Market on the Railway Tracks

Maeklong railway

I have been telling you about my recent trip on the Maeklong Railway in Thailand where my first stop was Samut Sakhon (otherwise known as Mahachai). This city has one of the biggest fish markets in the country and I enjoyed myself looking around and also going on a boat trip on the river. The railway line from Bangkok opened to the public in 1905. Along its 31 km length there are 18 stations, though we didn’t stop at all of them. There has been talk of discontinuing this service but I don’t think they will do so. There were four carriages and some people had to stand up for the journey.

At Mahachai, we had to catch a ferry to the other side of the river in order to continue our journey to Samut Songkhram (otherwise known as Maeklong). We had to wait around for a while because the times didn’t match up. They don’t really expect you to go all the way from Bangkok to Maeklong. Actually, the second section from Ban Laem to Maeklong doesn’t seem as popular. There are only four trains a day and two carriages. But for me, it was the best section of the railway.

Our train was due to leave at 1.30 p.m. We had 110 minutes to explore Mahachai. This is the last train you can catch if you want to return the same day as the next train at 4.40 p.m. spends the night in Maeklong! The only other trains are 7.30 a.m. and 10.10 a.m. (Don’t worry, I will be giving you a full timetable in the archives at thaitravelblogs.com next week.) When you go to buy the ticket you need to say you want to go to Maeklong. Don’t forget to pronounce it “mae-glong”. This will set you back 10 baht for the one hour journey. This line is slightly longer at 33 kms. If you arrive too late then you can buy the ticket on the train. Or, if you do that boat ride I mentioned before then you can ask your boatman to drop you off at Talat Phlu which is the second stop on the line.

Maeklong railway

This section of the railways spends more time in the countryside. The areas here is not so built up and the journey proved to be more enjoyable. When you go, make sure you get a window seat on the left hand side. There is more action and scenery on this side! It isn’t long before the greenery makes way for the salt farms and windmills. Saltwater is pumped into shallow, large ponds in the fields and then left to drain. As we passed we could see dozens of people raking salt into piles. At another place people were loading large sacks of salt onto a truck. It was fascinating to watch them at work as we trundled past at a leisurely pace. I made a mental note to come back here by car to explore the salt farms.

The journey was over very quickly and we soon entered a built up area. The outskirts of Maeklong. I knew that during the last 100 metres or so the train would pass through a market. Literally. I know it sounds strange but this was my planned highlight of the trip. I wanted to get pictures of the market stallholders pulling back their produce as we passed through the market. It had always intrigued me and I wanted to come and see for myself. For this event, I made sure I was at the front of the train. The door to the driver’s cabin was open and I asked him if it was OK if I took some pictures. He said “no problem”. As we approached a corner he sounded his whistle a number of times. Then, as we rounded the corner we were presented  with the image in the above pictures. I thought I would see people rushing to grab their vegetables before it was run over by the train. But, they knew the train was coming and everything had been cleared!

I took a few pictures here, then went back to my seat to see if I could take some pictures of the people in the market from my window. But, as they had pulled back their awnings, I couldn’t see anything! In fact, we were so close that I didn’t dare to stick my head out of the window. It wasn’t quite as I had imagined it but nevertheless it was an interesting experience. A short while later we arrived at the final stop on the line. In front of us was another river blocking our way. There was a ferry here to the other side but sadly no more tracks. The next train to leave was at 3.30 p.m. so we had about an hour to explore the city. Not enough time to go on the river but time enough to explore that market on the railways tracks.

Maeklong railway

By the time we had walked to the market at the rear of the train everything was back to normal. The awnings had been pulled back to give shelter from the blazing sun. All of the vegetables and seafood had been pushed back closer to the line. If you look closely at the picture, you will see that some of the seafood containers are on wheels. For these they just pull them back to let the train pass. However, other people have to literally carry their vegetables away from the tracks. The market vendors are actually on either side of the tracks. It is the customer who has to walk down the middle of the tracks. This is probably OK for Thai people but I had to keep ducking as there wasn’t much headroom here.

As we went along I took quite a few pictures and also bought some seafood for my meal that night. As I asked for the price in Thai the vendor was taken back and started asking me a bunch of questions. Where was I from? What work was I doing? How long had I been in Thailand? Then, as I walked on, I could hear her excitedly telling other sellers all about me. It was so obvious they don’t get many foreigners down here. Actually, that reminds me. When we were in Mahachai, a Thai family came up to me waving their camera. Of course I thought they wanted me to take their family portrait. I often volunteer to do this. However, the mother wanted her picture taken with me! Now, that hasn’t happened to me for a long time. I remember when I was backpacking across China more than 10 years ago I used to have people lining up to have their picture taken with me. But not so much in Thailand.

