Built privately around the turn of the last century, the Maeklong Railway brought seafood from the fishing ports of Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkram to Bangkok – a distance of about 75 km (47 mi). The line was never connected to the main rail system, no longer carries freight, and is one of the capital’s better-kept secrets.
Leaving from Bangkok’s west bank Wong Wian Yai station, take the train to Mahachai. Trundling along a single narrow track, you soon leave the city behind and find yourself in a fertile landscape of coconut palms, banana plants, lychee, guava and white pomelo orchards, interspersed with canals. There are numerous tiny stations along the way – blink and you’ll miss them – and the train slows as it approaches barrier-free road crossings, so the driver can check that there is no approaching traffic.
Mahachai, confusingly, is the station for Samut Sakhon. Renowned for its fish, it has a fabulous fresh seafood market and a multitude of restaurants. It is also where you leave the train to take a small ferry across the Tha Chin River to the station on the other side. Here you take another train to Samut Songkhram’s Maeklong terminus. This second section of line passes through an area of salt production and prawn farms. Sitting on the left side, you see fields full of shallow, saltwater ponds. When drained, the salt is raked into piles, bagged up and sent off by road.
All too soon the journey comes to an end – but this is almost the best bit, as the line goes through the middle of a large, colourful market. Stallholders clear awnings and goods from the track as the train approaches, putting them all back together again the moment it has passed, like the sea closing behind the wake of a ship.
WHEN TO GO:
Any time, but October to April is probably best
TIME IT TAKES:
It should only take about an hour, but the two trains don’t connect properly, making the trip more like half a day.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
The sandbar of Don Hoi Lot, famous for its endemic crustacean population.
Ban Maeo Thai Boran – where genuine Siamese cats are bred and conserved.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
In 1811 the Siamese twins Chang and Eng were born In Samut Songkhram. Joined at the chest, the twins were taken to the UK and the USA and shown to the public, bringing Slam, as Thailand was then known, to the attention of the world. The twins lived to the age of 63.