1. Erawan Museum – Enter the belly of Mythological Three- Head Elephant – Samut Prakan
Did you know that the elephant is the national animal of Thailand? Thais love elephants so much so that you can see elephant statues everywhere you go in the country.
According to Hindu mythology, Erawan (Airavata in Hindu) is a divine white elephant with multiple heads who carries the Hindu god, Indra. Thais believe Erawan is sacred and brings good luck.
The name Erawan is used in many places like the famous Erawan Waterfall, hotels, and bridges, for example.
From Legend to Attraction: A massive three-headed elephant bronze sculpture was erected at the Erawan Museum. This 42-meter high museum has three floors representing the Underworld, Earth, and Heaven. The interiors, especially the ceiling will blow your mind.
Some say it is the most beautiful museum in Asia. The exhibit includes antiques, arts, and the heritage of Thai culture. The highlight is on the top floor which is the belly of the elephant where you’ll be in awe of the extravagant room housing a Buddha statue.
The Erawan Museum
Entrance fee:400 Baht / USD $12 (Adult); 200 Baht / USD $6 (Child) – 50% discount after 5pm Address: หมู่ที่ 1 99/9 Tambon Bang Muang Mai, Amphoe Mueang Samut Prakan, Chang Wat Samut Prakan 10270, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: Daily from 9am to 7pm
Did you know about the folklore associated with this place though?
A long, long time ago, a town governor heard the news that a treasure had been discovered in a cave at Sam Phan Bok. He gathered all his officials to go treasure hunting with him.
He entered the cave alone while others waited outside, and he commanded his loyal dog to guard the entrance.
When the governor discovered the treasure, he wanted to keep it all to himself. He found another exit and took all the treasure with him. The legend goes that his poor dog kept waiting and waiting for his return until it turned into a rock.
From Legend to Attraction: As you enter Sam Phan Bok, you’ll notice that a big rock shaped like a dog’s head sits right on top of the cliff.
Sam Phan Bok
Entrance fee:Free Address: สามพันโบก ต.เหล่างาม อ.โพธิ์ไทร Amphoe Pho Sai, Chang Wat Ubon Ratchathani 34340, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: It’s best to visit anytime between 8.30am to 4pm (open daily)
3. Ever heard of Thailand’s legend of Thai Atlantis?? – Nong Han Lake (Udon Thani)
Thailand has their own version of a sunken city. In this story, the wrath of King Naga wiped out a city with a huge flood.
The legend has it that a Naga Prince from the Underwater Kingdom was mesmerised by the beauty of the Governor’s daughter from the city above. He shapeshifted himself into a white squirrel to spy on her.
The Governor’s daughter was fascinated with the white squirrel and commanded a hunter to capture it. Instead, the hunter accidentally killed the squirrel.
On his last breath, the Naga Prince morphed and grew his body so huge that the whole city was able to feed on it.
The King Naga was furious and released his wrath, causing a massive earthquake and biblical-sized flood. The whole city was destroyed and went underwater, leaving just a big lake called Nong Han as a reminder of what happened.
From Legend to Attraction: Nong Han lake is an ideal destination for nature lovers. The highlight of the lake is when it transforms into a “Sea of Red Lotus” where millions of red lotus flowers in full bloom cover the lake from December to February.
You can hire a small boat to paddle around in the water and enjoy being in the red sea of beautiful blooms… It’s a perfect Instagram moment right there!
Nong Han Lake (Nong Han Kamphawapi Lake)
Entrance fee: Free Address: Chiang Haeo, Kumphawapi District, Udon Thani 41110, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: 24/7 (But it’s best to visit during the day between 8am to 5pm from December to February.)
4. Visit the mythical mountain of the sleeping princess – Doi Nang Non (Chiang Rai)
If you drive up from Chiang Rai toward Mai Sai District, you might see a mountain range formation that will catch your eye. The formation looks just like the silhouette of a pregnant lady lying on her back, facing the sky.
Who is this lady and why is she lying there?
Legend has it that there was once a beautiful princess in the ancient northern kingdom who fell in love with a stable boy. She became pregnant, and they fled the wrath of her father to the mountain. Exhausted from the journey, the princess rested in a cave while her lover went out searching for food.
Unfortunately, the royal soldiers caught up with him and killed him. Once the princess realised that her lover was gone, she stabbed herself with a hairpin.
Her blood streamed down the mountain turning into Mae Sai River, and her lifeless lying body turned into that very mountain range.
