Navigating Bangkok’s Rails and Rivers

It is essential for the 1st or 2nd time visitor to Bangkok to have a good map showing the Bkk Transit System (BTS) routes, as well as the public water taxi stops up and down the Chao Phraya River. Truly it’s the only way to stay somewhat sane when attempting to cross, or circumvent this vast air polluted city of eight million people. Forget tuk tuks and or taxi cabs as you will no doubt be stuck in a maddening traffic blood clot; unless only needing a short lift; even then sometimes it’s faster simply to walk. And if walking the streets of BKK for your initial explorations- be very careful when intersecting busy streets, as cars and trucks do not stop for you like back home, even if you’re within pedestrian crossings; and watch out for motor bikes going the wrong way on sidewalks too.

The sky train and underground systems generally run on time and are quite reliable; also they’re fully air conditioned, so it’s a good way to beat the sticky heat while crossing town. I enjoy the public river taxi for traversing between Th Sathon or Th Silom and China Town or Banglamphu. Cheapest transit in the city (15 Bt or less) and affords cooling breezes on the Man Nam Chao Phraya, and great temple and people watching. You can also make stops to cross to the other side to see Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), or hire a long tail boat to explore Klong Bangkok Noi or Klong Yai near Thonburi, or whatever else looks interesting or fun.

Recently, Lek (my Thai girlfriend of many yrs) and I got up early one Sunday morning and took the commuter train from Thonburi Wong Wian Yai station to Samut Sakhon (also known as Mahachai) – about an hour directly south of Bangkok. This one engine line is used exclusively by locals mainly as transport to the small farming communities which parallel the tracks, or as a connecter to the rail line continuing to the city of Samut Songkhram. Or to shop for fresh seafood in the sprawling markets of Mahachai where fishing trawlers come up from the Gulf; this was our plan.

The funky train was unexpectedly crowded as we rumbled over worn rails, and past dilapidated concrete and stucco apartment buildings, where smiling children loitered about the asphalt streets and dirt alleyways. Yet fifteen minutes down the line the terrain becomes surprisingly verdant and tropical with tall palms and giant elephant ears, the abundantly watered lowlands painted by lilies and lotus and other wild flowers, and occasional weathered wooden houses and platforms. These are the farmlands which provide vegetables and fruit for the markets and restaurants of Bangkok.

Finally we roll into Mahachai and the coach halts in the midst of a bustling grocery market place. We stroll past mountains of chilies, onions, ginger, and every kind of produce, and tables stacked with newly slaughtered pigs, chickens and beef; & all types of harvest from the rich Gulf of Siam. Lek is possessed and bartering with street vendors, buying plastic bags full of squid, crabs, clams, prawns and whole fish on ice.

Half hours later the whistle blows, and we dash past brightly painted fishing trawlers anchored at the dock, and board the train for our return to Thonburi. The scene inside the rail car is festive as Thais giggle over loads of fresh caught seafood and vegetables. The floor is slick with water from melting ice, and as the late morning heat comes on a fishy odor permeates the air. Lek is on her cell calling Mama and Aunts, informing them to ready the skillets and light the grill for the Sunday family feast.

5 responses to “Navigating Bangkok’s Rails and Rivers

  1. Don’t forget that the line does not end in Mahachai. Do take the boat across the river, and you will find another railway to get all the way to Mae Khlong. A trip here is quite an experience.

    I have published a few pictures on a Swedish railway forum, so the text is in Swedish only.

  2. A warm welcome to thai-blogs’ newest blogger from The Lonely Planet Publications.

    Now, this guy knows how to write a story!

  3. Spot on, Steve -and another useful “travel-blog” to boot!

  4. Nice description of the Maeklong Commuter. A couple of additions: it’s a great bargain, costs only 10 Baht each way. And the market has to literally move off the tracks to make way for the train when it comes into Mahachai Station, which is pretty cool. Above the fishing port there’s a wonderful – and reasonably-priced – seafood restaurant. The train trip is one thing you should do while it lasts, because eventually it’s going to disappear when they build high-speed rail links out that direction (most likely not very soon, but still).

  5. The very latest information i heard from reading the bangkok post on monday, was Taskin ivesting 30 million baht on fixing the railway line to cambodia and Thailand, this was mainly suggested from China, to help improve more export etc. to this region.