There are two kinds of trips that I love doing but don’t often get a chance. These are boat trips and train trips. Well, this weekend I had a chance to do just that and I must tell you that I had a great time. For quite a few years I have heard stories about the mysterious Maeklong Railway that runs from Bangkok to Samut Songkhram, south-west of the capital. The railway is not part of the national network and you won’t find any of the train times listed on the timetable at the State Railway’s website. Not only that, but there is only one narrow track which is broken about half way by a river. Here you have to disembark and cross to the other side by boat. Then, at the far end you will find that the train tracks double as a market! It all seemed to good to be true and I had to take this journey before it became a thing of the past.
We started our trip in Bangkok on a Sunday morning. For most people, there are two well-known train terminals in Bangkok. These are Hualamphong Station and Bangkok Noi Station. However, there is one more on the west bank which not many people know about. It is called Wong Rian Yai and is just south of the large roundabout of the same name. It is easy to find the roundabout as it has a large statue of King Taksin (no relation to Prime Minister Thaksin). However, the station is so tucked away that you really have to keep your eyes peeled as you are driving along. There only evidence that there is a station is a sign in Thai.
We turned in and found that there were only four parking spaces which were all taken. So we decided to drive further on down this narrow road. On both sides were vendors selling food and snacks to people waiting for the train. As we progressed the road became narrower and narrower. It became so narrow that we were starting to wonder whether we were going the right way. But we finally reached a place where we could safely park the car for the day. The attendant told us it would be 20 baht for the first two hours. I told him we were going to Samut Songkhram and would be away for the whole day. This seemed to shake him rather. Why would we want to take the train to Samut Songkram when we had a perfectly good car? In fact he was right. It would have been a lot quicker for us to drive straight there along the main highway. In the end he compromised on a fee of 50 baht.
Trains leave Wong Wian Yai about every hour between 5.30 a.m. and 8.10 p.m. The first stretch takes you to Samut Sakhon, which is confusingly called Mahachai by the local people. So, when you go to buy your ticket, make sure you say Mahachai. Here you catch a ferry to the other side and then buy another ticket to take you to Samut Songkhram. This also has a second name which is more commonly used by the locals. This time you need to ask for a ticket to Maeklong (the “k” is pronounced as a “g” ). You really have to plan your day well because the timetables don’t really match. Sometimes when your train arrives the other is leaving. Other times you only have 30 minutes or as much as two hours! We decided to catch the 10.40 a.m. train which gave us 110 minutes in Mahachai and 60 minutes in Maeklong.
I think there are only two or three train on this line. You couldn’t really have more as it is a single track. The trains can only pass when they are in a station. If you are feeling the heat, you will be glad to know that the 10.40 a.m. train has an air-conditioned carriage. The trip to Mahachai costs a whopping 10 baht. If you decide to sit in the air-con carriage, the conductor will ask you for an extra 15 baht. About 60 cents in total for a one hour journey! Not bad when you consider how much it would have cost me in petrol if I had driven there.
The train left on time and we trundled out of the station. After about 15 minutes we started to leave the big city behind us and the concrete blocks were replaced by banana plants and orchards. There were a number of brief stops along the way but none of them lasted for long. A few times when we stopped the only evidence I could see that we were at a station was a sign in Thai and English and a small patch of gravel. As we approached most of the roads, the driver blew his whistle and slowed down as he carefully looked both ways. He then crossed the road. Many of these roads didn’t have any barriers to stop the cars. Every now and then we were back into another community or passed a few factories. But, most of the time we were in the countryside. I must admit I was a bit like an excited schoolboy and kept looking out of the window on both sides. (A small tip, if you do decide to ride the air-conditioned car, you won’t see much out of the dirty windows!)
We arrived in Mahachai on time at 11.39 a.m. The time had passed quite quickly. We climbed down from the train on the lefthand side. But there was no obvious way to leave the station as there was another train blocking our away. This train was nearly full and it looked like it was about to depart. However, people from our train started to climb up into this train and out the other side. So, we decided to do the same. We weren’t actually in a rush as we had a full 110 minutes before the next train left from the station on the other side of the river. I reckoned it would take us at least 15 minutes to cross. Call it 30 minutes to be safe. As we had plenty of time I wandered to the area at the back of the train to take some pictures of the market vendors. Can you see our train in this picture? It has already been penned in and won’t be getting out in a rush!