Some are creepy, others fascinating; some are inspiring, and some are downright horrifying…but one thing is for sure, Thailand’s history is filled with some very unique individuals and some very bizarre situations. Here, we introduce you to just a few of them.
Harn Raksajit, the mad monk
So there was this guy named Harn Raksajit, or Nain Ae amongst friends. As a novice monk in 1995, he was arrested for roasting a (already) dead baby in order to create what is considered a powerful ancient Thai spirit known as Kumarn Tong, as well as a special love potion called yar sanae, made from oil extracted from the roasted corpse. The roast was filmed by TV journalists but never broadcast. After a short stint in prison for “committing an indecent act with a corpse”, Harn was released and continued to use his proclaimed knack for black magic to commit a variety of crimes, including the rape of 23 women, receiving sexual favours and cash in exchange for bogus potions and rituals, money laundering, possession of goods (from a Mercedes Benz to women’s underwear to human skulls) obtained through sham services, and stabbing a follower through the stomach after supposedly using his powers to make the man invulnerable to knives. In 2005, Harn was sentenced to 100 years in jail, and apparently has yet to figure out how to magically escape.
Eng and Chang Bunker, the first Siamese twins
Today, the politically correct term is actually ‘conjoined twins’, but the derivation of the original phrasing was a pair of twins named Eng and Chang Bunker, born in May 1811 in Thailand, then called Siam. Joined at the chest, medical knowledge at the time disallowed doctors from separating Eng and Chang, so they lived their lives in, well, very close quarters. At 17, they joined a Scottish merchant’s world tour and grew internationally famous under the coined phrase ‘Siamese Twins’ due to their origins, and perhaps the rather narrow perspective of their audiences. Eventually the twins became American citizens, taking the surname Bunker, marrying two (non-conjoined) American sisters – Adelaide and Sarah Ann Yates – and producing an impressive total of 21 children (ten for Chang and 11 for Eng). They lived together until the relatively ripe old age of 63, when Chang died of bronchitis and Eng followed him shortly afterwards.
Supatra ‘Nat’ Sasuphan, the world’s hairiest girl
One of only 50 known people to be born with Ambras Syndrome, an extremely rare disorder caused by a defective chromosome that results in an excessive amount of hair growth on the body, including the face and neck, then 11-year-old Supatra ‘Nat’ Sasuphan was dubbed the world’s hairiest girl in 2011 by Guinness World Records. People at school used to call her ‘wolf girl’ or ‘monkey face’, but despite early bullying, Nat’s friendly nature and positive outlook have endeared her to family and friends, who describe her as an outgoing girl who dreams of becoming a math teacher or a doctor. Plus, she says, winning a global record has made her the most popular girl in school. “I’m very happy to be in the Guinness World Records!” she said when interviewed by the Thai press. “A lot of people have to do a lot the to get in. All I did was answer a few questions and then they gave it to me.” You go, girl.
Si Quey, the child eater
After moving to Thailand in 1944, Chinese immigrant Si Quey found his new passion – capturing young male children, murdering them and then eating their hearts and livers. There are at least half a dozen known victims. Apparently, the alleged psychopath believed that such a diet would make him stronger, healthier and potentially immortal. Captured and executed by hanging in the 1950s, Si Quey’s preserved cadaver remains on display at the Songkran Niyomsane Museum of Forensic Medicine in Bangkok, where it is reportedly rubbed down with vaseline by a Bangkok masseuse every year, to stay… fresh? Meanwhile, his infamy lives on for Thai parents looking to freak out misbehaving offspring with threats of visits from Si Quey’s ghost, whose appetite for child flesh reportedly remains strong.
Sunandha Kumariratana, the untouchable queen
It’s not easy being queen. In May of 1880, Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, one of King Rama V’s four wives, was on a pleasure cruise along the Chao Praya River on her way to the summer palace when the royal boat capsized. 19 years old and pregnant, Sunandha, her two-year-old daughter and her unborn child drowned in the river while several of her loyal subjects looked on, simply because old royal customs prevented anyone (other than the king) from touching the queen, on penalty of death.
Jim Thompson, the disappearing silk master
American expat, acclaimed architect, retired army officer, one-time spy, illustrious antique collector, globally renowned silk merchant… missing person. After nearly single-handedly reviving Thailand’s silk industry, providing jobs for thousands of Thailand’s poorest citizens and constructing his world famous ‘House on the Klong’ in Bangkok, Jim Thompson took a vacation with friends to Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. He left his bungalow on the afternoon of March 24, 1967, ostensibly to take a short walk. He was never seen again. In response, authorities and local residents staged the biggest manhunt in Malaysian history, combing the forested surroundings extensively, but failed to find any sign of him. Several handsome rewards were offered and a variety of experts came from abroad to assist, including a controversial American psychic named Peter Hurkos, who claimed (in a creepy, trance-like state) that Thompson had surely been abducted to another country. Few other clues came to light, but strange things continued to happen, including the supposedly unrelated murder of Thompson’s elderly sister in America soon after. The disappearance (as well as the murder) remains a mystery to this day.
Kanchana Ketkaew and Boonthawee Seangwong, the scorpion queen and centipede king
Need to renew your faith in love? Meet Thailand’s strangest couple, Kanchana Ketkaew and Boonthawee Seangwong, better known as the scorpion queen and the centipede king. Both Kanchana and Boonthawee are Guinness World Record Holders – he for spending 28 days living with 1,000 centipedes and she for spending 33 days in a glass room with 5,000 scorpions, as well as putting a live poisonous scorpion in her mouth for over two minutes. The couple met and fell in love on a snake farm in Koh Samui and wed on Valentine’s Day of 2006 in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not sponsored traditional Thai wedding ceremony, along with six other couples who dressed up as corpses and spent their first night of conjugal bliss sleeping together in coffins at Ripley’s Haunted House. Ah, romance.
Mae Nak Phra Khanong, the most popular ghost in Thailand
This one is not exactly historically proven, but ask any Thai person and they’ll be well aware of the story of Lady Nak, which supposedly took place during the early 19th century in Bangkok. The tale goes something like this: beautiful Nak and her husband Mak are deeply in love. Nak is pregnant when suddenly Mak is sent off to war, where he is seriously injured. Meanwhile, back in Bangkok, Nak and her baby both die during childbirth, unbeknownst to Mak. When Mak returns home to recover, he finds Nak and the baby happily occupying the home, and all seems well despite constant warnings from neighbours that Nak is actually dead. In love, Mak ignores the warnings, until one day he watches Nak reach through the floorboards of the porch to pick up a dropped lime, and realises that she and the baby are, in fact, ghosts. From there, Mak flees to a temple and Nak’s ghost supposedly terrorises the town in her grief until she is captured in a jar by a powerful exorcist and thrown into the Phra Khanong canal (from where she may or may not have eventually escaped). Mae Nak has been revived countless times through Thai cinema and television (including the recent hit film ‘Pee-Mak-Phra-Kanong’, a comedic modern-day retelling), but what her story really illustrates is Thailand’s widespread, Buddhism-supported belief in the supernatural. In fact, polls have shown that upwards of 80% of the Thai population strongly believe in the existence of ghosts and spirits.