On the walls of Thai temples and at its gates, you will come across many mythical creatures of Thai mythology. Some familiar ones are the Kinnaree (half-human, half-bird), Garuda (half-bird, half-man) and Naga (transforming seven-headed snake).
However, there exists several more: two/three/four-legged, fish-based and flying creatures, such as, the anthler Ghilen/Kirin, the lion Kraisorn, the horse Ussadorn, and the mighty Erawan elephant.
These fabulous creatures all lived in the mythical Himmapan forest. The Himmapan forest is said to be located on a mountain range of 84,000 peaks, many conclude to correspond to the Himalayas, a geographical location where the stories originated from, an India so ancient it had influenced storytelling for religious purposes of both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Both Hinduism and Buddhism are thousand years old religious teachings that have relied on oral memory to preserve a vast body of knowledge that was passed down thousands of years, pretty much intact. The Buddhist tales of Himmapan were recounted in the stories of Traiphum, Three Planes of Existence.
According to these entertaining yet instructive legends, Himmapan was located in the southwestern continent of Chomputaweep, one of the four continents of the 'universe'. The center of this world/universe, which is just one in an unlimited number of other world/universes, is the sacred mountain, Sumane, which connects us to other planes.
Each of the four continents floated on a world/universe filled with waters. The Himmapan forest was the sole connecting passageway from Chomputaweep to the center of the universe, Mt. Sumane, and was equated symbolically with the way of the Buddha. It is said that there was once a time when we could see and enter the Himmapan forest, and travel between the heavenly planes and human world was possible. However, with the loss of high moral standards, we can no longer see this great forest nor its strange animals.
Traiphum is a Buddhist cosmogony, a system of symbols embodying esoteric knowledge that was to be later transposed into a myriad of artistic forms decorating many Buddhist temples of Thailand. The mythical creatures of the Himmapan forests, some which were considered guardians of Buddhism or holy places, were dressings to make the Buddhist teachings colorful enough to be remembered generations after generations.
You can read and browse through pictures of more Himmapan creatures at http://www.himmapan.com/index.html. When you visit the Emerald Buddha Temple, Wat Pra Kae and the Grand Palace, look out for their sculptures and look closely at the murals to see how many you can identify. Or when you visit the National Museum look closely at the intricately carved wooden panels brought from ancient temples around the country. Himmapan creatures always guard entrances. At the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun, you will find stucco adornments of lions and ghilens. At the Erawan Museum which carries the majestic Erawan elephants as its roof, you will find a garden imitating the Himmapan forest dotted with sculptures of Himmapan animals.