The Mae Klong Railway Market surrounds an active train track — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Most visitors to Bangkok never make it over to the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River - let alone a bit further afield - which is a pity, as there are some pretty cool attractions just west of town. One of these is the Mae Klong Railway Market, also known as the "Folding Umbrella Market." Even though neither trains nor umbrellas are sold here, yet both feature prominently in what is certainly one of the most unique attractions to be found in Thailand.
The Mae Klong Railway was built to transport goods from the fishing port of Samut Songkram into Bangkok and later became a passenger line. The local trains that run through here are very slow, which is a good thing, as when the trains pass through tiny Mae Klong, there is almost no space for them to pass through the local market of Mae Klong, which sells seafood, clothing and other goods.
In fact, the space is so narrow here that the vendors must fold up their umbrellas and awnings when the trains come through the market, in order for the carriages to pass through. This has brought the market to national attention and put it on the tourist map, as the trains coming through Mae Klong now stop in the station proper for 10 minutes or so, while tourists climb aboard the front of the train and take pictures with it with the station and market surroundings as a backdrop.
Inside one of the market tents — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Right on schedule (trains come through here around four times a day), the train gives a large whistle and signal blast. Then it slowly comes out of the station, almost immediately hitting the tracks lined with umbrella stalls in front of it. The stall owners know the routine well here, almost so well that they seem to have things choreographed. The awnings drop (They are all on poles with wheels, which makes for some quick action.) and umbrellas fold down almost like dominoes falling, from nearest to furthest, with the further ones going down seemingly just seconds before the train passes through.
A train pulls into the station at Mae Klong Railway Market — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Standing by the tracks is not for the fainthearted, as the train literally gives millimeters of breathing space, although locals are quick to grab over-eager camera toting tourists back to safety. While visitors get a real kick out of this quirky market, the locals seem pretty nonplussed, which isn't surprising given that this market has been in existence, with daily passing trains, since 1905!