The toothless woman behind a pile of tentacles stares at me. It’s a you-look-like-a-tourist kind of stare that transcends the language barrier. I nod and point my camera elsewhere. If I had bought a kilogram of squid from the toothless lady I’m sure I’d be posting her photo here but I have no intention of lugging around a bag full of squid through the Maeklong Railway Market, which is one of the more unusual places to visit near Bangkok.
The Maeklong Railway Market is a photographer’s delight.
It has an indoor section with plenty of stalls selling all kinds of interesting local food, from thousand-year eggs to live chickens and vegetables.
The most interesting part of the market is the outdoor section, which consists of one long narrow strip with stalls on either side.
Walk along the strip and you’ll see a smorgasbord of sights, from women in wide-brimmed hats selling herbs and spices to other local Thai delicacies like frog legs, quail, eel and stingray.
What makes Maeklong Railway Market most unusual is – although it doesn’t look like it – the path that you’re walking on is actually a train track.
Stalls are packed with everything you can think of eating and a few other wriggly things you’d probably wouldn’t dream of putting in your mouth.
Maeklong Railway Market
I walk through the indoor section of the market listening to a babble of voices; the sound of the Thai language is a bubbly musical tune.
Although I have tried to learn a few Thai phrases each time I visit, I can never remember how to say anything in Thai except sà-wàd-dēe kà (how are you?) and sôm-dtām pèd mâag (som tam is very spicy).
Unlike the more touristy Chatuchak market and the various floating markets, the Maeklong Train Market is packed with locals.
Most vendors don’t even attempt to communicate in English.
Life at the Maeklong train market
The women sit crossed-legged in their corners, chatting, chewing and chopping. Most of the time they work industriously preparing their food for sale.
Occasionally, I catch a woman in a pensive pose.
I wonder what she is thinking about. Is she thinking about the food she has to prepare for her stall tomorrow?
Does she have a sick child?
Or is she simply wondering if there’s more to life on this earth?
The stalls are piled with vegetables and seafood.
There are stacks of brinjal, broccoli, beans, cucumbers, spring onions and plenty of other fresh greens.
Red and green chillies are enormously popular and available in abundance.
There are stalls selling curry paste, fresh fish, clams, crabs and other ocean creatures.
So far, you’re probably wondering why I’m going to the trouble of describing a typical Asian market.
If you’ve been to Thailand you have probably visited other similar markets.
The track at Maeklong Railway Market
Maeklong Railway Market isn’t just any ordinary market.
It’s is a bustling hub of local commerce set up on either side of the Maeklong Railway in Maeklong.
The Maeklong railway is a 1,000mm gauge railway that runs about 67kms between Wongwian Yai in Bangkok and Samut Songkhram in central Thailand.
This section is a 300m market on the way to the well-known Damnoan Saduak Floating Market.
Although the floating market (and others like it, such as the Khlong Mayom Floating Market) is fun to visit but has much more of a touristy feel.
In contrast, the train market has a more local and authentic feel.
After all, what tourist would buy fresh uncooked frogs legs?
You squeeze past the vendors in single file, rubbing shoulders with shoppers walking in the opposite direction as you shuffle along the narrow path that is the actual railway track.
The stalls, buckets and tables with food are set up right against the railway track.
It’s a humid day and the smells of fresh fish, vegetables and spices float in the air.
It’s organic but not too exotic.
I peer into a bucket of baby crabs, mesmerised by the rhythm of their tiny claws moving to their own beat.
I feel sorry for them and promise myself not to eat crab again.
The train at Maeklong
Although the train passes through the market several times a day, you’ll probably have a little bit of a wait to see it. But the wait is worth it, especially if you’re a fan of train travel.
I pull up a stool in a coffee shop and order a local coffee while waiting for the train.
The coffee is thick and bitter but it’s worth paying for the seat, which is in a great position to watch the train roll past.
Soon the stall holders start folding back their awnings and there’s a flurry of activity as they wheel their tables away from the track to make way for the train.
The horn sounds and the train snails through the market.
Tourists whip out their cameras and jockey for the best position to take photos.
Some stand on the track right in front of the train with their cameras, leaping out of the way at the last minute.
I snap away, marvelling at the enterprising Thais who earn their livelihoods manning these pop-up stalls in the Maeklong Train Market.
How to get to Maeklong Railway Market (การเดินทางจากกรุงเทพไปตลาดแม่กลอง)
Set aside the day and make sure you get there in time to watch the train roll through. You can either hire a car and driver or take the train to Maeklong train station, where the market is located. It’s worth taking a day trip from Bangkok to Maeklong Railway Market.
What else to do in Bangkok
Shop for Thai silk in Bangkok or head to one of the many Bangkok shopping malls in the city. Bangkok is also famous for its river, the Menam Chao Phraya, which offers plenty of things to do by the water. Many of the city’s best hotels are also located along the river.