I’m a bit of a train buff and no journey to a foreign land would be complete without a trip on the local railway system. In this case it would be an opportunity to experience some of ordinary Thailand outside of the tourist sites. I had read about the Mahachai Shortline in the Lonely Planet and thought that it sounded like fun.
The commuter railway runs between Wong Wian Yai train station hidden away in a market in Thonburi and out to the port town of Samut Sakhon, or Mahachai. It is possible to catch a ferry across to Ban Laem and another train onwards to Samut Songkhram, but we decided not to do this last stretch.
The journey started with a taxi ride from our hotel to Wong Wian Yai station. There was little to distinguish it as a railway station due to the number of market stalls. We purchased a couple of 10 baht tickets from the booth – the attendant knew what we wanted – and jumped on board just as the noisy diesel train began rolling away from the platform.
In train speak we were riding on a diesel-electric multiple unit. This was no tourist train. The seats were plastic (but surprisingly comfortable) and there was no airconditioning apart from the breeze from the open windows and overhead fans. None of that mattered because we were far too distracted by the view outside.
From our hotel area at Siam Square you would not think of Bangkok as a city of canals, but during our ride the prevalence of water was readily apparent. Many of the houses alongside the track were built atop the canals, bridges of concrete and wood linking them to concrete paths running atop the water.
Stations were general stores accompanied by sheltered tables with chessboard centres, places for locals to sit down and eat their meals and snacks of grilled chicken and fish from the small stalls. Dogs played or slept, while inside the wooden houses mothers rocked their babies to sleep on swinging cots.
Between the towns were swamps of big-leaved elephant ears, palms and mangroves. Fields of rushes taller than the train flicked at the windows as we sped past. It was a whole other world and I was probably the only caucasian on the train. A uniformed station attendant smiled and asked me where I was going through the window of the train at one remote stop.
Mahachai’s station was also in the centre of a bustling “wet” market, so much so that the stallholders lay out their wares for display on the tracks themselves, only moving them to allow the trains to pass. Jumping out at the terminus, we threaded our way through stalls selling small crabs, eels, tortoises and other seafood. It was too early to eat anything, though we did try some grilled chicken from a street vendor. And purchased a bag of soft coconut coated sweets which were quite delicious.
Thinking that we might try to visit the Chatuchak weekend market back in Bangkok we decided to catch the train back. The day had become hot, energy sappingly so, and we were quite tired. By the time we returned to Wong Wian Yai we were exhausted. A snack of rice and grilled chicken and catfish (the head was so ugly) from a vendor in a side street near our hotel formed lunch, then it was a collapse into bed at our hotel room.
We didn’t make it to the markets. Instead, a sleep, then a swim in the magnificent (but cold!) infinity pool, the spa jets pummeling my back and feet like a masseuse. The day closed with a trip to the modern markets, the shopping centres of Siam Square.
Tomorrow we are off to see the temples and palaces.