Maeklong Market Revisited



(Photo: Nils)

Maeklong Market

Maeklong railway revisited

Nils writes: On Sunday 9 May 2004 I took the good old commuter again – for the third time. On this occasion my girlfriend joined me. (No, she was not at all opposed to the idea of going to some insignificant place and return home immediately just for the fun of riding an uncomfortable, hot, grubby, worn-out train. No, she didn’t think ‘Farang guys are a really crazy bunch’. Quite to the contrary, she also likes railways and wanted to see the ‘miraculous receding market of Maeklong’…..)

A taxi brought us to Wong Wian Yai station just in time to buy the tickets and some drinks before boarding the 12.15 train for Mahachai. The DMU was already waiting, full of passengers, but we managed to find two empty seats. Which we later offered – Thai style – to (a mother with} two small children boarding somewhere at Bang Bon station or so.

My GPS confirmed that the top speed of the Maeklong Commuter was exactly an amazing 50 kph (you wouldn’t want it to go faster on those tracks, would you). Some daring was required to acquire a signal, but I was happy that the doors of the train never close and thus allowed me to hold the device a little bit outside the frame, standing on the doorsteps, clinging to a handrail, always watching out for oncoming branches of trees and shrubs that grow dangerously close to the track.

The train arrived in Mahachai on time (13.10), which I thought would give us just enough time to catch the connecting train across the river in Ban Laem, leaving at 13.30. So we hurried along the busy street in front of Mahachai station, which was bustling with people and vehicles, apparently due to the Sunday market. Then on to the ferry pier, where a boat was just leaving for the other side. This fact would soon turn out to be decisive. Though the next boat arrived only about 3 minutes later (there are two, constantly going back and forth between the banks of the Tha Chin River) and didn’t take very long to cross to Ban Laem, we ultimately missed the train.

The problem is that though Ban Laem station itself also has a pier (maybe about 400 m upstream), the regular ferry doesn’t go there and I think there is just a boat leaving from there to Mahachai four times a day, after a train from Maeklong has arrived. (Not exactly sure about that, but I once did take a ferry directly from there.) So we had to pave our way through the small alley leading out of the main ferry pier (Tha Chalom) and then walk up the road to the station, and just when it came into our sight (with still 200 m to go), we saw the train making its exit (1 minute ahead of schedule, by the way)! In the end, we were there a mere 3 minutes too late. And the next (and last) train to Maeklong wouldn’t leave before 16.40. All this was proof again of the silly schedule and lack of planning in the construction of the lines. So we had more than 3 hours left and basically nothing to do, apart from taking photos.

We thought we’d go back to the other side, eat something and take a bus to Samut Songkhram instead, then the last train back from there to Ban Laem. But it was found that the next bus left in about one hour, making it too late to catch the train in Maeklong. So the plan was changed again (also in true Thai style…) and we finally opted for waiting until 16.40 and then later going back to Bangkok by bus from Maeklong. Which was also good because I had never traveled in the Ban Laem-Maeklong direction before, the last of the four sections missing on my (imaginary) list. After searching for an Internet café without success (i.e. there were 5, but three of them only had games and the other two were closed on Sunday…. as I wrote in my first article, Samut Sakhon is actually quite ban nork), we sat down tired in a park for some time, then traveled back to the Ban Laem side once again, where I finally got a haircut before we made it to the station. This time we were early enough to witness the train arrive from Maeklong under intense blowing of its whistle.

Well, well, the Maeklong line…. even shabbier than its Mahachai twin – Ban Laem station is full of garbage and rusting wrecks – but here the trains’ doors open and close automatically. Wow!

This one was almost empty, making it understandable that there are just 4 connections per day. Also, there is not much in between Ban Laem and Maeklong: mostly trees, shrubs, mud, fish ponds and salt fields. Most ‘stations’ are just a wooden shelter with a road leading to a village somewhere in the distance.

One nice feature of these DMUs is that you can look out of the front and back of the cars right onto the tracks. Thus I got a nice view of the twisted, worn-out rails that have been doing their duty without complaint for 90 odd years now. One interesting thing I noticed for the first time was that there is a bulge (for lack of a better description) in the profile of some of the small bridges – similar to many road bridges crossing canals in Bangkok that have that ‘hunchback’ form, with the difference that the rail bridges themselves are not rounded, but flat. That means the train sort of has to climb a little ramp to the higher level of the bridge (approx. 50 cm – 1m) and then descends again. Hope you get the idea. I wonder how the rails can tolerate the strain, as there is a considerable bend at the transition point between ramp and bridge. Definitely not suited for high speeds, this design……

We also stood at the front end and watched as the train slowly made its entry into Samut Songkhram and the market area, which didn’t appear too busy. No sunshades were folded back before our eyes. Then we finally arrived in the dark and dingy Maeklong station, a little bit behind the scheduled time of 17.40. After a walk back on the tracks through the market (where the sellers and customers had occupied the SRT property again as if the railway had been closed for good a long time ago), it was time to go home by minibus. Certainly faster than the commuter – only 1 hr 15 to Victory Monument as opposed to 2 hours by train to Wong Wian (not including ’transfer’ in Samut Sakhon) – but on the other hand, not half as exciting!

Once again… take this train if you haven’t done so yet!


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem DMU interior


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem line end - looking towards the Tha Chin River.


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem pier


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem wreck


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem wreck - the sign in the window announces, ‘here we accept fans (ventilators) for repair.'


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem wreck


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem Eiffel Tower is just an interesting house near Ban Laem ferry pier.


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem samlors


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem train entry


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem - compare with the photo from 1986 by Robert M. Boer, showing the two Henschel locomotives. Though his photo was taken from the opposite direction, the metal shed at the left of my image is the same as the one in front of the temple in his photo.


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem


(Photo: Nils)

Ban Laem DMU


(Photo: Nils)

Maeklong Market


(Photo: Nils)

Maeklong Market after the train has passed through.


(Photo: Nils)

Maeklong tracks between Ban Laem and Maeklong


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai Station


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai Station


(Photo: Nils)

Behind Mahachai Station, looking back in the direction of Wongwian Yai.


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai line end


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai Pier


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai Pier


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai platforms


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai Station road


(Photo: Nils)

Mahachai Station stalls


(Photo: Nils)

Nils with a DMU



(Photo: Nils)

Maeklong line end


(Photo: Nils)

Maeklong Market

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