Mind the gap
“Mind The Gap” is a cry many of us will recognize from travelling on the London Underground system (‘The Tube’ as it is known by Londoners), the message is broadcasted on the station and trains to warn people of the dangers of the gap between the platform and the carriage of the train, it was remembering this announcement that reminded me of a rail trip I took some while back in Thailand with family and friends.
This is my second post on travelling in the Kingdom of Thailand by a combination of train and peddle power or indeed motor bike, on my first post I pointed out that travelling from A-B riding a peddle cycle, in most of the populated areas of Thailand can be both mentally and physically challenging if not downright dangerous. I also added details of a short journey from Bangkok to Pattaya as an alternative to taking a bus or cab.
In this post I want to take you further afield and detail a journey to the world famous Maeklong Railway Market, nicknamed (Thai: Talad Rom Hoop), literally meaning the ‘Umbrella Pull down Market’ starting from Bangkok and travelling along the Maeklong Railway line.
‘Umbrella Pull down Market’
In some ways Thailand’s markets are quite strange, they are not full of the same noises you associate with Indian or for that matter London markets, where you will hear both the bedlam of the people trying to sell their wares and the buyers trying to barter for a better deal. This I believe comes down to the Asian culture of being that bit more reserved when dealing with strangers, further more Thai’s are not familiar or comfortable with the barter system, this can be seen clearly in their faces and particularly in the older people, where you witness the almost tangible discomfort they feel when being asked for a discount, that said their markets are full of their own character and in general are protected from the both the elements of the sun and rain (well almost the rain) by a vast mass of canopies. This protection comes at a cost as the air under them can be stifling hot and very sticky.
One such market has its own way of providing a unique air flow system. The Maeklong Railway Market is a single long, narrow row of shops selling in the main fresh fish products, (it is one of the largest fish markets in Thailand). As with all Thai markets there is an abundance of different fresh and cooked foods to sample along with the obligator live hens, repeatedly screeching out for everyone to hear and for the locals to simply ignore.
The shops face each other, with each owner choosing to lay their wares on tables and the floor at the front of their premises, with so much produce on offer their goods meet their neighbours produce on each side of them and almost meet their neighbours selection opposite, the only two things stopping them meeting in the centre is the need of the customer to make their way down the middle of this long straight corridor, and the fact that there is also a small gauge railway line running down the middle of this mass of food.
The traders here will tell you that the market has been in existence for as long as the railway (since 1905) and that both go about their business without to many worries regarding the others proximity, except for the 7-8 occasions a day 7 days per week, when a siren blast from the 4 metre high, 100 ton plus locomotive, spurns the shop owners into action and they quite casually pull back their canopies which reach from their shop to the neighbours opposite. On first glance it appears the whole operation looks like a fluid, precise mechanised action with each owner waiting for their allotted turn to act.
With so much practise over so many years the vendors have gotten the need to remove specific items from the path of the train down to a fine art, with other items that are on display near the tracks left in situ, the result is that the train trudges very slowly through the market, safely past the owners and directly over the food without causing a single bruise to either the people or their goods. Once the train has passed by each shop, the shop owners return their goods and canopies to their original positions and every one goes about their business as if nothing had happened.
A bewildering almost staged performance and well worth the trip.
How to get there from Bangkok
There are two main alternatives by mini bus or by rail, with the rail route providing two further options depending if you want to be on the train as it passes through the market or witness its approach at ground level as it rattles it’s way past the shops, both rail options have a short ferry trip thrown in the middle of the journey.
By far the easiest route: Take the BTS Skytrain to Victoria Monument and ask around for a bus going to Maeklong Market, do note the route is not that well-advertised, the trip should cost 70-80 Baht per person each way and goes direct.
By Train: The more adventurous routes: Both rail routes are in 3 parts
See the train at ground level
Part 1: Take the train from the Wongwain Yai Station to Maha Chai- departing every hour from 05:30. The train will stop at the Samut Sankhon station where you alight and catch the ferry. Cost: 10 Baht (You can get the BTS Skytrain to Wongwain Yai and from there it is a 10 minute walk to the railway station, see google for street map)
Part 2: Walk down to the water’s edge and take the waiting ferry, which will take you across the Tha Chin River, this in turn takes but a few minutes. Cost: 4 baht per person.
Part 3: On the other side of the river and parallel with it is the train station, you jump on the next available train to Samut Songkhram (Further 10 Baht) situated on the Mae Khlong River, at the end of the line you will find the Maeklong Market.
Travel on the train through the market
Follow Part 1 above
Part Two: From Samut Sankhon ask for the ferry to Ban Laem railway station (price of 4 baht) this route takes you a kilometre downstream to the Ban Laem station.
Part Three: From there you can board the train to watch the commotion from the safety of the carriages. Be aware the train at times gets very close to the sides of the narrow market, which means you may not have many opportunities to stick your head out of the windows to get the picture you really want, though it does travel very slowly through the market. Cost 10 baht
Of course you could always do both rail trips if you arrive by one route and depart by the other. The railway line is also known as the ‘Secret Railway’ as it is so hard to find any reliable information on train times, therefore check the schedules with the train station before planning your journey.
To get the best vantage point for a picture try to get there for the first train as it can be busy with tourists later in the day.
Why not add to your day out, and take in Bangkok’s most famous Floating Market that of Damnoen Saduak (more on this in a later post), which is nearby to the ‘Umbrella Pull down Market’. Incorporating both can be draining on the body and mind as you will not be able to miss the coach loads of tourists who swam the market in the afternoons but it does save on both time and money.
‘In memory of my beautiful sister who I shared this adventure and who will be missed by us all’.