The Maeklong Railway Market
If there’s one problem with Thailand right now, it’s that everything has become really touristy.
Everyone wants a piece of you in most areas of Thailand. Whether that’s your time, your attention, or your money (it’s mostly your money). While the commercialisation of some areas is a great thing for the country, in some areas, it’s become a problem and ruins the authenticity of the experience.
And although there are tourists at Maeklong Railway Market, it’s not like other experiences.
What you’ll find at Maeklong Railway Market is a regular market with a not-so-regular twist.
It’s literally a market around the railroad.
Locals set up shops just outside the station, and for about a hundred metres, the railroad is lined with fresh vegetables, meat, seafood, fruit, and all kinds of other produce, kept cool and in the shade by a collection of temporary awnings from each shop covering everything.
A train rolls straight through the entire market 8 times a day.
It’s something you can really only experience in Thailand. It’s unique. It’s kinda confusing; but it’s terribly exciting.
The locals here are quite nonchalant about it all though. They operate in a normal market fashion, displaying their wares for people to peruse and purchase. When the warning bell goes off, it signifies to the entire market that a train is 2 minutes from approaching.
With a sense of cool and within a minute, the locals casually recede their respective shop awnings, collectively revealing the passage the train will take. Some shops have produce on the ground, and the shopkeepers ensure these are covered as the train will go over them.
Another minute goes by and you can see the train approaching. As it comes closer, it does so with less than a foot between you and 5400 tonnes of impending doom.
Okay, it’s not quite that dramatic, but it is really close.
Once the train passes and everything is clear, the shopkeepers extend their awnings back into place and continue about their market ways; almost as if they didn’t even know a commercial train just rolled through. Everyone is totally carefree about it.
It’s a surreal experience, for sure. One that can’t be missed on your Thailand trip.
How to get to Maeklong Railway Market
It’s not the most convenient place to get to.
It’s about an hour and a half out from Bangkok and you can get there by bus, Grab or taxi from the city.
If you want to get there directly, you can catch a bus from the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai). They come every 40 minutes, just look out for the several stalls they have with the handwritten signs. It’ll cost you 70 Baht and take you around 1hr and 40 minutes.
Alternatively, you can catch a Grab or a taxi from the city to take you directly there. That will set you back around 500-800 Baht.
The recommended approach
Since it’s so out of the way, I’d actually recommend doing a day trip to both Maeklong Railway Market and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, as they’re about 20 minutes drive from one other.
I’d recommend that you get to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market first thing in the morning as it’s quite and you get the real experience. Leave at 6am to get there at 8am when it opens. Then, catch a taxi to Maeklong Railway Market to get there just before 11am, where you can actually catch the train run through the market twice. Once at 11:10am and again at 11:30am. You can then hang around, or return to the city just in time for lunch!
Maeklong Railway Market Timetable
The train comes 8 times a day. There’s one particular period of note at 11ish, where the train passes by twice in quick succession.
Departing from Maeklong Station
6:20am, 9:00am, 11:30am, 3:30pm
Arriving at Maeklong Station
8:30am, 11:10am, 2:30pm, 5:40pm
How to capture Maeklong Railway Market
When the awnings are down, the conditions can be tricky to shoot in. The shade causes a low light situation, while some really nice light trickles in through the gaps from the awnings in the middle. Save your highlights, or shoot in brackets to make the most out of it.
When the awnings go up, remember to change your settings as it’s a totally different shooting condition.
In terms of when to go to make the most of your capture, it depends on what you want to maximise for:
Maximum train action
Definitely get there at 10:45am so you can spend 25 minutes exploring the area to get your best angles. The train will roll through at 11:10am, and again in the opposite direction at 11:30am.
The tradeoff here is that you’ll be shooting in hard light. Unless that’s the look you’re going for, it’s only recommended if it’s an overcast day.
Good light for the train
Definitely in the afternoon – aim for the 5:40pm train, with sunset varying from 6pm to 6:30pm depending on the time of year. The light will be gentle and soft, but the tradeoff you’ll have to make is that when the awnings are down, it’ll be really low light.
If you can spare the time, consider the 2:30pm and 3:30pm trains, the first of which will give you good light for the awnings, and if the light was too harsh then, you could back it up with the 3:30pm train an hour later.