Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory loves trains, but I’m not too sure if he’d like this particular one. The Maeklong market railway passes right through the middle of a tightly packed market – so tight, that passengers can probably grab a few vegetables as they pass through. The market’s stalls are actually set up on the train rails, but shopkeepers know the train’s schedule, so just before it passes through, they quickly drag their goods into the shops and pull the roofs down. After the train has passed through, it’s back to business as usual. This happens no less than 8 times a day.
The Maeklong market has become so popular with tourists that there might actually be more people visiting to see it rather than buy anything. Located 72 km or an hour’s drive south-west of Bangkok, Maeklong is the capital of the Samut Songkhram province. Most people compare the market to something like a movie set; it’s that surreal. It’s amazing how every inch of space available has been utilized. The small stalls on either side of the railway track are made from tarpaulins and sometimes just a bedspread. They consist of plastic trays filled with vegetables and vibrant Thai fruit like mangosteens and rambutans. You can also find fresh-cut flowers, fragrant spices, cuts of meat, fresh seafood and poultry. And it doesn’t just stop with food; there are other goods to be purchased as well, like clothes, lingerie, toys, and pirated DVDs. Sometimes there aren’t even stalls, just people sitting on the ground with trays of fruit at their feet.
Photo: Hai Thinh
The marketplace is great, but the best time to visit it is exactly before a train is about to make an appearance. That’s when the magic happens. The shopkeepers start working calmly and quickly, like a chain reaction. But there isn’t any train whistle or horn to warn them. Thankfully, the train is always on time, so the schedule can be adhered to. Trays are dragged in, the awnings are folded and everything is put away neatly. Tourists are reminded to step back. And then the train rumbles through the market. It passes in what only seems like milliseconds, after which the stallholders will set up shop once more, as though nothing ever happened.
Photo: Travel Tour Planet
Despite the passing train, Maeklong market is a pretty safe place. Only two people have ever been killed so far, and that was so long ago hardly anyone remembers it. Nobody really knows why the market even exists this way, although it’s been around for about 50 years. “This is Thailand, there doesn’t need to be a reason,” is the best answer you’ll get out of locals. No one even knows which came first – the market or the railway…