Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

An hour’s drive from steamy downtown Bangkok you will find the even steamier Maeklong Railway Market (ตลาดแม่กลอง). For Bangkok’s backpackers, this is always one of those must-see places, even if it is not literally in the city itself, as it is a great place to immerse in the day to day life of ordinary Thais, while nearby being sliced open by the train that sneaks through the market!

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I had spent a few very hot days in Bangkok. I know from previous experience that Bangkok is even hotter than Singapore (at least Singapore has a sea breeze) and physical exertion is not without its risk. I decided to get out of the city for a day by heading to the famous Maeklong Market, which is perhaps best known for the train that runs through it – almost slicing the fruit and vegetables in half, not to mention the feet of the tourists! I thought it would be a little cooler outside of the big smoke, but I was certainly wrong! Maeklong Market is very tight and compact, with awnings and curtains stopping any natural flow of air. It was like walking inside a furnace! All of a sudden I wished I was back beside the Chao Phraya River in downtown Bangkok!

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Concentrating mainly on wiping my sweat, I was pleased to hear a warning bell that sounds just a few minutes before the train is due to pass through. Upon receiving the warning, vendors pull back their market awnings – sometimes just before the train comes! The coolest thing about Maeklong Market is that it adjusts itself and perfectly encapsulates the train as it slowly rolls through. For example, the baskets of fruit and vegetables are shifted just enough as to not be sliced by the train’s wheels. The train passes by with about a foot to spare, both beneath and to the sides of the carts, and the photos you may see of this market are completely real – it really is that tight! I was one of the many tourists standing daringly close. It was a unique experience, but when the train has rolled through and away the other end, the market can get back to normal and commerce can resume.

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Despite a heavy train having just passed a few inches away from us, it surprised me to see that everyone went back to normal as if nothing extraordinary had happened! The heat inside the market may have been stifling to me, but for the regular Thais who make this their day job, it is just another spit in the ocean! Maeklong Market is of course most famous for its produce and consumer goodies, and the stalls of those who work here have various displays of fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood, as well as clothing and flowers. Obviously it was the food I was most interested in!

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I noticed that seafood was very popular here at Maeklong Market – and as you can imagine, within the closed environment and the frying pan heat, the smell was at times pretty rank (although to be fair I didn’t notice the smell of the trains that much)! Due to the heat and the off-putting smell, I didn’t actually buy anything at Maeklong Market – but at least I got to see at close hand the famous railway that villagers and vendors around here have to avoid 6 times a day!

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