I went down to Bangkok for the two-day I Am Hardwell/Together Festival. The festival was so much fun but….while in Bangkok I also took the opportunity to finally do something that has been on my Thailand Bucket List for a while:
About an hour and half drive southeast of Bangkok, in the small province of Samut Songkhram, there is a rambling market called the Maeklong Railway Market. This small, outdoor, day market has gained a lot of international attention over the years due to the fact that it operates on the railway tracks despite a train barreling through six times a day.
The market’s narrow entrance leaves you wondering how it’s possible a train could possibly come through without causing all sorts of chaos. Indeed, as I entered even further, my 6 foot frame almost permanently hunched to avoid the overhead tarps, I couldn’t even imagine how it would be feasible. I arrived around 11:30am and had just missed the train. The next one was scheduled for 1:45pm so I had plenty of time to explore. The Maeklong market covers quite a bit of ground but the most exciting part is, obviously, the section that runs along the railway track for about 300 meters.
Vendors sell everything from fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables to clothes and random knick knacks. I picked out a couple different shirts and tried to bargain for them but the woman kind of glared at me and said, “No discount for you!” I don’t know if she meant specifically me for some reason or if she just meant discounts in general and that was simply lost in the language gap, but I was a bit taken aback by her demeanor. I’m not sure if I did something wrong, or she has a personal vendetta against farangs, or she was just having a bad day, or what; but that is the first time I have been met with that kind of response when attempting to bargain at a market stall. That aside, I had a wonderful time sampling different foods and enjoying some cool coconut water while waiting for the train.
Finally, it happened; we heard the warning bell. I had stationed myself at a small coffee shop at the end of the 300m stretch of market. There were a few other foreigners there and we all had our cameras out and ready while the locals, on the other hand, didn’t even bat an eye. The first bell rings 3 minutes before the trains arrival and I watched in amazement as all the awnings, tarps and tents were snapped shut, leaving just enough room on the tracks for the train to pass through. And I mean just enough room. The coffee shop owners made sure everyone was a safe distance away (safe being a relative term…in America I think safe might have a different meaning). After three minutes you hear the train whistle and then the train comes chugging around the corner. We were literally inches from this train; we felt the rush of air push against us and if I reached out my hand I might have lost it. I was amazed at the efficiency of this whole process- before the train was even out of sight this little pop-up market was back in action as if nothing ever happened. This much-anticipated event was over in under a minute, but I think it was definitely worth it. Not only did I get to see this unique market, I also saw a town in Thailand I would not have thought to go to before!
Getting there from Bangkok:
I’m sure there are multiple ways to get there, and I’ll share with you how I went about it.
First of all…YOU DO NOT NEED TO GO WITH A TOUR! Maeklong station is not too far from the Amphawa floating market and I think some companies will try to sell you both as a tour. I have yet to do the floating market so I’m not sure but I think you can do that on your own also. I do know that you can do the railway market solo. And it’s a cake walk.
Hop on the nearest BTS and make your way to Victory Monument. Get off and head down the exit 4 stairs. I got a little bit lost at this point so I can’t give exact directions but there are minivans going literally everywhere so just start asking around for Maeklong and you will be pointed in the right direction. The minivan will cost 70 baht for one way and it is about an hour and a half to two hour drive- depending on traffic. Once you get into town you are close to the railway, just ask if you get lost. Even if the locals don’t know much English, most of them will know railway or railroad. Haha I think they are used to giving foreigners directions. 😛 And then you are there! Head down the tracks to the small coffee shop at the end and grab yourself a 25 baht fresh coconut and enjoy the sights. 😀