Sometimes you need to get out of Bangkok for a minute, to some place that is a bit quieter, and preferably cooler. Mahachai is a port town in Samut Sakhon province, about 45 kilometres southwest of Bangkok. It squats the mouth of the Tha Jeen River as it heads out into the Gulf of Thailand. This is where you go to do nothing, for no particular period of time, in the cool ocean breeze. Take a ferry across the river, look at wats, and smell fish. There’s a lot of fish to smell in the market, one of the biggest in Thailand.
Take a ride by local train to a stunning green back-land. Pass by colourful wooden houses, beautiful landscapes and small local stations. The train stops in Mahachai, where a fish market surrounds the station. Mahachai is known for some of the finest fish and crabs brought upriver from the sea. After lunch at a famous local seafood restaurant, you will cross the river, and embark on another back road train. Cross fields and sea salt flats before entering the famous Mae Khlong railway market that swallows the train. Experience how umbrellas and stalls are being opened up again on the train tracks, just seconds after the train has left the station. Visit Mahachai, a slow ride back in time.
The trains plying this route are rather old and decrepit without any air conditioning, and there is only one class which is third or ordinary class. But since the journey takes only an hour it wasn’t much of a problem for me, and none of my guests have ever complained. Believe me, I’ve been in much worse trains before! The train ride itself is not that uncomfortable, and it passes alongside paddy fields, small towns and villages. At some places the train gets so close to people’s homes that you can sometimes watch TV with them. When the train slows down or pauses, you can even smell the exotic fragrances of spices as they cook their meals.
As the train nears Mahachai station you can see vendors on both sides of the tracks moving out of the way of the oncoming train. Actually, they sell their goods under giant umbrellas besides the railway tracks so whenever a train comes into the station they just fold the umbrellas to get them out of the train’s way as it pulls into the station. As soon as the train passes they go right back to re-open their umbrellas, and continue with their business! The railway station at Mahachai is a small one, but when you alight at the station you can see many shops selling various wares, and it was always crowded whenever I went there.
As you leave the station you are in the middle of a very busy street and a big market, with vendors selling all sorts of fish, crabs, shrimp and other forms of wriggling sea life, as well as all kinds of produce. Most of the stuff are just displayed on trays on the street, and the vendors will persuade you to buy from them as you walk along. This market is supposed to be Thailand’s largest fresh seafood (from the Gulf of Thailand) market, and I am always dazzled by the array of fresh seafood available there.
Loads of fish, crab, and wriggling sea life, as well as great produce. The market and the railway sort of grew up around each other, so when the train arrives from Bangkok, vendors have to move their wares off the tracks for the train to pull into the station. Come early enough and you might see the fishing boats unloading their catch down by the docks. At all times, a maze of vendors sell a breathtaking selection of dried seafood and shrimp paste, which Samut Sakhon province is famous for.
This little known line has great charm, passing through surprisingly unspoilt countryside, and apparently terminating in the middle of the fresh food market in Samut Sakhon, formerly known as Mahachai. However, if you take the 2 baht ferry across the Tha Chin river, you will find a parallel station on the west bank. Trains connect from there to Samut Songkhram on the Mae Khlong river – thus the name Mae Khlong-Mahachai Railway.
Originally constructed as a private line to take sea produce from the fishing ports of Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram to the markets of Bangkok, it later became part of the State Railway of Thailand, though it was never physically connected to the rest of the network.
The train ride from Bangkok is open air, passing through green rice paddies and so close alongside people’s homes that you can sometimes watch TV with them or smell what they are cooking for lunch. Once you alight in Mahachai and explore the market, head down to the pier and cross the river to Tha Chalom, a town of old houses and temples that retains its heavy Chinese influence thanks to the isolation created by the surrounding oxbow in the Tha Jeen. You can continue on another train from here to Mae Khlong in Samut Songkrham province, home to another market where the train pushes out the vendors several times a day.
Why Take a Day Trip to Samut Songkhram?
You might well ask why take a day trip to the little known Samut Songkhram which despite its relative closeness to Bangkok is not really on the tourist route. Well here are a few possible reasons to visit.
1. It is the birth place of the famous (original) Siamese twins, Chang and Eng, Thai conjoined twins, who later took the surname Bunker when they moved to the USA after taking part in various freak shows popular in the early 20th century. There is a memorial and small museum dedicated to them about 4km from the station.
2. Equally interesting, just north of the city is the floating market atAmphawa, an original, not made for tourists, example of how Thais who live on the countries waterways carry out their daily business.
3. Close by the station is Wat Phet Samut Worawihan, a Royal temple that has an interesting story about the Buddha images on display there which were recovered by fishermen in the Gulf of Thailand.
4. You also get to take a rather unique train ride through the market as your train arrives in Samut Songkhram
How to get there
Take the BTS to Wongwian Yai, and exit on the north side of the station. Walk away from the station (in the direction the train was travelling from Bangkok) and cross the big intersection. Turn right and continue for about ten minutes — you’ll cross a tiny canal and then the station will be in front of you on your right. Tickets cost 10 baht for non-Thais; make sure you get one before you get on the train from the ticket office about one-third of the way down the platform. Trains leave at 06:25, 07:00, 07:40, 08:35, 09:40, 10:40, 12:15 13:20, 14:25, 15:25, 16:30, 17:05, 17:35, 18:35, 19:10 and 20:10 — return schedules are available online (in Thai — return times are on the bottom left of the table, the top left is arrival back in Bangkok) or when you get to the railway station — last return to Bangkok at 19:00. You can view a map of the route here.