In A Nutshell
Looking for a fun vacation with the whole family? Well, you probably shouldn’t visit the Thai hell gardens unless you want to give your kids nightmares. Spread out across the country, these bizarre parks are full of tortured souls, angry demons, and enough gore to make Jigsaw nauseous. These terrifying attractions are meant to scare sinners straight by showing them the horrors of hell.
The Whole Bushel
Most people probably associate Buddhism with peace, tranquility, and orange-robed monks practicing meditation. However, they probably don’t associate it with people getting flayed, whipped, and fed to giant wolves. But according to Buddhist theology, if you wind up in hell, it’s like spending the night in a hostel with Eli Roth as your roommate.
Known as Naraka, the Buddhist underworld is traditionally made up of eight major hells, each with a series of sub-hells for a total of 136 dungeons, all with gruesome names like the Hell of Constant Repetition, the Hell of Black Wire, and the Hell of Blue Lotus-Colored Patches on Skin. The place is run by the Death King, Phya Yom, who weighs your good deeds against your bad. If your vices (recorded on a scrap of dog leather) outweigh your virtues (etched into a golden tablet), you have to spend hundreds, thousands, maybe even billions of years in the afterlife’s craziest torture chamber. Fortunately, you get out eventually and start life afresh in your new reincarnated body. But until then, your life is going to be, well, a living hell.
Of course, hearing about Naraka is one thing. Seeing it is a totally different story. Nothing makes you worry about the afterlife like the image of a monster ripping out your guts. That’s why monks across Thailand have built incredibly macabre hell gardens full of lurid murals and gory statues. The idea is to have tourists stroll through the grounds and see the horrors that await them. Hopefully, after a day in the Thai hell gardens, they’ll stop sinning, start tithing, and turn their lives around.
One of the most ornate hell gardens is Wat Rong Khun, a beautiful, snow-white temple with quite a few surprises. In order to reach this icy monastery, you have to cross a short bridge, but don’t look down. If you do, you’ll see hundreds of arms reaching up out of hell, trying to claw their way to freedom. Once you pass the pit, you’ll walk between angry demons armed with swords, and that’s when things start getting really strange. For some odd reason, Wat Rong Khun is full of Western movie characters. A statute of the Predator pops up, and there’s a hellish mural complete with Neo from The Matrix, a Transformer, and a Star Wars pod racer.
At Wat Chai Mongkol, you’ll spot plaster people sawn in half and ravenous birds eating their victims alive. Drop by Wat Ban Waeng, and you’ll see dozens of women hanging from trees. But the biggest and baddest of all the hell gardens is Wang Saen Suk, located outside Bangkok. Built in 1986, the park wastes no time in terrifying guests. Once you walk by the sign reading “Welcome to Hell,” you come face to face with two ghoulish statues of a man and a woman, each with a long, worm-like tongue (pictured above). These are the preta, greedy spirits condemned to wander the earth, never able to quench their thirst or fill their hunger. Things only get better from here.
Scattered throughout the park are statues of liars with their tongues pulled out by pliers, alcoholics drinking bubbling oil, and killers hacked into pieces by demons with machetes. Nudes are forced to climb thorny trees, people are cooked in a pot full of boiling hot water, sinners are eaten by giant fish, and a few unlucky souls are flayed alive. Perhaps the weirdest sight is all the people with animal heads. Liars are transformed into toads, arsonists are turned into snakes, and corrupt officials are twisted into pigs.
However, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel. Near the exit are statues of the righteous, each with a magical tree that will grant them their every wish. So if you don’t feel like hanging out with sword-wielding demons for millions of years, you better read the sign near Wang Saen Suk’s entrance, a sign that reads, “If you meet the Devil in this life, don’t postpone merit-making which will help you to defeat him in the next life. Donate a little each day, and you’ll have a happy life.”
Show Me The Proof
Featured image: Qormyach
The Daily Beast: Welcome to Buddhist Hell
Atlas Obscura: Morbid Monday: The Buddhist Hell Gardens Of Thailand
io9.com: Spend a lovely day with the kids at Thailand’s Hell torture theme park
CNN Travel: Where to experience Buddhist hell in Thailand
Hell-On-Line: About Buddhist Hell