The Giant Three-Headed Elephant

The biggest tourist attraction in Samut Prakan now is undoubtedly the Erawan Museum (Chang Erawan). This giant three-headed elephant is an incredible 29 metres high and 39 metres long. If you count the building it stands on, then the height is 43.6 metres. A small window in the belly of the elephant gives you some fine views of the surrounding area. They started work on the structure back in 1994 and it has only recently been completed. You can’t fail to notice this elephant as you drive along Sukhumwit Road on your way to Samut Prakan. It is truly an amazing structure. In fact, I think it is probably the only museum in the world where the building itself is far more interesting than the artifacts that it houses.

The inspiration behind the Erawan Museum came from the late Khun Lek. This successful businessman became rich as the owner of a dealership for Mercedes Benz. Instead of squandering his money, he decided to take an active part in preserving past cultures and handicrafts for future generations. Khun Lek was the man behind two other inspiring projects which are the Ancient City and the Sanctuary of Truth. More about these later. The three-headed elephant is the mount for the Hindu God Indra. Actually, the elephant is supposed to have thirty-three heads but as this isn’t easy for artists to duplicate it is often abbreviated to only three heads. One of the original clay models, that they made before building the elephant, showed the God Indra mounted up on top. But, I believe this proved to be too impractical. So, they just built the elephant.

During the construction, about 3 years ago, a rumour started spreading about a woman that had made a wish to the elephant that if he helped her win the lottery then she would have his baby. Well, a short while later she did in fact win over a million baht in the lottery. She also became pregnant. By the time the national newspapers came to hear of it she was already in hiding. Not sure if it is true or not. Probably just an urban legend. But, enough Thai people did believe and a shrine outside the walls of the park soon became packed with worshippers. Lottery sellers do good business here on the 1st and 16th of every month when the winning numbers are announced.

There is another story that Khun Lek built the elephant in this location on purpose to block the way for a proposed outer ring road. While it was still being built, I heard from one of the family members that they were planning on donating the elephant to the King. A bit like the villagers that ordained trees to stop the loggers cutting them down. However, the outer ring road is now being built just north of the elephant. The ironical fact is that the family home was pulled down instead to make room for the road!

The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The price is 150 baht for adults and 50 baht for children. If you just want to walk around the garden and not go inside the elephant then it will cost you only 50 baht. There is no two priced system here. However, if you wish to have an English speaking tour guide you need to pay an extra 300 baht. The guide we had actually decided to speak English with us though he didn’t really want to say too much. It didn’t really matter as I have been coming here since the early days of construction. I used to teach the grandchildren of Khun Lek and they used to let me in with my visitors. I took Joe Cummings here once when he came to stay with us. He has a new edition of Lonely planet Thailand coming out soon so hopefully he will update the Samut Prakan section.

The tours leave every half hour. If you are a little early then explore the grounds first. Make a wish at the shrine. Don’t forget to offer something if your wish comes true. Popular offerings include sugar cane and bananas. Just don’t forget to come back if your wish comes true as there might be consequences! The tour takes you first into the basement where many of the antiquities are stored. All of the information signs are bilingual so it doesn’t really matter too much if you didn’t pay extra for the English speaking guide. In this area you are not allowed to take pictures.

You next go upstairs which is truly amazing. This is the stairway to heaven with a beautiful stained glass window in the ceiling. The attention to details is astounding. Much of the walls and art work is covered with broken pieces of Benjarong pottery. These create a colourful mosaic effect. Some of these broken bowls are quite expensive ranging from 150 baht to 1000 baht. The whole place must have cost them millions. As you walk around the ground floor you will see four pillars with tin plated designs. Each pillar represents one of the four major religions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. The latter is not finished yet.

After completing the circle you are then taken up the stairs to the first landing. From here you have a better view of the stained glass window. Now you have a choice of walking up the stairs which go up the back right-hand leg of the elephant. Or the lift that goes up the back left-hand leg of the elephant. I suggest you go up in the lift and walk down the stairs. As you come out of the lift you are in a small chamber which has a small window which you can use to look at the view. Mind your head! From here you go up some more stairs to the final room. This is like entering a temple with the celestial stars painted on the ceiling. You are now in the upper body of the elephant.

I strongly recommend you visit the Erawan Museum. Maybe do it as part of a trip to the Ancient City too. You won’t be disappointed.

