Struth! Coming face to fender in thai market

HALF a dozen times a day vendors at Thailand’s Maeklong Railway Market have to clear a space for full-on passenger trains to crawl through their displays of foodstuffs and other products, including hauling back the poles that carry shade cloths protecting them and their produce from the tropical heat. (Tourism Authority of Thailand)

THAILAND’S Maeklong Railway Market must surely be one of the world’s most-aptly named market places.

Because half a dozen times a day, visitors who aren’t in the know get the surprise of their lives to find themselves suddenly face-to-fender on the narrow, crowded, open-air alleyway in which they are shopping, staring into the front of a pulsing diesel-hauled passenger train.

And that’s the result of a railway line that’s run some 70km from Bangkok since 1904, slicing right through the Maeklong market and its hundreds upon hundreds of stall-holders, who sell everything from meats and seafoods, groceries and fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, clothing and flowers, to freshly-cooked Thai foodstuffs at dozens of little snack bars and cafés.

So busy is it, in fact, that vendors pile their wares right up to, and in some cases, even into the very rail track on their narrow footways. And then on those half dozen times a day when a little warning bell tinkles over the loudspeaker system, and a few minutes later there’s the blasting of a diesel locomotive’s horn, they quickly, yet calmly, move their goods back from between the rail lines, and drag back their overhanging shade awnings, to clear a path for the approaching train.

And when that train’s crawled by with carefully gauged centimetres to spare, they simply put everything back in place on the footway and between the rail lines again, until the next warning bell tinkles and the next train horn sounds, and a path must be cleared once more… six times a day, seven days a week.