At first glance, Maeklong Market in Samut Songhram, a couple of hours outside Bangkok in Thailand looks like any other rural wet market. Baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables are displayed alongside colorful sweets and local delicacies. In one section, stall vendors hawk smoked and dried fish, trays of raw seafood, meat and even a few exotic offerings like skinned and skewered frogs. In the back stalls, you can buy dry goods and basic household items. But what makes the market interesting is its location. Situated right along an active railway track, a train just happens to run right through the tightly packed market. This happens several times a day, when the train nears the Maeklong station between Samut Sakhon and Wongwian yai.
It’s a busy day but not with locals buying fresh provisions to prepare their meals. It seems like there are more camera-toting tourists like myself walking along the narrow train tracks and taking selfies than there are vendors and buyers. Apparently, the market has become a popular tourist attraction ever since it was featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”
A train whistle sounds in the distance and a barker starts walking on the tracks, warning everyone to get out of the way. An old-looking yellow train approaches, rumbling along at a relatively slow pace. The train is said to be one of the slowest in Thailand, cruising at an average speed of 30 km/hour. Everyone scatters, the hordes parting like the Red Sea on either side of the tracks while stall vendors swiftly fold their umbrellas and awnings which had provided shade over the tracks earlier to make way for the locomotive to pass. It glides over the tracks, the lower part of the train hovering dangerously close to the vegetables for sale which have been pushed to the side. Sometimes awnings or products get snagged as the train passes, but there’s no incident during our visit.
As soon as the train passes, the crowds return, the umbrellas and shades are put back, and everyone nonchalantly goes back to business as if nothing happened. It’s one of the most unique markets I’ve seen. There’s a method to all the madness.
Here’s a video of the train approaching.