Saturday, 16 February 2013

Mae Khlong: The Risky Market

Guest blogger John Borthwick, a confirmed non-shopper, makes an exception and goes to market at one known, for very good reason, as “the Risky Market”.

Thais call it Talat Rohm Hoop, the Closing Umbrella Market but for foreigners it is “the Risky Market”. And right now a large train is bearing down upon me as I stand far too close to its tracks.

My Thai friend Sam suggests politely, “Maybe you move back some little bit more.” I fling myself against a wall, flat as a pressed duck, as the train rumbles past, inches away. With a shave this close, who needs a razor?

Minutes before this level-a-tourist crossing event, I was amid a full-on market. Mackerel, brassieres, rambutan, sneakers, chili and nail clippers — all arrayed in a 100-metre long stretch. Down the middle of it, almost unnoticed, runs a narrow-gauge railway. Shade awnings (rhom) completely overhang the tracks, goods of every kind are stacked beside the line and shoppers mill across the tracks.

The train, a two-carriage electric service, rumbles through here four times a day but the stall-holders wait until it is almost upon them to make way for it. The awnings are rapidly pulled back while goods are shuffled aside. There’s such lack of urgency that tourists, awaiting some dramatic warning, are barely aware that the train is upon them.

I’m glad I’m not an elderly, plump Russian or a slow(-er) Aussie. Stand 20 cm too close and you have to leap for your life — as I do. One day though, someone will ... well, you know what I mean. A big, fat, lumbering loco will meets a tourist who’s artistically framing a tray of rambutan through a lens — and, Oh-my-Buddha! Or, as Sam says imperfectly but impeccably, “The train got no wrong.”

The market parts before the train like the Red Sea before Moses, then closes-in again behind the last carriage. The canvas awnings swing back and the goods, sellers and buyers spill right back to where they were. When the train returns later, the seas of commerce will part once more and some other tardy farang again will have to leap like a lizard.

Pics by John Borthwick, risking his life for his art!

All this happens at the morning market in the fishing port of Samut Songkram, also known as Mae Khlong, 80 km southwest of Bangkok. The tiny Mae Khlong-Mahachai railway line is the shortest in Thailand, at just 33 km in length. It starts in west Bangkok at Wong Wian Yai station, is cut by one large river and terminates beside another at Mae Khlong, the “capital” of Thailand’s smallest province, Samut Songkram.

Other than a few curious foreigners, the market is Thai to the max. Among the durian, fresh crabs, steamed mackerel and fried silkworms, we find two-frog satays for a bargain 35 baht — as opposed to 100 baht in Bangkok.

No comments:

Post a Comment