“Khun Chang Khun Paen
The events recounted in the tale, took place during the Ayutthaya
Thus the tale was passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, through the enduring medium of poetry. Some parts of the story have been sensationalized as a result. King Rama 2, with the help of a group of esteemed poets of the time, was the first to retell the story in the form of a melodic, idiomatic rhyme, and grew to become an important piece of literature throughout the Kingdom. Such was its esteem, that it even received an award from Wannakhadee Samosorn
The poem is ubiquitous in Thailand, even included as a staple of the country’s literary curriculum. It is often used as a fun way to introduce students to the culture, philosophies, and practices of ancient Thailand.
The Characters in the Story
The hero of the story is Khun Paen
The Web of Relationships between the Characters
Khun Chang’s Family
Khun Chang had been bald and plump since childhood. He was born to Khun Sriwichai
Khun Chang lost his father at a young age, after a bandit named Jan Sorn
Nang Phim Family
Khun Paen Family
Khun Paen, otherwise known as Plai Kaew
One day, Somdej Pra Phan Wasa was on a trophy hunt for wild buffalo. He assigned Khun Krai to herd some buffalo into an enclosure, where he could shoot them with a bow and arrow. While attempting to corral them, the buffalo panicked, and Khun Krai tried desperately to dispatch as many of them as he could, to prevent a stampede. His efforts, however, proved futile, and most of the buffalo escaped, leaving the King with only a few dead ones.
Denied sport while on his hunt, the King was furious and ordered Khun Krai to be executed for the affront.
His wife, Nang Thong Prasri feared for her family’s life. She whisked Khun Paen away to Kanchanaburi
Khun Chang, Khun Paen (Plai Kaew) and Nang Phim grew up together in Supanburi, first becoming friends when they were 5 years old. At some point in their adolescent lives, the pair (Khun Chang and Khun Paen) took part in a “drinking” ritual, making a pact to seal their friendship forever, at the peril of violent death by Sing Saksit should the bond be betrayed. After their respective fathers passed away a few years later, however, each went his own way in pursuit of their destiny.
Predestination – Reunion with each other
Plai Kaew held his father in high esteem and wanted to be a general just like him. He decided to hone his knowledge and skills, in an attempt to achieve his ambition.
Nang Phim was in the temple to make offerings that night. It is customary for the laity to offer Sabai to the monks to make merits. Drawn towards Plai Kaew due to his melodious voice, Nang Phim knelt and offered her Sabai
One morning, as Plai Kaew went on his alms begging rounds, he passed by both Nang Phim’s and Khun Chang’s houses. He was reminded that they were childhood friends.
He regularly stopped at Nang Phim’s house during his rounds, and their attraction towards each other gradually intensified.
Khun Chang was deeply infatuated with Nang Phim. He wanted to marry her, even expressing this wish to his mother. His mother went to Nang Phim’s house hoping to negotiate a marriage arrangement with Nang Phim’s mother. Nang Phim overheard the conversation and was infuriated.
Nang Phim rushed to Plai Kaew, and in tears, pleaded with him to disrobe and marry her so that she would not have to marry Khun Chang. Plai Kaew agreed and went to see Somphan Mee to inform him of his decision. Somphan Mee did an astrological reading for Plai Kaew and realized that his destiny was to be a warrior like his father. He gave the all-clear for him to disrobe and leave the monkhood. He did, however, caution Plai Kaew that he would be fated to leave for battle not long after his marriage to Nang Phim, and that she would have an extramarital affair in his absence. Numerous other hardships loomed on his horizon as well; he would be incarcerated at the age of 25, and suffer all manner of hardships, only experiencing a turn of fate at age 40.
Khun Paen was not deterred and left, thanking his teacher for the insights.
The Journey into Sorcery
Plai Kaew disrobed, taking several Kreung Rang Phra Rod, some offerings and Khao San Sek (uncooked rice consecrated with spells) (with him. He proceeded to a cemetery, setting up a safe perimeter with the Saisin he had brought along, before summoning a series of demons and ghouls. All the creatures obeyed him without question, afraid of his potent sorcery, which subdued and enslaved them with ease.
The night was marked by heavy winds and thunder as the scale of his summoning grew. Finally, a high ranking Daemon appeared, angry and defiant, demanding that the person who was disturbing their realm’s peace to identify himself.
The marriage was a success, much to Khun Chang’s chagrin.
