Mae Klong-Mahachai Railway
It is possible to find odd stretches of railway in Thailand which are not part of the main network. My friend Mark Barton who was living at that time in Thonburi, introduced me to the Mae Klong-Mahachai railway which runs between Wong Wian Yai in Thonburi, West Bangkok, and Samut Songkhram on the Gulf of Thailand.
Originally constructed as a private line to take sea produce from the fishing ports of Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram to the markets of Bangkok, it later became part of the State Railway of Thailand, though it was never physically connected to the rest of the network.
This little known line has great charm, passing through surprisingly unspoilt countryside, and apparently terminating in the middle of the fresh food market in Samut Sakhon, formerly known as Mahachai. However, if you take the 2 baht ferry across the Tha Chin river, you will find a parallel station on the west bank. Trains connect from there to Samut Songkhram on the Mae Klong river - thus the name Mae Klong-Mahachai Railway.
Fishing Boat out to Sea
Catch the BTS Skytrain to Wong Wian Yai railway station; leave the station on the north side and turn left towards the intersection visible about 400 meters ahead. Turn right at the intersection into Phra Chao Taksin Road. The station is located 400 meters up on the left hand side of the road, next to the pedestrian bridge, and about 200 meters short of the King Taksin Monument.
Trains to Samut Sakhon run every 60 minutes or so from 05.30 until 20.10 hrs. Last train back leaves Samut Sakhon at 19.00. Phone number for Wong Wian Yai Station is 02-465-2017. Most trains have fan only, though occasionally you find one or two air-con carriages: I prefer the open-air ones. Return trains to Bangkok tend to be quite crowded, especially in the late afternoon. The trip to Samut Sakhon takes about 55 minutes.
King Taksin the Great
King Taksin the Great
King Taksin the Great (1767 - 1782) is famous in Thai history for driving out the Burmese invaders after their sack of the old capital of Ayutthaya in 1767.
A Chinese with the given name "Sin", he was adopted by high ranking Thai parents and eventually became governor of Tak (on the north west border with Burma), and later nearby Kamphaeng Phet, so he is sometimes known as Phraya Tak (governor of Tak) or Phraya Kamphaeng Phet.
After many battles, he succeeded in driving out the Burmese for good, but Ayutthaya had been completely destroyed and he therefore founded a new capital at Thonburi in what is now West Bangkok. The name by which he is know in Thai history combines his two former names into "Taksin".
He was the first and only Thonburi king, as his successor King Rama I moved the capital across the river to its current location.
Samut Sakhon is an old fishing port at the mouth of the Tha Chin river. The railway line is still used to carry fresh fish from the port to the markets of Bangkok.
The station is in the middle of a huge market, and is usually heaving with people. Where the track crosses a road, about 100m up the line, vendors find a convenient resting place between the rails for their trays of vegetables, fruit and fish - until the next train is due.
The market lies between Rat Banchop Road to the north, and Sukhaphiban Road to the south. It is one of the largest fresh seafood markets in Thailand, and if you want to sample some of the produce, many stalls and small restaurants serve fish, prawns, crab and other seafood, freshly cooked in Thai style.
Beyond the fresh-food market and alongside Rat Banchop Road is a general market, where you can buy clothing, electronic goods and some handicrafts. As the train drops passengers right in the middle of the busy fresh-food market it can be quite disorienting, but if you get off on the left hand side of the train, walk through the main entrance to the station and turn left into Sukhaphiban Road, which leads to the main street of the town, not far from the river.
Alternatively, get off on the other side of the train and walk through the market to Rat Banchop Road and take a left turn towards the town center.
As in many sea ports in South East Asia, the Chinese influence is still very strong (the name Tha Chin means Chinese Port), with several Chinese Buddhist Shrines and temples. There is a small Chinese temple in the center of town, near the market, but the best known of these is the temple dedicated to the Goddess Kuan Yin, with a huge image of the goddess on top of the temple.
To get there, take the ferry to the west bank off the river (2 baht per person) and then a samlor bicycle taxi. The distance is about 3 km along Sutthiwawithi Road.