From Legend to the Attraction: You might remember the miracle rescue of the youth football team and their coach, who were stuck in a cave for 10 days after it was flooded in June 2018. Well, Doi Nang Non is home to that very same Tam Luang Cave, and many Thais were praying to the spirit of this mythical princess to help keep the team safe!
PS: Don’t let this incident scare you. Tam Luang Cave is actually part of a very well maintained National Park. If you visit during the dry season (Nov-Apr), you will see the natural wonder of limestone formations inside Tam Luang Cave and other surrounding caves.
Doi Nang Non
Entrance fee:Free Address: Pong Pha, Mae Sai District, Chiang Rai 57130, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: Daily from 8am to 5pm
5. The Princess and baby who waited and waited – Pha Nang Khoi Cave (Phrae)
Located in Phrae province in Northern Thailand, this mile-long cave is full of uniquely shaped stalactites and stalagmites that have been the source of much folklore.
One particular stalagmite which is shaped like a woman holding a baby is very important because it is the heart of the story.
Around 800 years ago, a beautiful princess of San Wee Kingdom fell in love with a commoner. Their forbidden love blossomed and the princess was pregnant. For fear of punishment, they decided to flee the kingdom.
While being chased by soldiers, the princess got injured by an arrow and they escaped into a cave. The injured princess told her lover to leave her behind and promised to wait in the cave for his return. Sadly, the commoner was captured and killed.
As promised, the princess waited and waited inside the cave until her last breath with her baby in her arms, and they turned into stone.
The cave was then named Pha Nang Khoi which means ‘Cliff of a Waiting Lady’ in Thai, as a homage to the devotion of the princess.
From Legend to Attraction: The stalagmite of the princess holding a baby is located near the end of the cave where people come to pay respect to the princess. As you navigate through many twists and turns in the cave, you will see other limestone formations. Each has its own name, like Princess’s Bedroom, Princess’s Tears and such that are related to this very legend.
Pha Nang Khoi Cave
Entrance fee:Free Address: Thong Thind Phrae 1004 Rd. (Ban Mae Sai-Ban Mae Yang Pho), Tambon Rong Kwang, Amphoe Rong Kwang, Chang Wat Phrae 54140, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: Daily from 8.30am to 5pm
6. Bangkok’s battle of the two giants – Ta Tien Pier, Wat Pho, Wat Arun (Bangkok)
We’re sure you know about the two famous temples along Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, Wat Pho and Wat Arun.
But did you know that these two temples are connected by folklore?
Legend has it that there were two giants were once friends. They got into a fight over borrowed money one day, and the fight was so disastrous that it knocked down the houses and trees, and levelled the entire pier by Chao Phraya River.
Disturbed by the destruction, the deity Shiva turned them into statues – one to guard Wat Pho and the other to guard Wat Arun as punishment. The name of the flattened battlefield was then dubbed as “Ta Tien” (in Thai, Ta means ‘Pier’, and Tien means ‘Flat’).
From Legend to Attraction: Ta Tien is now a major pier for tourists. A ferry runs between the two temples across Chao Phraya River – and you can even see the two distinctive Giant statues at each temple.
Although some scholars might say that the real ‘Giant’ at Wat Pho are the smaller statues hidden in the boxes (which are really hard to spot by the way.) But we say, whichever suits your imagination, you should go with that. ☺
7. Thailand’s very own version of Romeo & Juliet – Kwan-Riam Floating Market (Bangkok)
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” A famous line from the Shakespeare classic.
Have you heard of Thailand’s very own classic tale of star-crossed lovers? It may be the most famous story in the kingdom because it has been told many times through local TV dramas.
So the story goes…
Once upon a time, there was a poor and young couple named Kwan and Riam who lived in rural Bangkok. They vowed to love each other until their last dying breath.
One day, a rich family visits their village and sees Riam who strongly resembled their late daughter. They decided to adopt her and brought her back home.
3 years have passed, and Kwan starts to doubt Riam’s promise. Adapted to her new life, Riam had since blossomed into a beautiful young woman, with a rich suitor wooing her.
During this time, Riam had to go back to her village because her mother was falling ill – and Kwan and Riam then reconciled their love. The rich man followed Riam and pledges his love at that moment, and both men got into a fight over Riam.
The rich man then fatally shot Kwan. Determined to keep her vow, Riam cuts her own throat.
From Legend to the Attraction: Even though it was a novel, this love story has touched the hearts of many Thais. A shrine dedicated to Kwan and Riam has been erected in Bang Kapi where their village is located in the story. People flock to the shrine to pray for an eternal love that Kwan and Riam may bring.