Preparations for War
Somdej Phra Phan Wasa decreed that Plai Kaew would lead the troops. Under his leadership, the areas were easily conquered and annexed. Though he emerged the victor, he treated the people in the region with kindness and integrity.
While residing in the North after his victory, his fame grew far and wide, and a village headmaster in the Jom Thong
Khun Chang’s Indecent Proposal
After Plai Kaew left for battle, Nang Phim fell terribly ill, as her heart longed for her beloved Plai Kaew. Khrua Ta Joo
Khun Chang hatched a plot to win Wan Thong’s affection. He found an urn and hid some bones inside. He showed this urn to Wan Thong and her mother, lamenting that Plai Kaew had tragically passed away in battle.
Khun Chang lied that according to the tradition set by the King, the widows of fallen soldiers would be used as comfort women for the troops. However, Wan Thong did not fall for the lie, even though her gullible mother urged her to. Her mother believed that Wan Thong would have a better life if she married Khun Chang, as he was a millionaire and held a position in the court of the King.
Wan Thong married Khun Chang but did not consummate the marriage with him, choosing to remain in her own home.
Meanwhile, Plai Keaw returned to Ayutthaya, and was awarded a title “Khun Paen Saen Sathan
Upon seeing Lao Thong, Wan Thong was happy to see him, yet infuriated by his infidelity. The pair entered into a heated quarrel, which resulted in Khun Paen annulling their marriage. With Lao Thong and Sai Thong in tow, he returned to Kanchanaburi to be with his mother. By now, Wan Thong had already been officially recognized officially as Khun Chang’s wife.
Khun Chang brought Wan Thong to the King’s court, serving alongside him and other chamberlains.
One day, Nang Sri Prajan (Khun Paen’s mother) sent someone to inform Khun Paen that Lao Thong was very ill. Khun Paen beseeched Khun Chang to take over his duties in the palace, while he sneaked out to return to Kanchanaburi to attend to Lao Thong. Khun Chang reported this to the King. When the King found out what had transpired, he was infuriated and ordered Lao Thong to be brought to the palace and be impounded within its walls.
As further punishment, the King banished Khun Paen to the borders. Khun Paen was very upset by Khun Chang’s betrayal and plotted to win back Wan Thong’s heart. He decided to seek out 3 greatest weapons stated in the ancient manuals of sorcery, to aid him in the endeavour (Stay tuned on our upcoming article on the Weapons of Khun Paen).
Attaining the Prized Weapons of Sorcery
During his pursuit, Khun Paen got acquainted with Muen Han
Moved by Khun Paen’s heroic act, Muen Han offered his daughter Bua Klee
Khun Paen then proceeded to Khun Chang’s house. Using a spell, he put all the occupants of the house to sleep. He went to Khun Chang’s room intending to take Wan Thong by force, but he crept into the wrong room, coming face to face with Nang Kaew Kiriya
After having his fill, he whisked Nang Kaew Kiriya and Wan Thong out of Khun Chang’s house and into the night, riding Mah See Mok.
The trio (Khun Paen, Wan Thong and Nang Kaew Kiriya) retreated to the jungles for refuge. One day, Wan Thong realized she was pregnant with Khun Paen’s child. The jungle was no place for a newborn, and Khun Paen then decided to risk returning to the city. Once there, he filed a suit against Khun Chang in the audience of the King, spilling the beans about the lies that Khun Chang had fabricated in order to win Wan Thong’s hand in marriage. The King sided with Khun Paen, and Khun Paen was acquitted of all charges. He was allowed to live in the city with no further harassment.
While in the palace, Khun Paen caught a glimpse of Lao Thong. He begged Ja Muen See Sawwalack
Due to Khun Paen’s past contributions, he was locked in a special cell. He was granted more civility than normal prisoners. Nang Kaew Kiriya was able to visit him daily and brought food to visit Khun Paen, caring and nursing for him. While Khun Paen was incarcerated, he begged Ja Muen See Sawwalack to take care of Wan Thong, who was pregnant with their child.
Wan Thong resided in Ja Muen See Sawwalack’s residence at this point. One day, Khun Chang sent a small force of his servants to bring her back by force.
Plai Ngam, the son of Khun Paen
Not long after, Wan Thong gave birth to a cute and beautiful baby boy named Plai-Ngam
The Pee Prai witnessed the whole event and rescued the child, returning him to Wan Thong. When the child awoke, he related what had happened to his mother. Wan Thong brought Plai-Ngam to Khun Paen’s mother in Kanchanaburi.
