Thursday, June 13, 2024
26 C
Brunei Town

All aboard!

ANN/THE STAR – While the diesel-powered car of the State Railway of Thailand typically takes a little over two hours to complete its journey, it’s the final moments as it approaches its terminus at Maeklong Station that truly set it apart.

Before its arrival, eager tourists congregate along a narrow pathway within the local market, vying for the best vantage point to witness the train’s gradual passage through the makeshift market that flanks both sides of the rail-way tracks.

This local market, known as the Maeklong Railway Market or Talad Rom Hub, has become a sought-after tourist attraction in Maeklong, located just two hours south of Bangkok.

Tourists start early in jockeying for positions to immortalise the train’s arrival on their mobile devices. Invariably, they get in the way of the stallholders relocating the trays of produce and wares they offer, but in true, polite Thai way, everything is completed smoothly, efficiently and with due regard to everyone’s safety and needs.

The intense tropical sunlight streams in once the overhead awnings are pulled back.

Tourists lining mostly one side of the track become more animated as the temperature rises and latecomers somewhat selfishly move in to obstruct the view of those who arrived early.

Things eventually settle down as the shrill of the train horn rises above the chatter of the hundred eager tourists who will soon be in the middle of all the action.

The train slowly manoeuvering through the crowd. PHOTO: THE STAR
The market ahead of the train’s arrival. PHOTO: FREEPIK

Opportunistic café operators have installed temporary wooden benches, and being keen to photograph the train, I position myself so that my space and vision aren’t obstructed by those who will push in front of me.

Despite my determined effort, mobile devices on selfie sticks soon appear above the bustling throng, but it’s all manageable with a few gentle prods in the direction of the recalcitrant.

If photographs are important to you, my tip is to start making your plan early and get in the best position possible well before the train makes its entrance. This will mean identifying a bench that doesn’t look like your view will be obstructed when you’re standing on it.

It wasn’t long before the shrill of the diesel car’s horn became more frequent as it appeared at the northern end of the market. My vantage point was in front of Station Coffee & Smoothies, some 100 metres from where the train entered the makeshift market.

Staff move through the gathered throng to ensure everyone has purchased a drink in return for their position on one of the outlet’s benches.

I must say, their iced Thai milk tea is the perfect drink for cooling down in the heat.

IT’S JUST A TRAIN

The awaiting crowd was as excited as people lined up for a new pop-up Insta-worthy dining concept. I had the urge to yell out, “It’s just a train”, but it would have fallen on deaf ears.

Besides, I too was excited, as the setting and the experience was greater than the thrill of seeing the train itself.

This is a much-celebrated train, without equal in terms of passenger and crowd enthusiasm and general market action. The market itself is not so exciting, with more souvenirs than food items, suggesting that it is mostly for tourists rather than the locals.

I watched the train driver as he slowly manoeuvred the diesel car through the excited crowd, doing a professional job of avoiding those crowded along the tracks. Surely, in most other parts of the world, health and safety experts would have installed safety barriers, fences, signs and had marshals to control the crowd, but this was Thailand, where individuals are deemed responsible for their own actions.

With my camera working in overdrive, the driver’s cabin was upon me within seconds, and I reached out and enthusiastically high-fived him.

Despite having driven the route many times, he looked as excited as if it were his first day at the controls.

Exuberant train passengers protruded from the open-shuttered windows and were just as boisterous and excited as those lining the rail line. They too were waving, taking photos and generally making the most of the carnival-like atmosphere.

It was all over in a matter of minutes as the train inched down the tracks ever so slowly.

Within seconds of its passing, the awnings and umbrellas of the market were rolled back into position, trays of produce, snacks and souvenirs reappeared, and the market banter returned to where it was prior to the train’s arrival. – David Bowden

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