Apart from the shrine, you can also visit Kwan-Riam Floating Market next to the shrine where you can find nostalgic food, dessert, and items reflecting the life by the canal of Thais in the 1940s. Take a selfie with the buffalo statue at the market, it’s kind of a mascot to the story and the market!
Kwan-Riam Floating Market
Entrance fee:Free Address: Ramkhamhaeng 185 Alley, Khwaeng Min Buri, Khet Min Buri, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10510, Thailand (Coordinates here) Contact: +66 81 357 1545 Opening hours: Sat-Sun from 8am to 6pm
8. A wedding brawl where everything and everyone turned into stones – Phra Nang Cave (Krabi)
Many people flock to Krabi and visit Phra Nang Beach, a beautiful stretch of white sand beach – to soak up the sun, swim in the sea, and enjoy stunning views of Krabi coastline.
Well, some also visit the beach for a whole different reason.
If you walk to the southern end of the beach, you’ll see a small cave housing a small shrine with a female statue. The cave and beach were both named “Phra Nang” after her.
Who is Phra Nang?
Legend has it that a long time ago, a childless couple in the area made a deal with a King Naga. The King Naga granted them a daughter in exchange for a marriage between his son and the daughter when they came of age.
The daughter named Phra Nang, grew up to be a beautiful woman and ended up getting engaged to another man. Furious by the broken promise, the King Naga crashed the wedding and started a brawl.
Disturbed by the uproar, a powerful hermit nearby cast a spell turning everyone and everything into stones.
People and objects turned into islands (the islands were named after them) – and the bridal house turned into Phra Nang Cave where locals believe she has rested since.
The moral of the folklore for Thais is “Keep your promise and don’t disturb a powerful hermit.” ☺
From Legend to Attraction: A shrine dedicated to Phra Nang was built inside the cave. You may be surprised by the unusual sight of wooden penises lying around inside the cave. People come to pray and offer a lingam for good luck.
9. The legend of the beloved Toad King – Wiman Phaya Tan, The Toad Museum (Yasothorn)
Have you heard of the Rocket Festival in Thailand where they launch DIY rockets made from bamboo and PVC pipes into the sky?
The myth behind the Rocket (or ‘Bang Fai’ in Thai) Festival comes from the legend of Phraya Kan Kak ( or ‘Toad King’ in Thai).
Phraya Kan Kak who was born a toad was a beloved king in the region. The God of Rain was jealous of the human devotion to the king, so he forbade Naga (a mythical serpent-like creature) to go up to the sky causing a drought in the Kingdom. (According to Thai legends, when the Naga thrashes in the sky pool, it causes rainfall.)
The Toad King gathered an army and defeated the God of Rain, and as part of the treaty, whenever the rain is needed for the growing season, humans would send Naga to the sky as a signal for the God of Rain to release the rain.
From Legend to Attraction: Many provinces in the North Eastern Region will hold their own Rocket Festival at different times of the year. Locals will decorate their rockets extravagantly as a Naga.
You can also visit a very unique museum inspired by the legend of Phraya Kan Kak. How unique is it?
The 5-story museum was built in the shape of a giant toad. Inside, you will find an exhibit of 500 types of toads from around the world and learn about Yasothorn history, culture, and traditions!
Wiman Phaya Tan วิมานพญาแถน (The Toad Museum)
Entrance fee:Free Address: Nai Mueang, Mueang Yasothon District, Yasothon 35000, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: Wed-Mon from 9am to 12pm, 3pm to 6pm; Sat-Sun & PH from 9am to 12pm, 1pm to 7pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
10. This is the legend of buried treasure – Hua Nai Raeng (Songkhla)
Only the worthy one will find the buried treasure. Would you be the one?
Locals believe that a long long time ago, the capital of the Southern Kingdom prepared a grand festival to celebrate the entombment of Lord Buddha’s relic.
Nai Raeng, a ruler of one of the colonies sailed out to attend. He filled his ship with an unimaginable amount of treasures. While sailing, the ship was swept ashore by a storm.
Nai Raeng ordered his men to bury the treasure, and he was so sad that he would miss the ceremony. He ordered the men to decapitate him and ordered his men to place his head on top of the buried treasure.
Nai Raeng’s head then became a giant boulder, and locals believe only the worthy one would be able to push the boulder off the cliff to reveal the buried treasure.
