If you have ever visited Thailand, you’ll know that things here are often done a little differently, to say the least.
Case in point: the Maeklong Railway Train Market.
Close your eyes and picture a market. Imagine the chatter of the vendors, the array of fresh produce, the crush of the visiting crowds, the hot sun, and the various scents and sounds.
Of course, you can find all of this at the Maeklong Market. However, there’s also something unique about this place in particular: there’s a train track snaking through the locale, and every few hours, a train makes its way right through the marketplace.
I mean, it could literally take your toes off; it's that close.
It’s a sight to behold.
As soon as vendors hear the whistle of the train, they quickly and strategically move their goods off of and away from the track.
Then, sellers, shoppers, and visitors retreat until a large, yellow-and-red-hued locomotive makes its way slowly through the chaos.
It’s a stunning scene and one that all visitors to Thailand should experience.
I guarantee that by the end of this post you will have this market on your bucket list.
Here's a short history, how to get there, what to expect, and how to make the most of your visit.
The Maeklong Railway: A Short History
The Maeklong Railway runs for 67 kilometers (42 miles) between Samut Songkhram (central Thailand) and Wongwian Yai, Bangkok.
The line has two sections: the Mahachai Line (running east, between Samut Sakhon and Wongwian Yai) and the Ban Laem Line (running between Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram).
Commissioned in 1901, the Maeklong Railway was initiated by the construction of a line between Samut Sakhon and Bangkok. Initially a goods line, the train transported produce and fish to the famous markets of Bangkok before it was controlled by the Thai Government at the advent of World War II.
As expected, the railway became a novelty destination for its unique path through the Maeklong Railway Market (founded in 1905).
Known as the ‘‘life-risking’’ market, or the “umbrella pull-down” market, the venue sees vendors regularly shifting their goods, shop fronts, and awnings out of the way of the passing trains.
What to Expect
As with many Thai markets, you’ll notice that during the early morning it tends to be a bit busy. That’s because at the market, the early bird catches worm!
But not only that, Thailand is cooler in the early morning hours, with the temperature rising considerably once it gets to about 10am.
While visiting during the early hours will yield the best produce — and the best light, for all of you photographers — it can also be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never visited a local Thai market before.
You’ll notice that when the train approaches the stretch that cuts through the market, a warning bell will go off, magnified by the market’s sound system.
This warning will prompt a flurry of activity, as vendors move their produce out of the way and pull back the awnings of their little store fronts.
As the train rounds the bend, it’ll let out a loud beep so you’ll know when to get out of the way.
Be respectful of space, and try not to jostle anyone in your efforts to give the moving train a wide berth. If you heed the warning bell, there will be more than enough time.
What's on Offer?
With plenty of fresh food like vegetables and fruits, and spices and Thai delights, the Maeklong Railway Market is a foodie’s paradise. If you’ve got a place to cook your own dinner, consider buying goods and making a traditional Thai dish for dinner.
In addition, you can always look for fresh fruit to snack on over the course of your day. Apples and pomelos are always fan favorites and travel well, as are Jackfruit pods, which often taste like bubblegum to foreigners unaccustomed to their sweet, juicy flavor.
Very daring travelers can pick up a Durian here, though you may want to sample before you purchase an entire fruit — it is an acquired taste, after all.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to check out the numerous stalls that sell very inexpensive — but delicious — Thai desserts and homemade ice cream.
If you’d rather refuel before a long day of exploring, the market is also home to small restaurants and stalls that sell traditional Thai dishes for a very reasonable price.
How to Get to Maeklong Railway Market
Located about 80 kilometers outside of Bangkok, the Maeklong Railway Market technically shouldn’t be that difficult to get to. However, depending on the route that you take, your journey may be filled with more unexpected caveats than you anticipate.
The most common tourist route from Bangkok to Samut Songkhram is via a Maeklong Railway Market tour, which will lead you through Bangkok’s floating markets and this infamous railway crossing.
This scenario is easiest for those who’d like to be adventurous, but would also prefer for any and all logistics to be taken care of by someone else. Tours like these cost around £17/$20, and often require that participants wake up early.
Those desirous of an even more convenient experience should travel from their accommodation in Bangkok to the BTS Skytrain station Victory Monument.
After alighting, you’ll be able to book a taxi or minibus that takes you directly to the market. For more information, you can inquire about specific pick up locations, availability, and rates at your guesthouse or hotel.
If you’d like to pay a visit to this unique market via car or motorbike, you may want to plan your journey with Google maps. See below for the market’s location:
The Train Schedule
The train runs through the Maeklong Market at the following time:
- 6:20 am
- 8:30 am
- 9 am
- 11:10 am
- 11:30 am
- 2:30 pm
- 3:30 pm
- 5:40 pm
But hey, this is Thailand, so double check the schedule before you go. Things can change.
You can use the (somewhat unreliable) online timetable provided by the Thai railway company, or you can look online to see if any other travelers have posted updated images of the timetable.
At any rate, a concierge at your hotel or guesthouse will likely have the correct information pertaining to the train schedule.
How to Ride the Train itself (through the market)
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can take the train to the market yourself from Bangkok.
Head to Wongwian Yai Railway Station (located across the Chao Phraya River) and look for a train bound for Mahachai.
Take note that trains only run at 7:40 or 8:35 am, and that you’ll likely want to make the 7:40, so plan accordingly.
After you disembark in Mahachai, you’ll have to find the ferry to Ban Laem (yep, I told you that this trip was reserved for the adventurous), which is located just a few blocks from the railway station, near the park at Mahachai Pier.
Tickets should only cost 3 THB.
Once in Ban Laem, you’ll walk 10 minutes to the railway station near the river and temple.
Once there, look for a sign indicating you’re boarding a train bound for Maeklong.
This train will take you directly through the market.
Once you’ve glimpsed the unique marketplace from above, disembark and wait for the train to reverse its course so that you can take photos and enjoy the scene from a new perspective!
The journey from Bangkok will take about two and a half hours, but will only cost you about 23 THB.
6 Tips for a Safe, Happy Trip to Maeklong Train Market
- Check with someone who speaks Thai about the train’s current timetable, as it may have changed since the posting of this article.
- If you’re considering visiting the market, contribute to the local economy and purchase at least a snack, piece of fruit or a dessert. This market is a time-honored place where vendors sell their produce, and it shouldn’t be treated simply as a tourist destination. The locals aren't exactly raking it in.
- Bring a camera along to photograph the path of the train, but always be sure to stand far enough from the track. Often, visitors underestimate just how close the train gets to the stalls.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing and bring a hat. By the time you visit the market, the hot Thai sun will likely be in full force.
- If you plan to visit the market via the train/ferry combination, leave plenty of time to buy your tickets, arrive at your departure track, and find the next station. Often, trips out of the city are difficult for those who do not speak or read Thai, and it may take you some time to find your way.
- Be considerate and polite during your time at the market. No one enjoys cameras or video equipment being shoved in their faces, and you should always ask before taking picture of those selling or buying at the market.
This market is a favorite among visitors because it gives them a taste of Thailand without the hawking and pushiness found at other goods markets.
It is an insight into a unique way of life, one that probably isn't too healthy, considering you're standing by a train track for the majority of your life.
However, there is a real sense of community here. People have made this their home, and their livelihood.
Have you ever visited the Maeklong Railway Market in Thailand? Let me know what you enjoyed about the experience, or if you have any other tips and tricks to make a visit unforgettable.
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