While Plai-Ngam was in Kanchanaburi, he went to look for Khun Paen’s master, Somphan Boon. While he was there, he mastered a lot of skills. After acquiring the skills, his grandmother brought him to Ja Muen See Sawwalack’s residence for training in military knowledge, aiming to nurture him into a general, as his father had been.
When Ja Muen See Sawwalack first set his eyes on Plai-Ngam, he retorted to Nang Thong PraSri (Khun Paen’s mother) that he could not believe that this young man was Khun Paen’s son, as he said that Khun Paen’s presence was imposing, and he was an extremely driven and talented man, while Plai-Ngam looked extremely normal.
To convince Ja Muen See Sawwalack, Plai-Ngam recited a spell and transformed into a tiger. Ja Muen See Sawwalack was impressed, and thoroughly convinced. He accepted him as an apprentice.
The Glorious Return of Khun Paen
During that time, Phra Zhao Larn Chang
Phra Zhao Larn Chang sent his daughter, Princess Nang Soithong
Somdej Pra Phan Wasa furious at this insult, and sought out his best troops to rescue his concubine. None of his generals, however, dared volunteer for the extremely dangerous mission. It was at this point that Ja Muen See Sawwalack brought the youth Plai-Ngam before the King. Plai-Ngam volunteered to lead the troops, but only on the condition that the King release his father from the dungeons, and allow him to join the party in battle.
The King abided, realizing that these two presented his best hope for the safe return of his concubine. All through the time that elapsed, Nang Kaew Kiriya had been taking care of Khun Paen in the dungeon. Khun Paen, though formidable and able to easily escape through the use of his supernatural powers, chose not to do so, out of respect for the King. As she was allowed to stay in the cell with Khun Paen at times, Nang Kaew Kiriya was also pregnant with Khun Paen’s baby.
Khunpaen and Plai-Ngam set off for the war. Through the bravery and skills of both father and son, they emerged victoriously. Where once they had been fugitives, they returned to Ayutthaya as heroes, and the King bestowed the title of “Phra Surin Rue Chai
Impressed by the victory of both father and son, Somdej Phra Phan Wasa gave Nang SoiFa to Ja Muen Wai Woranart (Plai-Ngam) and allowed the 3 of them to get married (Ja Muen, Nang SriMala and Nang Soifa). Ja Meun wished for his mother (Wan Thong) to live together and be reconciled with his father. Thus he went to Khun Chang’s house in Supanburi and brought his mother back to Kanchanaburi. When Khun Chang found out, he was once again enraged and laid his complaints before the King.
Infuriated by the constant drama involving the three of them, the King brought all of them to his presence and questioned Wan Thong, insisting that she choose one of the men to be with.
Wan Thong loved Khun Paen but took into consideration that he had too many wives, acting in such frivolous and promiscuous manner that she would have trouble accepting. She questioned the love that Khun Paen had for her.
Khun Chang, on the other hand, was totally devoted to her, sparing no resources and affection in taking care of her. However, Wan Thong also felt torn, not willing to be separated from her son, Ja Muen.
The King felt that Wan Thong wanted the best of both worlds, and was insulted that he had to be personally involved in the love triangle between Khun Paen, Khun Chang and Wan Thong time and time again. He ordered Wan Thong to be executed. She was dragged to the execution ground and a ceremony was carried out. (In the old days, it was customary for an execution to be carried out in the presence of an audience, dance and ceremonial drumming)
Ja Muen pleaded relentlessly with the King, and the King finally relented, agreeing to spare his mother’s life. Ja Muen rushed to the execution ground on horseback, waving a white flag to signal to the executioner to stop the beheading. However, the executioner mistook the meaning of the signal, thinking that the King had sent an emissary to signal the execution to be carried out without delay.
In modern Thai society, promiscuous women who juggle two men as lovers are often referred to as “Wan Thong Song Jai
Khun Paen, on the other hand, is handsome but frivolous, adored by many, and exemplifying the tenacity to bear with suffering and sacrifice to achieve what he wants, an archetype that many normal Thais identify with.
The legend has had a deep cultural impact on Thailand. It led to the creation and proliferation of amulets such as Guman Thong, Khun Paen, Namman Prai, spells (especially Love Spells). The influence of these amulets is far-reaching, having spread all over Asia and even to Africa, Europe and the U.S.