Thailand's Maeklong Station hosts market with a risky buzz
THE railway clock is ticking away.
The train horn blows. Time is of the essence.
A two-minute ritual begins - one that will be repeated over and over throughout the day.
The brisk but ordered Saturday morning trading at undercover al-fresco cafes and permanent stalls of Thailand's Maeklong Station in no way prepares visitors for what lies just a little further up the railway tracks.
There, many hands make light work as stallholders and assistants from the very young to the elderly pull down shade awnings held up by long broom handles, draw back tables full of wares on well-worn miniature tracks, and move chairs out of harm's way.
They pick up trays, boxes and buckets filled with all manner of fruit, vegetables, meats and chicken, nuts, seeds and sea creatures that have been jammed up against the aged steel of about 200m of the narrow gauge track and even invading the timber railway sleepers down the middle.
The savvy entrepreneurs have perfected this ritual over many generations, fine-tuning the process to ensure the least amount of wasted time and to minimise lost custom.
Thai marketgoers used to this momentary disturbance in their weekly food shopping use these final few seconds to haggle the best price for items such as the short mackerel delicacy of the area.
Only metres away, amateur photographers and tourists frantically take up their positions at a safe distance to view the spectacle.
Seemingly within a blink, the hundreds of people making up the claustrophobia-inducing crowd along the rail line have dissipated.
Sunlight once again streams through the narrow passage that separates stalls on both sides of the tracks.
The 9.30am Maeklong to Thachalom train slowly pulls out of the station on its 49km, one hour-and-20-minute return journey.
The bright orange and blue face of Train 1216 comes into view.
And as it glides ever closer, we realise that some stallholders have left their low trays of sliced fresh pineapple, fish, spring onions, green mangoes, radishes and snowpeas on the ground - confident they will be safe from the wheels and clearance of the carriages.
The moment the train passes, the ritual begins again in reverse and shoppers return in their droves.
Our Absolutely Fantastic Holidays guide "Poum" assures us that Maeklong market, known affectionately as "Risky Market", has never had a documented death or injury - yet.
While the market in Samutsongkram Province, about 120km west of Bangkok, operates from about 3.30am to 8pm, the train only arrives at 9am, 11.30am, 2.30pm and 5.40pm each Saturday.
It leaves about 30 minutes later, allowing travellers time for a quick bite or market visit.
Outside on the Maeklong streets, another craziness awaits.
When the footpaths become congested with the shopping throng in front of hundreds of stalls lining the edge of the bitumen, pedestrians must take their chances against the plethora of tuk-tuks, taxis, motorbikes, cars, utes and Thais in a hurry to get their heavy shopping bags home.
From sizzling pork fillets on skewers to the colourful pink and green local sweets, garlands of pretty blooms and handcrafted trinkets, visitors can't resist slowing, stopping, looking and digging deep into the wallet for the few baht needed for purchases.
* The writer was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
A WORLD OF SHOPPING
Opening Hours: 10am - 10pm
Location: Next to Siam Centre, Pathumwan
You'll also bump into Hollywood "stars" Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie here at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, and Ice Planet's Olympic-size rink is a great way to escape the sometimes stifling Bangkok heat.
Opening Hours: 10am-9pm
Location: Next to Siam BTS Station
Opening Hours: 10am-10pm
Location: At Siam BTS Station Also on-site are the Siam Ocean World aquarium plus a 15-cinema multiplex movie theatre including IMAX and the new concept Nokia VIP Ultrascreen where 700bt (about $21) gives you romantic privacy in two-person, deep-seated leather sofas with motorized reclining footrests, complimentary snacks and drinks, and a blanket so you can snuggle up close to watch the latest movie releases on a stunning digital screen.
Opening Hours: 10am-10pm
Location: Pathumwan Intersection, diagonally opposite Siam Discovery Centre.