Bangkok is outstanding. But it can be stressful with its wild traffic, the roaring engines under the skyways, the constant honking, the insistent mantra of people approaching you to propose a tuk-tuk. After a few days, you need a place to escape and take a breath.
If it’s a weekend, a train ride to the Amphawa floating market can be an inexpensive and entertaining adventure.
The Amphawa floating market.
On my trip to Thailand, I wanted to see a floating market. I chose Amphawa for three reasons: I wanted to travel the Mae Klong Railway, it’s an afternoon market, and most guidebooks say it isn’t that touristy.
The Mae Klong Railway alone is worth the trip. Yet, Amphawa is a touristy market. Tourists are mostly Asians. Shops and stalls are primarily for tourists and prices are above average.
That said, it’s an enjoyable market. You can wander along the canals, eat fresh fruits, rent a longtail boat and explore the surroundings. Above all, I had an excellent and cheap Tom Yum, cooked on a longtail boat along the main canal. A no-frills presentation, with whatever piece of fish inside the soup: heads, fish bones, prawns still in their shells, but a full flavor I won’t easily forget.
You can find many of these family-run street restaurants in the market; all of them have chairs and tables on the quayside.
Why a train.
Amphawa is about 95 Km from Bangkok. Most travelers get there by minivan, taxi or private tours. A train isn’t the most practical way to reach the village but allows to explore a piece of rural and still authentic Thailand around the big capital.
There isn’t a station in Amphawa. You can reach the village from Mae Klong by songthaew within minutes, after a stop at the well-known Railway Market where the train almost touches the stalls and the goods before entering the station.
Unless you choose an organized tour, you must plan your trip. The train doesn’t leave from the Bangkok Central Station but from Wongwian Yai, a small suburban railway station on the non-touristy side of Thonburi. You can’t find this line in the official Railway of Thailand’s website. There is third party information online, but it’s best to go in person to check the timetable next to the ticket office. The railway station is a 10-minute walk from the BTS Wongwian Yai station.
Travel and costs.
The line is divided into two sections, from Wongwian Yai to Maha Chai, from Ban Laem to Mae Klong. Trains are more frequent in the first section. Unless you want to sleep in Amphawa, it is better to leave early in the morning.
At Wongwian Yai Station, you make a ticket for the first part (10THB). At the ticket office, you can also ask for a free map of the route to change trains, once you arrive at Maha Chai.
The Tha Chin River divides the stations of Maha Chai and Ban Laem, and there is no bridge. You get off the train, take a boat (5THB), then another train from the station on the opposite bank.
If the boat is already at the pier, this will take less than half an hour in total, but it’s better to consider that the train may not be on time (often it isn’t) and that boats leave every 15 or 30 minutes. Moreover, Maha Chai is one of Thailand’s largest fish markets and is worth a short break for a visit.
Once you cross the river, at Ban Laem, you buy a ticket for Mae Klong (10THB). It takes about one hour to get there.
As the train approaches to the terminus, it starts to whistle more and more frequently, and you can see the convoy going into the market from aboard. A fascinating experience.
If you planned well, you can walk around and see the train coming back to Bangkok, now from inside the market.
Not far from the railway market, there’s an area where songthaews leave to Amphawa (8THB), which you reach in about 15 minutes.
Unlike other markets, the one in Amphawa is an afternoon market. If you reach it shortly before midday, it is likely that there are not so many people yet. Early in the afternoon, the market is quite crowded.
A songthaew ride to Amphawa
Back to Bangkok.
To go back to Bangkok you can plan your trip again by train or opt for a minivan.
The minivans arriving from Amphawa stop at the Sai Tai Guo bus station on the outskirts of Bangkok. From there, a free shuttle gets to the Victory Monument. The duration of the trip depends on traffic, usually a couple of hours.