After about 100 metres we reached the end of the market. We bought some iced coffee here near the road then turned around and proceeded to walk back through this fascinating market! We could, of course, walked back along the road, but a market like this was just too good to miss. Back at the station we still had about 20 minutes before the train was due to leave. It was actually our train and I noticed that a lot of the people that had come with us were waiting to go back. Thinking we had plenty of time we sat down and ordered a bowl of noodles each. There didn’t seem to be many people on the train so we didn’t think there was a rush to find a seat. That was our mistake.

Maeklong railway

With only five minutes to spare, we went to buy our tickets and then boarded the train. It still wasn’t full but people had reserved their seats by putting plastic water bottles or shopping on their seats. Unfortunately, all the best seats had already been taken. A lesson to learn for next time. If you do this trip then make sure you reserve your seat for the return journey before you get off. My seat this time was near the rear on the lefthandside. I had my back to the engine. I was thinking about going forward again to take some more pictures when I suddenly had this brainwave. Why didn’t I take some action shots from the rear window! This way I would get some pictures of them pushing their produce back to the tracks as we passed.

This turned out to be an excellent idea though with one small problem. The window was not only dirty but the sun was shining straight into my eyes. Not so easy to take pictures but then I had this other idea. Why not take a video? So, I ended up with this excellent one minute video which I posted over at our sister site Bangkok-Daytrips.com. This worked out really well. As we passed through the market, you will be able to see on the video, the market vendors pushing their produce back to the tracks. I made a note that if I ever returned here, I would take pictures from the rear of the train as we arrived so that I wouldn’t be shooting into the sun. Then, when we left I would shoot from the front.

The return journey passed very quickly. However, it wasn’t uneventful. About halfway back, the train started to slow down (not long after passing under the main highway from Bangkok) and people rushed to the windows on the lefthandside. I couldn’t see what was going on at first. Then someone tossed out a bag of cucumbers. Then about 30 monkeys ran towards the train. I have never seen so many monkeys in one place. That was fun. After we had watched them for a while, the train continued on its journey back to Mahachai. At the terminal station, we followed everyone to the front of the train and walked the short distance to the river to a different pier. I guess this was a special boat put on for people from our train. As the trip was slightly longer it cost 5 baht instead of 2 baht.

Back in Mahachai we had about an hour to wait for our train. This was just long enough to walk around and to buy some refreshments. You know, I had a really enjoyable day. It was tiring for sure but it was fun and certainly a wonderful experience. I really want to do this again and I have already made plans. The next time I will drive down to Mahachai earlier in the morning to see the fish market. And then catch the train to Maeklong where I will spend longer in order to explore more. That way I can be there when a train arrives and passes through this wonderful market.

The next time you are in Thailand, make sure you find time for this train trip.You won’t regret it.

Update: You can now see pictures and videos at our Bangkok Day Trips website.

8 responses to “Market on the Railway Tracks

  1. I just realized that I have already been on a boat ride on the Maeklong River in Samut Songkhram. You can see my blog on it in my archives:

    http://www.richardbarrow.com/content/view/427/27/

    I made it sound like there wasn’t much to see in Samut songkram as I only had an hour. But, there is quite a bit and worth another visit fom me in the future. Click search in my archives and type “Samut Songkhram” and you will see all my other blogs on this city.

  2. Rich, take us to near and far, to those places most have heard of and never heard of.

    When we resided in Thailand, the locals would pepper us with questions when’d ask them about something, speaking mediocre restaurant Thai! Always complimenting us “poot Thai dee mak mak”! We’d grin, half blushing and reply “poot Thai nit noy”…

    on the other hand, my 3yrs of college French didn’t do much good in Tahiti…

  3. Richard, I’m afraid your Thai travel blog’s are making the lonely planet, look like amateurs, I’m thinking between, your travel blogs and your Food blogs, eventually you may need to enter a full time career in Publishing. Believe in your self if you ever enter into book Publishing, you have the talent, just start off small to keep your cash flow steady and then just keep growing steadily.

  4. Got to agree with Paul, Richard, your blogs are just begging to be published.

  5. Thanks guys for the support. But, I am publishing here on the Internet. Most books get a 5,000 book print run. And articles in newspapers only last for one day. Here we are getting a daily readership of 6000-15,000 people. Through these blogs written by Steve and myself and the rest of the team, people from around the world can get to know Thailand for free! No need to buy a book or a newspaper.

  6. Nick Hiscock

    I have done this rail trip twice once in 2005 and 2006. Its one of the best short rail trips i have done and it has a plus on being a rare trip as very few people do it infact on both trips i did not see another farang and all the thai people where just so friendly including the rail staff.

    Just a note if you want a longer time in maeklong there are train much earlier which could give you a few hours but its a 7am start at wong wein yai in thonburi i have full copy of the timetable in thai at home.

  7. Portraits from photos

    I’ve been to Thailand a few times, but never seen that. You’ve given me another reason go back.

    Great photos too!

  8. Thanks for such a great description!

    On Google Maps (satellite view) the trip is easily viewable incl. all train stations. The second part to “Maeklong” looks very green. Wonder if one should just get off on one of those middle-of-the-field stations before the final station.

    Thanks again for wonderful touring ideas!