From Legend to Attraction: Hua Nai Raeng boulder sits on top of the cliff at Khao Kao Seng beach, a small but beautiful place to enjoy the view. The boulder is considered sacred by locals, so you will see colourful fabrics wrapped around and offerings placed around it.
11. The legend of 300 survivors – Khao Sam Roi Yot (Prachuap Khiri Khan)
No, this is not a movie about the Spartans. It’s a local legend that even some Thais don’t know about.
Most Thais would think that the mountain got its name from the appearance of the mountain. Khao Sam Roi Yot actually translates to “Mountain with 300 peaks” (Sam Roi – 300, Yot – Peaks), but if you ask locals they will tell you a different story
According to the local legend, this area was once a sea. One day, a passing Chinese sailing ship was wrecked from a storm, and only 300 survived who then sought refuge on an island.
The island was dubbed Sam Roi Rod ( Rod = Survivor). Over time, the water receded, and the islands became a mountain range and hence, its name was adapted from Rod to Yot.
The only evidence of water is now a marsh which is believed to be the final resting place of the ship. An old tale also tells a story of how some locals had seen and walked on a ship mast in that very marsh.
From Legend to Attraction: This beautiful national park is known for its beautiful range of limestone mountains, marsh, and beach. The main attraction is Phraya Nakhon Cave where you can find a beautiful pavilion in the cave.
At a certain time of the day, a beam of sunlight will shine over the pavilion casting an angelic ambience over the area.
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
Entrance fee:200 Baht / USD $6 (Adult); 100 Baht /USD $3 (Child) Address: Khao Daeng, Kui Buri District, Prachuap Khiri Khan 77150, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: The park opens all day but the attraction opens daily from 8am to 4.30pm
12. There’s more legend to this little island than just James Bond – Koh Ta Poo (Phang Nga)
One of the famous landmarks at Phang Nga Bay is an odd looking small island, nicknamed James Bond Island. It appeared in the legendary 1974 James Bond movie ‘Man with the Golden Gun’.
But the real legend goes far beyond James Bond.
Legend has it that a fisherman spent several hours at Phang Nga Bay catching fish with no luck. Every time he pulled his fishing net out of the water, he kept catching the same crab over and over again.
Enraged by his lack of luck, he pulled out the eye of the crab and threw it in the water. The crab’s eye then turned into a small island shaped like a crab eye stuck out above the water (‘Ta Poo’ means Crab Eye in Thai).
Some might refer to this island as a Nail Island as Ta Poo can be translated to “Nail” as well. Plus the shape of the island sort of looks like a nail too.
From Legend to Attraction: Koh Ta Poo is part of Phang Nga Bay National Park which is famously known for its beautiful landscape of limestone rock formations over the water. You can visit a unique floating village or take a look at pre-historic cave drawings here!
13. The most famous Thai love legend of a ghost – Mae Nak Shrine (Bangkok)
If you ask Thais to name one Thai ghost, we’re sure that the name ‘Mae Nak” will come up.
Strangely, people remember the ghost of Mae Nak for her devotion to love where even being in the afterlife couldn’t stop her.
The story began around 200 years ago in rural Bangkok. A pregnant wife named Mae Nak (which means ‘Lady Mak’) died as she was giving birth while her husband was sent away to war.
Being devoted to her husband, the ghost of Mae Nak remained at the house waiting for her husband’s return – and when the husband returned, he didn’t realise he was living with a ghost.
Soon, he learned the truth from the villagers, and fled to a temple. The enraged ghost of Mae Nak then took revenge on the villagers, and the village was petrified until a monk trapped her soul into a bottle forever.
From Legend to Attraction: Mae Nak’s haunting ghost story as well as her devotion remain a classic tale till this day. A shrine dedicated to her has been erected at Wat Mahabut, which is believed to be where the bottle of her soul is buried.
Inside the shrine, there are numerous portraits and statues of Mae Nak. People come to pray for good luck, fortune, lottery numbers and love. Many votive objects like clothing and accessories are left behind making it pretty bizarre sight to see.
14. The curse of the King Naga – Shrine of the Venerable Naga (Mukdahan)
According to the folklore and local belief, there is an underwater Kingdom ruled by the King Naga beneath the Mekong River.
In 2004 during the construction of a bridge connecting Thailand and Laos via crossing Mekong River, many fatal accidents happened that caused the construction to delay.
Locals believed that the bridge was cursed because it was built on top of the entrance to the King Naga’s Underwater Kingdom.