Kuan Yin Temple
Kuan Yin, originally a Chinese deity, was later identified with Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion in Mahayana Buddhism. Known in Thailand as Kuan Im, she is much venerated by Thais of Chinese ancestory. In her right hand is a flask from which issues an endless stream of compassion and mercy; in her left hand she holds a sprig of rice, a symbol of fertility.
Kuan Yin is sometimes presented in male, sometimes in female form: pictures and statues, in both forms, can be found in Chinese and Thai temples all over Thailand.
The temple at Samut Sakhon has a particularly beautiful inner shrine, often visited by couples who have yet to conceive their first child.
Inner Shrine, Kuan Yin Temple
On the other side of the road from the Kuan Yin shrine is Wat Chong Lom, a temple from the Ayutthaya period, though much modernised. If you walk through the temple grounds, you will find a very pleasant restaurant, Krua Chong Lom (Chong Lom Kitchen) on the banks of the Tha Chin river. Seafood here is excellent and inexpensive, the setting very pleasing.
Rather than take a samlor back to the ferry, I usually find it more pleasant to walk back to town along the river.
Mae Klong Railway
On the west bank of the Tha Chin river is Bahn Laem Railway Station and the Mae Klong section of the railway. Either take a ferry from the pier near the market to Wat Laem Suwannaram which is on the river next to the station, or take the more frequent ferry directly across to the west bank. Walk out of the ferry terminal and turn right. The station is about 300 meters away.
As is evident in the photo, Bahn Laem Station is not the neatest station in Thailand: one notes, from left to right, the rusting signal box, the wicker-work chicken cage and the washing hanging out on the line.
Bahn Laem Station
Trains to Samut Songkhram run four times a day in each direction: according to timetables published 01-07-2002, departure times are 07.30, 10.10,13.30, and 16.40. Return trains leave Samut Songkhram at 06.20, 09.00, 11.30 and 15.30. The journey takes about 60 minutes. Phone No. for Mae Klong station (Samut Songkhram) is 03-471-1906.
If you miss your train, there are also frequent bus services between Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram, and between Samut Songkhram (in front of the central market) and Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal.
LIke the Mahachai Railway, the Mae Klong line terminates in a market, though the station is a few yards a way on the other side of Phet Samut Road. The station leads through to the old Customs House and Mae Klong River.
Mae Klong Station
Samut Songkhram, known locally as "Mae Klong", is a fishing port at the mouth of the Mae Klong River. Much of the land between Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram is salt marsh, as can be seen from the railway, and the production of salt is an important local industry.
The main attractions of the town are the fresh seafood restaurants, the Mae Klong River, The Railway Market and Wat Phet Samut Worawiharn..
Mae Klong Railway Market
Wat Phet Samut Worawihan
This temple is located in the center of town by the river. It dates from the days of the Burmese wars with Ayutthaya in the 18th Century, when villagers from Bahn Laem, a fishing village north east of Petchaburi, fled from the invaders and set up a new village (also called Bahn Laem) on the site of modern Samut Songkhram. They renovated an existing temple (Wat Sri Champa) and gave it the name Wat Bahn Laem.
It is said that the standing Buddha image Luang Pho Bahn Laem, which resides in the temple, was recovered in fishermen's nets along with a seated Buddha image. Unfortunately the alms bowl originally carried by the figure was never recovered and so has been replaced by a blue glass bowl.
The temple was later given the status of Worawihan (a class of Royal Temple) and given its present name of "Wat Phet Samut Worawihan" by the king.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
One reason for visiting Samut Sakhon is its proximity to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. This is the most famous floating market in Thailand, but it is quite far from Bangkok and the market starts around 6.00 a.m. (the best time to see it).
Floating Market - earlier is better
One way to visit the market is to overnight in Samut Songkhram and then catch a bus or boat (from in front of Wat Phet Samut Worawiharn) to the market early morning. There is also a small hotel, the Noknoi, in Damnoen Saduak itself, not far from Thanarat Bridge.