Bewitched in Bangkok – Travelogue by Jayanthi Chandrasekaran

Read this Bangkok travelogue written by Jayanthi Chandrasekaran. Join her amazing travel experience at Mae Klong railway market, Floating market, and more!

bangkok travelogue Train Market train passing photo
Hold your breath! The train is passing…

Our niece’s friendly neighbourhood taxi driver in Bangkok extolled the virtues of a must-see destination albeit in the Thai language. Since his tone and gestures were compelling, we ‘Google translated’ his voice which went as “You must have travelled by train to go to a market, but have you seen a train cutting through a market”. The exuberant taxi driver proceeded with a promise of a ‘joy ride’ on the train as well as ‘a show’, off the train when it cuts through the market. Thus, the first leg of our exciting day started with a ride in his taxi to the station called Lat Yai. The station was more like a bus stop with just a shelter. After a wait of 10 minutes, the train arrived on time. Our driver waited till we boarded the train and took leave with the assurance of meeting us at the next station called Mae Klong.

The train was not crowded and passed through many water bodies and green fields on the outskirts of Bangkok. When the conductor passed by, we offered to buy tickets, but he waved us off! In about 15 minutes we arrived at our destination Mae Klong. As we alighted at the platform of Mae Klong, the scene ahead stopped us in our tracks. A colourful and crowded market with produce spread on either side of the train tracks and their awnings right over the tracks blew our minds off. How on earth the train is going to pass through this chaos? We were glad to be not on the train now, yet instinctually knew that we were in for a special visual treat. Indeed, one minute we see hundreds of people go about their shopping in the stalls all over the railway line. Suddenly, as the whistle blows and the train starts moving from the station, the market literally folds away (the awnings are pulled back), and people get off the tracks to let the train pass through. The shopkeepers helpfully warn the shoppers and tourists to spot the RED LINE on both sides of the tracks indicating the safety limits and caution everyone to stay behind the lines when the train approaches. Just as the bright orange train went past us slowly, we were riveted to our spots in disbelief to realise how close the train was passing. In a matter of seconds, after the train passes through, the market unfolds back to business as usual.

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Mae Klong railway market
Mae Klong railway market

The Mae Klong railway market is in the Samut Songkhram province, 80 kms southwest of Bangkok city centre. Before 1905, the market sans the railways, was a thriving seafood market as fishing played a major part in the local people’s livelihood. When officials built a meter gauge line in 1905 to transport the goods to other provinces around Thailand, the train tracks cut through the market but could not cut out the business. The parasols or canvas put out by vendors to protect them from the Sun would stick out over the tracks and the shoppers walk over the tracks in the shades and do their shopping in the Mae Klong railway market.  Every time the train passes the shades are pulled back and soon after, they are back shading the tracks. With adequate precaution and the slow speed of the train, the Mae Klong railway market thrives selling fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood and other produce. The surreal spectacle unfolds eight times every day as four trains per day pass through from each direction.

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At Boat Station to Get to Floating Market
At the boat station to get to the Floating Market

Our next stop for the day was the Damnoen Saduak floating market, again a unique experience. This floating market, a long-standing tradition in Thailand, is located in Ratchaburi province about a half-hour drive from Mae Klong railway market. In earlier times, the trade in this area was mostly carried out through the interconnecting canals which are offshoots of the Mae Klong River. No more a normal way of life, now they remain mainly as tourist attractions.

Damnoen Saduak floating market
Floating Market stall

Our taxi driver dropped us off at the boat station and arranged a long-tail motorboat to take us to the market. The boat ride was a soothing experience as we traversed through banana plantations and coconut groves covering the canal banks. Many businesses, gardens and odd hamlets passed by until we reached the large signage announcing the entrance to the floating market. The vendors wearing large bamboo hats were either gliding along the water or moored up alongside the walkways. The colourful floating shops in the boats with their assorted fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers and handicrafts and the floating restaurants that served seafood, coconut ice cream and roasted bananas were indeed a great novelty to watch. The vendors approaching the throngs of tourists and haggling over the price of respective boats all added to the experience.

The Tourist and the Vendor
The tourist and the vendor

Later when our driver received us at the boat station and started eloquently in his tongue, we understood without translation – “What did I tell you? Aren’t you bewitched?”

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