Bangkok for a while to be nursed back to health and regain his strength. While he is still in Bangkok, Nak gives birth to their child, but it is a difficult birth and both she and the baby dies.
Mak comes back
Finally, Mak is strong enough to make the journey back home, and when he returns he is greeted by his loving wife Nak and their precious baby. Some neighbors try to warn him and let him know that he is living with two ghosts, but they are killed before they can get the message through.
Mak lives happily with his family without knowing that they are ghosts, but one day when Nak is making nam phrik she drops a lime and it falls off the porch. Eager to retrieve the lime, Nak simply stretches her arm out all the way to the ground below – a distance much longer than normal arm – and grabs the fruit. Mak sees this in the corner of his eye and realizes that something is very wrong.
When Mak understands that Nak and the baby are ghosts, he tries to come up with a way of fleeing in secret. He doesn’t get any good opportunity during the rest of the day, but when it’s night and they have all gone to bed, Mak tells his ghost-wife that he needs to pee and goes downstairs. Once he is out of the house, he starts running and tries to get away as quickly as he can.
When Mak doesn’t come back to bed, Nak realizes that the con is up and starts looking for her husband outside. To hide himself from the ghost, Mak conceals himself behind a Nat bush (Blumea balsamifera). According to Thai folklore, ghosts are afraid of this plant since it has sticky leaves.
Eventually, Mak dares to leave the Nat bush to run to the nearby Wat Mahabut temple. There, he is safe since the ghost can not enter holy ground.
The ghost is captured and then released again
When Nak can not get to her husband, she starts terrorizing the other villagers instead. They enlist the aid of a powerful exorcist who capture Nak and confines her to an earthen jar. This jar is then thrown into the canal.
What happens next depends on which version of the story that is told. In one version, the jar is dredged up by two fishermen who then accidentally set Nak free as they open it. In another version, it is instead an elderly couple who recently moved to Phra Khanong who finds the jar while fishing and unknowingly sets the spirit free.
The ghost is re-captured
The monk Somdet Phra Phutthachan captures Nak and confines her spirit in the bone of her forehead. This bone, he binds in his own waistband to keep it safe. According to Thai legend, the waistband still exists and is being safeguarded by the royal family.
Alternative version: In a version with a happier ending, the monk convinces Nak that she will be reunited with her husband in the afterlife. Learning this, Nak happily departs for the afterlife and stops terrorizing the living.