On page two I have added some pictures which give you a better impression of the size of the elephant.

12 responses to “The Giant Three-Headed Elephant

  1. Well last time I visited the Erawan Museum it was still under construction. It was close to completion and running way behind schedule, I took some photo’s from the out side. Unlike Richards Photo, the sky is full of smog in my photo’s. Next time I visit this area I will go inside.

  2. Wow ! This place looks one amazing place to run riot with a camera ! Respects to Khun Lek for thinking “outside of the box” on the design. Most definately on the list for my next visit.

  3. Yes, it’s pretty awesome! I’ve been there this May, it was amazing, both inside and outside.
    Khun Don, you can “run amok” with the camera, but only on the upper floors!

    The basement is somewhat of a disappointment. First, you have to wait around until a sizable group comes together. The doors are closed. Once it opens, you can go in, but the tour is guided, whether you want it or not; you can’t explore and read everything at your own pace, as the guide hurries the entire group along.

    Some of the lenghtier descriptions are impossible the read in the hurry. And no, you can’t linger around after the guide finished; everyone is pushed out, and the doors are sealed shut again, until the next group comes.
    And of course, like Richard said, you can’t take pictures there.

    Luckily, it gets better on the upper floors. Although there is a guide there too, you can just wander around, don’t have to stick with the crowd.

    What’s been left out of this blog is that there is a small circular area surrounding the monument. This is filled with flowing water, and you can float lotus flowers and candles down as if it was Loy Krathong. It’s pretty. I’ll upload some pictures into our Thaiblogs Photoalbum as soon as I find ’em in my archives.

    Great blog, Richard… brinks about some nice memories. 😉 It’s also nice to learn about the background story; it’s pretty interesting.

  4. Thanks for the extra info, SiamJai. I still intend to visit, shame about the regimented guide system, though, they probably would get more farang visitors if they did away with this system, but maybe it is crowded enough already.

  5. @ Khun Don – I think Siamjai was unlucky the day he went. I have probably been there 10-15 times since it opened to the public. Each time I went on a tour. These leave every 30 minutes (the time is fixed) and I have seen two people being shown around. About 90% of the time it was only my party walking around. I have never been on a tour bigger than 6 people. A tour group from China did come in but it looked like they had their own tour guide and didn’t walk with us. Our guide was willing to go slowly to give us time to look at each exhibit. After we had circled the exhibition hall they never seemed to rush us to leave. I think we could have walked around again. We said goodbye to our guide in the belly of the elephant. We then made our own way down and a few times people in my party wanted to take another look around before leaving. But, like Siamjai said, you cannot go back into the basement without a guide. They are very protective of that.

  6. The first time i saw the elephant statue, i was driving with my Thai friend at night… and I was shocked by the size of that thing! So I asked my friend about the statue and he gave me a look and kept quiet untill we left far away from that place…

    Then, he told me a similar story about the woman who prayed to win the lottery except she didn’t keep her promise… and she was found raped and killed… and they found elephant prints outside….

    This is my Thai friend’s version of the story…


  7. yes, i will try to visit on my next trip.

  8. I visited this place last weekend but failed to photograph the Erawan Elaphant as big as it should be. It is like 5 times bigger than ordinary elephants you see on the street. My photo result is just like Richard’s. I gotta went up on the bridge and photograph the Elaphant up there. Yeah, now it shows the comparison of the elephant and cars. I wish I could show them to you!

  9. @ DJ_CrystaL

    I have added a second page now of pictures. As there are people in the pictures you should then get a clearer idea of the size of the beast. The first picture was taken during construction and you can no longer take a picture like that. Actually, you probably cannot take the latter two pictures any more because the vegetation has been cut down to make way for the outer ring road and flyover.

  10. thaifnessfan

    quote(re Khun Lek): instead of squandering his money….) what else than “squadering money” can you call this!…it must be my education i guess. But then again i am very pessimistic about the influence of hinduism on the pure budhism in this country. Sorry if i offend someone with this comment, just try to put things in perspective.

  11. I’ve seen this place a few years ago, while it was being built. I’m going back to thailand this year and would love to go there. How can I get there? How long does it take to go, from bangkok?

    Actually, I’m arriving from Cambodja… so, is it ossible to make a stop on my way to Bangkok?

    Thank you very much for your help.

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