Only something really special could convince me to book a group tour that was primarily devoted to shopping. In this case, the chance to see a crowded market with a freaking train running through it was enough to overcome my reluctance to sign up for a group shopping tour.
The inspiration for this adventure came from a post by a great travel blog I follow – Leighton Travels. His post on Hanoi Train Street was the first I’d heard of the concept of a train market.
Which Came First: The Market or the Railway?
The previous post reviewed the other stop on this tour, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Specifically to attract tourists, the Tourist Authority of Thailand created that venue in the 1970s to duplicate the original floating markets that sprang up on the canals when they were built in the 19th century.
On the other hand, Maeklong Railway Market evolved naturally. Samut Songkhram, the province where the market is located lies 60 miles soutwest of Bangkok where the Maeklong River flows into the Gulf of Thailand.
Around the year 1900, a rail line was constructed to transport goods from the fishing ports and markets of Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkram to markets in Bangkok. They built the line right through the preexisting market to its terminus at the adjacent Maeklong River. The people who ran the market saw no reason to relocate just because trains came through up to eight times per day.
It Is a Real Market
The market is best known for seafood, but stalls also sell a variety of products such as fruit, vegetables, meat, snacks, clothing, and flowers. Goods are primarily intended for purchase by locals rather than tourists.
The Thai nickname for this market is the “Umbrella Take Down Market.” The name stems from the practice of lowering the awnings over their stands just before the train passes and raising them immediately after it passes.
A loud blast from the engine is the signal to immediately lower the awnings.
Stand owners raise the awnings within seconds after the train passes.
Vendors make way for the train by rolling away tables mounted on wheels or dragging away baskets.
The train actually passes over goods that are left next to the track.
Train Coming Through
The train appears only seconds after the track is cleared.
Even though Maeklong station is quite close, the train moves through the market at a good clip. Anything that gets in its way and is higher than the ground clearance will be road kill.
My three second video provides a sense of the speed. The train moved faster than I anticipated. I had to get out of the way quickly.
It is important to be aware of your position relative to the track. I suspect there have been accidents although I found no online information referencing any. The safest spot for photos is the station just a few meters past the market.
The Most Interesting Way to Get to Maeklong Railway Market
The way to see Maeklong Railway Market in action without incurring any risk of being run over by the train is to be on the train. From Bangkok you can take the Maeklong Railway from Wongwian Yai Skytrain Station on the Silom Line.
The trip from Wongwian Yai to Mahachai Station on the Tha Chin River takes one hour. Passengers get off there, take a ferry across the river, board another train at the Ban Laem Station, and ride for another hour and 40 minutes to Maeklong Station. The market is immediately in front of Maeklong Station which sits on the banks of the Maeklong River.
Although the train is slow and not much to speak of as far as comfort (no air conditioning), it is the least expensive way to get to Maeklong Train Market. The cost is 23 baht (less than $1) one way. The journey takes 2.5 hours each way.
Despite the time required, taking the train deserves strong consideration for a one-way trip at least. Taking the train offers up-close views of the countryside and the best perspective of the train going through the market.
After the train went through, I walked around the area to see the sights before the tour returned to Bangkok. There are many restaurants and shops in the immediate vicinity.
I stopped to watch a performance at a temple that was celebrating a festival.
There is a pier on the Maeklong River adjacent to the train station from which ferries and short cruises depart.
Kwae Noi River (River Kwaii) of book and movie fame is one of the Maeklong’s principal tributaries.
I recommend visiting Maeklong Train Market if you are in Bangkok. A massive train passing inches from your face through what was a lively market moments before is not something most people see every day. It was an unique and memorable experience.
Would do you think of Maeklong Railway market? Would you consider adding it to your itinerary on a trip to Thailand?