One of the most common videos that you will see coming out of any Thailand trip would be that of the Train Market. Being from Kolkata (India) it is something that I have seen from my childhood days but slightly is a different way. For our daily fresh vegetables and meat, my father used to go to the market located beyond the railway line and sometimes I have faint memories of going along with him. While most of the shops were located after crossing, the railway lines I still remember some vendors especially fruit sellers and household accessories being sold on the abandoned and less used railway tracks. The railway gateman would often make an announcement over his loudspeaker to warn people of incoming trains.
On my recent trip to Thailand, our group was taken for a tour of the outskirts of Bangkok to a place called Samut Songkhram. This place is located on the outskirts of Bangkok and one needs to take a private car, taxi, bus and other means of transport to reach this province. This place is however more famous for its slow train which people often refer to as the Maeklong Railway Market.
Four times a day a slow train often traveling at a maximum speed of 30 kilometers per hour cross a market and the unique thing is that before and after the train the railway track is part of a regular market with vendors actually setting up their trays on the track.
How to reach Maeklong Railway Market
Assuming that you are staying in Bangkok, you have quite a few options with you.
Mo Chit Bus Station & Sai Tai Mai Bus Station are the two points from where you can take a bus to Maeklong. The duration of departure of the busses ranges somewhere between forty minutes to one hour. The journey time approximately is around ninety minutes. The bus ride will cost you somewhere between 70 to 90 Thai Baht.
You can reach Maeklong Railway Market by train since this very train connects Bangkok to Maeklong but be ready for an extremely slow ride, which also involves a river crossing. Therefore, if you have time then do experience this ride.
Grab is similar to that of Uber and very popular in Thailand, so make sure to download this app on your mobile. Use Grab or Uber only if you have a local Thai SIM else you or the driver will not be able to call you. Just select the destination as Maeklong Railway Market and book your cab. The total charges will be very clear thus no bargaining.
In case of Taxi, there is always that bargaining that needs to be done and also make sure you get dropped near the Railway Market else there have been incidents where the passengers were dropped at a Tuk Tuk stop and had to again take a Tuk Tuk to reach Maeklong Railway Market.
The cost of hiring a taxi for a return journey from Bangkok would cost somewhere between 1600 to 2000 Thai Baht. It all depends on your negotiation skills actually.
When to Reach Maeklong Railway Market
The famous slow train passes Maeklong Railway Market four times a day that means you get a chance of photographing and witnessing the act a total of eight times, as the train arrive four times and then depart four times from Maeklong Railway station.
The earliest departure from Maeklong Station is around 9 AM, which arrives at around 8.30 AM. It is recommended that you start at around 6 – 7 AM from Bangkok in order to reach Maeklong well in time to see this. If you miss, the 9 AM slot then the next one would be after 11 AM thus, there would be a long gap.
Be it Taxi, Minivan or Uber/Grab you will generally be dropped in the main street, which lies right next to the Maeklong Train Market. If you find difficulty in locating the market then please ask the locals they will not speak your language but high chances they will point you in the right direction. Else use your phone GPS to locate it.
Tip: Some shops located in the main street next to the market have pay and use toilets so please feel free to use them else there is also another toilet at the Maeklong Train Station itself. You would have to pay around 10 Thai Baht for using the toilet.
Train Arrival and Departure Schedule at Maeklong Railway Market
Departure: 6.20 | 09.00 | 11.30 | 15.30
Arrival: 8.30 | 11.10 | 14.30 | 17.40
Experiencing the Maeklong Railway Market
The track is a small meter gauge line and you will find vendors selling their product on both the side of the track and often find their trays and baskets kept on the track. There is little or no bargaining in this market and you will surely find out that the cost of the products are very reasonable after all this is a regular wet market used by the locals.
Make sure to spot the Red Line which is present on both the side of the track, this is the line which you should stay behind when the train approaches as this line indicate the safety limit. Trust me when I say this but when the train comes people especially tourists get so busy taking photos that they often fail to realize that this is a train and not a car that can brake easily. Stay at a safe distance away from this line.
Also, keep a note of the tiles that have been placed between the track lines as with the water on them they become very slippery and I have seen tourists and locals slip on them. Wear comfortable footwear with a good grip.
When you visit the market you will find many vendors laying out their products in baskets and trays on and around the railway track make sure you do not walk over them as these are meant for human consumption and is food thus it’s not something which will be taken lightly by the sellers.
Do not carry a large backpack, just a small handbag is recommended, as there is very little space between the tourists, vendors and the displayed products. High chances that you will knock down something or the other when you make a turn if you have a backpack with you.
The market has a good variety of fresh fruits, slush, juices, and snacks be sure to try these especially green coconut. Some non-perishable food products can also be purchased which I did and can be brought back home and shared with colleagues and friends.
Feel free to take as many photos and videos as the vendors are used to tourists and are very much depended on them for their business. Some vendors will clearly mention in English that you are not supposed to touch their products thus stay away from touching them. The market consists of meat section where vendors sell various animals thus if you have some religious restriction then be warned.
I helped myself to some good quantity of candied tamarinds, mangoes, and berries, which I am actually eating as I type this blog.
Arrival of Train at Maeklong Railway Market
When the train is about to arrive you will clearly be able to see vendors shifting their products away from the tracks and some moving away the foldable umbrellas. Due to these umbrellas, this market is also known as umbrella pulldown market. This is a sign that a train is about to come. The bright yellowing orange train moves at a very slow pace but it is a train after all thus it honks its way through. At this time, stay clear of the track and behind the red line. I was just standing on the red line and realized how close the train was thus stay at least a foot away from the red line.
Some tourists also can be seen on board the train, as they like to experience from the other side of the coin. If you have time in hand then you can also do both.
Once the train has passed the vendors spring back to action and pull up their umbrellas and move their products back to the track. It takes a little more than a minute for the train to pass through.
Maeklong Railway Station
The main Maeklong Railway Station is around 100 meters from the main market and after crossing the main road, you will be able to see the Maeklong Railway Station. A good selfie point would be with the train station signboard located at the front of the station. There are a few shops located inside the train station but I have found the cost of the products a little bit on the higher side.
History of Maeklong Railway
Most of it is present online so what I am just going to write a brief overview.
This is a short Meter Gauge line that plies between Wongwian Yai (Bangkok) and Samut Songkhram at a distance of 67 Kilometres. The train line has two sections (Maeklong to Ban Laem) and (Maha Chai to Wongwian Yai), the two sections are separated by Tha Chin river and one needs to cross this river section by boat.
The section between Maha Chai to Wongwian Yai was constructed by the Tachin Railway Ltd, in 1904 and the Maeklong to Ban Laem by the Maeklong Railway Company in 1905. Both of these two separate lines were merged as a single entity in 1907. Therefore, this is very well over a century old and has a history all around it.
Overall this can be a good half day tour from Bangkok and ideally be combined with a tour of the floating market. My next blog will be on Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which is one of the most famous, the floating market here in Thailand.
I was invited to this FAM trip by Thai Smile and Tourism Authority of Thailand in India along with other bloggers and media representative. Other team members included Poorna Banerjee, Debjani Lahiri, Tanayesh Talukdar, Kirti Mahima, Mohammad Masood Alam, June Mukherjee, Gopanjali Roy & Sutrshna Barua. Thank you Thai Smile and Tourism Authority of Thailand for this opportunity.