Bangkok, Thailand – Crack of dawn…6:30 am off to catch the train pulling into Meaklong Station about 120 km (75 miles) south of Bangkok. The market begins early in the morning and has grown over the years to spill onto the railroad tracks. The solution: close the market down when the train is coming into and leaving town. Now time is money so they do this just minutes before the train is due to arrive. As you can see from the pictures, the market is on both sides of the tracks and the customers have to walk up and down inside the rails when buying items. We got there at 8:00 am expecting to see the 8:30 train arrival. The rail schedule however is dependent upon many things: cows crossing the tracks, engineer showing up, etc. The 8:30 train was now due to arrive at 9:30…not too bad. So I explored the market, my guide bought food for his dinner and we waited. At 9:00 I found a “safe” place to watch the train since there were about 200 tourists there to see the same thing. At 9:25 a horn blew and the vendors began to clear the tracks and lift up their awnings. At 9:30 we heard the train whistle and everyone got their cameras ready. My guide had shown me a line on the ground which was about 20” from the wall and said don’t cross this line. I thought okay, it will be a tight fit but surely they built in a “safety margin”. Well let me tell any future visitors to Meaklong: There is no safety margin built in. I began to realize this as the train was approaching and thus you will see the camera shake a bit more and change angles! It was way too close to comfort and the engineer didn’t want to slow down. I guess he was worried about his “on time arrival” record.
Then it was onto the floating market. I really didn’t know much about it other than it was “floating” and a “market”. It sounded rather cool and an opportunity to get some great photos. My driver dropped me off and I was approached by the boat lady saying it would be 1500 baht ($50 USD) which seemed a bit steep for me. She insisted it was a great value by showing me a map where I would be going for the next hour. My negotiation skills were of no use here and I paid the $50. I got in the long boat with a BIG engine and we were off. As we approached the first market, it quickly became apparent that tourists were the only customers in this market. Hats, beer, water, statues, masks, silk, etc were the items on sale. My driver pulled alongside of 3 or 4 boats loaded with their wares (which I am sure he got a commission for) but I didn’t end up buying anything. As the trip progressed, he got the idea that I wasn’t there for buying anything, just to take photos. I began to understand Thai as he would call out to the vendors in the boats, “Don’t bother, this cheap bastard isn’t buying anything” and see their faces sadden.
After that, we fought rush hour traffic which is even worse since the streets are torn up due to the subway construction going on and was back by 3pm. Oh….I almost forgot. I was made part of the US embassy staff for the day. The cops were doing traffic stops to check registration and licenses. The driver explained to me that this was done more or less to supplement their 10,000 baht ($321 USD) monthly salary. Fines would run 500 baht ($16 USD). He pulled out a sign in Thai and put it on the dashboard. I asked him what it said and he told me “Embassy staff transport”. It seems they don’t hassle the diplomats. I guess it was effective since we were not stopped at the 7-8 stops that were set up along our route. “Ambassador Chris” … I like the sound of that.