In 1901 a group of Dutch businessmen received a concession from the Kingdom of Siam to construct a railway connecting Bangkok to the busy Chinese trading port of Tachin. Originally named the Tachin Railway, the meter gauge track ended at the east bank of the Tha Chin River 33 kilometers west of Bangkok. In 1904 an additional 34 kilometers of track was laid from the west side of the Tha Chin River to the Mae Klong River in Samut Songkhram Province.
The two separate railway lines connecting Bangkok to Samut Songkhram became the Maeklong Railway. Having never been joined, passengers traveling from Bangkok’s Wongwain Yai station must disembark at Mahachai station and cross the river by ferry boat. Travelers then board a train at Ban Laem station for the remainder of the journey.
Originally constructed to carry goods into Bangkok, the railway is an important means of transportation for the residents of western Thailand. It has also become a popular tourist attraction; one of the highlights of the trip is the passing through and later visiting the Maeklong Railway Market.
Between Bang Krabun station and Maeklong, the end of the line, is an enormous local wet market. The term wet market is often used throughout Southeast Asia to describe markets where fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat and poultry are sold in abundance. Water and ice are used in great quantities to keep fish alive, prawns and squid properly chilled and wash mountains of pans, bowls, spoons and chopsticks.
Known locally as the Umbrella Market, the Maeklong railway market is special and extremely popular with visitors because the train tracks pass directly through its center. More accurately, vendors sell their wares along the railway bed and on the tracks leaving the railway sleepers free and clear for shoppers to use as a path through the stalls. Tarps are suspended on bamboo poles extending out over the tracks to keep both produce and people shaded from Thailand’s scorching sun, hence the name Umbrella Market. About ten minutes before a train passes (they arrive and depart Maeklong station four times a day) the station bell sounds and vendors quickly move their goods away from the tracks and pull back the tarps.
As the train creeps at a snail’s pace through the market, excited visitors crowed together at the very edge of the tracks to take photos. Many people, including myself, stand dangerously close to the passing trains as there is simply very little space between the stalls and the tracks. A much safer and less crowded option is to view a train after it departs Maeklong and has passed through the most congested part of the market.
To reach Maeklong Market, railway enthusiasts will probably enjoy completing the 64-kilometer trip on Thailand’s slowest trains. A faster and more comfortable option is to book a one-day bus tour which may also include a visit to the famous Amphawa Floating Market located approximately 8 kilometers to the north. These tours can be booked through travel and tour operators in Bangkok for around $60 USD. Budget travelers can easily take a mini-bus (van), from Victory Monument directly to Maeklong for 70 Thai baht ($2 USD). Transit time is approximately one hour and twenty minutes. 18/12/16 - Note - Mini-buses no longer run from Victory Monument to Maeklong or any of the popular destinations such as Hua Hin or Pattaya. These mini-buses have all been moved to Bangkok's Southern bus terminal known as Sai Tai Mai. Sai Tai Mai can be reached very inexpensively from Victory Monument by taking the (yellow) number 28 bus.