Thailand is easily the most interesting and most beautiful place I have ever visited. Behind every corner and on every street, no matter where you are, there is something unique to be seen. The country itself has more than 40,000 Buddhist temples, which means you’re bound to run into multiple ornate structures. The streets themselves are filled with tuk-tuks painted in a rainbow of colors. And nearly year-round the vegetation is exotically vibrant thanks to the tropical climate.
With so much to see and be amazed by, it is easy to become overwhelmed when deciding what you’ll do while on a visit to Thailand. The truth is, you would need weeks to see everything the country and the culture has to offer. Unfortunately, most of us have only a few days to explore. Determining what you should make time for and what you should “save for next time” can be difficult. To help, here are two markets that I think should be on every traveler’s itinerary:
The market on the active train track
In Samut Songkhram, a small town approximately an hour south of Bangkok, there is a street market set up along either side of an active railway. Three times a day, a train makes a stop into Maeklong Station, the structure anchoring the Maeklong Railway Market, forcing several dozen merchants to halt business and make way.
This market sells everything, from fresh produce and meats to apparel for the entire family, and even animals such as rabbits and ducklings. The train track is used as a sidewalk to direct you from shop to shop. Walking down the tracks reveals how unsanitary some neighbors can be—shoes should never be sold next to raw fish!
Merchants along the railway are notified between two and five minutes before the train’s arrival, when a man in uniform begins waving a green flag and blowing a whistle. Makeshift awnings of plastic and scraps of metal are pulled back to make way for the low-speed passenger train while merchants and visitors stand daringly close. What’s most fascinating about this market is that the merchants have found a way to utilize their entire space with merchandise in a way that doesn’t even have to be adjusted before or after the train moves through.
Immediately after the train’s passing, awnings are replaced rather nonchalantly, and the track is filled once again with tourists and local consumers. This activity explains why the market is known locally as the Talat Rom Hoop, which translates into “Market Umbrella Close.”
There are two ways to see the market. The first is to actually take the train! The Wongwian Yai Station in Bangkok would take you right through the market on the Maeklong Railway Line. However, the most efficient way to see the market is to have a private car and tour guide take you. That way after the train passes through, you can leave as soon as you are ready and won’t have to wait hours for the next train or commute back on a ferry.
The floating market
About an hour and a half outside of Bangkok, you’ll find Damnoen Saduak and its world-famous floating market, an exotic and exciting way to shop local merchants and goods.
Located along klongs both wide and tight are hundreds of vendors who are ready to sell you things such as traditional Thai snacks and fruits, souvenirs that range in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars or unique local art crafted by artists who are often creating things on-site. These vendors are found in rowboats, like the ones you also float down the river in, or stalls made of wood and concrete that sit on stilts.
The klongs are often so full with visitors and consumers that the rowboats lose way of the “lanes” and gently collide into one another. Crowds, however, would never prevent you from visiting a shop because if you show the person working any sign of wanting to buy something, they use a hook to pull your boat in closer.
If sitting on a small wooden rowboat is not really your thing, you can choose to walk the market instead. Most shops can be accessed by narrow sidewalks and cement overpasses. However, to appreciate the full experience I highly recommend jumping into a boat and floating down the klong.
There are a few options for getting to this market. You can either take a taxi from Bangkok, which would be pretty expensive, use the public bus to get to town where you could then take a taxi to the market or use your hotel concierge to set up a day tour for you. There is also an option to take about a 20-minute trip on a motorized boat over to the market. That ride reveals a different side to the town as it shows the homes and temples that are built along the canal. There are several families out on their porches enjoying the day and greeting visitors as they pass by.
A market on a live train track and a floating market sound too impossible to be real. But some things you have to see to believe. Of course every trip to Thailand should incorporate temple sightseeing and at least one elephant ride. But every trip should also include visits to both of these exotic markets. These experiences will give you a sense of what it’s like to shop like a local.
Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.