To reverse the curse, a shrine was erected next to the bridge, and the bridge was then successfully built.
From Legend to Attraction: The shrine is very popular among Thais where they’ll come and pray. There are many gigantic King Naga statues around the shrine, and in June, the shrine also holds a big ceremony dedicated to King Naga.
Get your camera ready at all time when you’re here. Many King Naga sightings have been reported in the area!
Shrine of the Venerable Naga @ Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge 2
Entrance fee:Free Address: 3003, Tambon Bang Sai Yai, Amphoe Mueang Mukdahan, Chang Wat Mukdahan 49000, Thailand (Coordinates here) Contact: +66 82 521 8332 Opening hours: Daily from 8am to 5pm
15. The legend of runaway lovers’ cliff – Pha Wing Chu Cliff (Chiang Mai)
Once upon the time, there was a young princess named An Fah in the Lamphun Kingdom in Northern Thailand. She fell in love with Noi Sing, a son of one of the King’s men.
Coming from different castes, their love was forbidden. Young and full of love, they fled by horse in the middle of the night into the mountain.
Upon hearing the soldiers closing in on them – they rode off the cliff, and dove straight down to the river below where they could be together for eternity.
The cliff was then named Pha Wing Chu which means ‘Runaway Lovers Cliff’ in Thai.
From Legend to Attraction: This 25-meter high rock cliff stretches over 250 meters along the river with picturesque views of the river below. The location is deemed to be a romantic spot where couples come, not just for the view, but also to pray for eternal love at the shrine and statue of An-Fah and Noi Sing.
Pha Wing Chu Cliff
Entrance fee: Free Address: Hot, Hot District, Chiang Mai 50240, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: Daily 24/7
16. Grandpa and Grandma Rocks??? – Hin Ta & Hin Yai Rocks (Surat Thani)
Sometimes nature really loves to joke around. At the south coast of Koh Samui, there are two very distinctive rocks that has captured the wonder and amusement of anyone who sees them.
These rocks are known as Grandpa Rock (Hin Ta) and Grandma Rock (Hin Yai), and they both look uncannily like male and female genitalia respectively.
An old folklore of Koh Samui tells the story of an old couple who set sail to a neighboring province to ask a family for their daughter’s hand in marriage for their son.
Unfortunately, their ship encountered a storm, and only the old couple survived on the coast of Koh Samui. Filled with sadness after losing their son, they decided to end their lives as well.
Their last wish was to show the family that they were travelling to see, that they had kept their word and travelled down. After making their wish, they jumped off the cliff and turned into Hin Ta and Hin Yai rocks that has stood the test of time till this day.
From Legend to Attraction: Hin Ta & Hin Yai are located at Lamai Beach in Koh Samui, and if you’re there during sunset, there are especially spectacular views.
Hin Ta & Hin Yai Rocks @ Lamai Beach
Entrance fee:Free Address: Hin Ta-Yai, Lamai Beach Tambon Maret, koh samui Chang Wat Surat Thani 84310, Thailand (Coordinates here) Opening hours: Daily 24/7
17. The ‘Weirdly Wonder Island’ full of mythical creatures – Koh Samet (Rayong)
Giants, an ogress, mermaids, dragon horses and more….
No other Thai literature can beat the imagination of this fantasy epic poem, Phra Aphai Mani which was written in the mid-1800s by the legendary Thai poet, Sunthorn Phu.
The poet, who was born in Rayong Province in the eastern part of Thailand, was inspired by an island, Koh Samet in his hometown. He created Ko Kaeo Phitsadan or Weirdly Wonder Island as a major part of the story.
In the story, Weirdly Wonder Island is home to mermaids, dragon horses and a powerful hermit where the antagonist, Phra Apai Mai, took a refuge from an ogress.
From Legend to Attraction: Koh Samet has many splendid white silky sand beaches, surrounded by coral reefs and crystal clear seas. You can see the influence of the legendary poem from many statues around the island – from Phra Aphai Mani and the mermaid statues at Had Sai Kaew Beach to the female ogress statue greeting you at the ferry pier.
Now that you know all the interesting local legends behind these places, it’ll definitely make your visit more interesting! Which was your favourite legend? Ours is the one about the ‘Weirdly Wonder Island’ for sure. 😛
Travel junkie, photographer, foodie, and citizen of the world. Born and raised in Thailand and now travel across the globe to get a fresh perspective of life. Often stay off the beaten path ,find unforgettable things to do, and good food to eat. Love to share my adventure and unexpected finds through my story and my lens.