Soak up the fishy breeze
Published/Last edited or updated: 28th August, 2017
Mahachai in Samut Sakhon province is one of the largest fishing centres in a country boasting one of the world’s highest levels of seafood production. Accessible by a leisurely train ride from Bangkok, it’s a good place to smell fish, eat fish, watch fish being unloaded, take a ferry to look at some temples and then sit by the sea while you eat more fish.
Located 40 kilometres southwest of Bangkok and just north of where the Tha Jeen River flows into the Gulf of Thailand, Mahachai’s countless fishing boat piers melt into a tangle of roofed markets and narrow lanes around the eponymous train station. All of it is stuffed with a breathtaking (literally, due to the smell) array of fish, crab, prawn, squid, eel, shells and other critters of the sea, much of it still wriggling around.
Arrive early to watch wiry fishers unload bucket after bucket of seafood bound for woks, grills and steamers throughout Thailand and beyond. Among the overwhelming number of market stalls you’ll also spot all sorts of dried seafood products along with mounds of kapi (shrimp paste), a specialty of Samut Sakhon.
Many of the fishers, porters and factory workers who keep Mahachai—and indeed Thailand’s seafood industry in general—buzzing along are migrants from Cambodia and Burma. Investigations in recent years have shown that many toil for below minimum wage pay in inhumane conditions, and some have been trafficked into indentured servitude or slavery. It’s important to keep these issues in mind when visiting big Thai fishing centres like Mahachai.
Dozens of shops sell Burmese-language newspapers and other goods from Burma around Mahachai Railway Station, located a few blocks inland from the piers. Hang around and you can watch one of the old trains roll into the station as vendors frantically move their baskets of fish and produce in a spectacle that’s similar to the “folding umbrella market” down in Mae Khlong, which can be hit on the same day as Mahachai.
Once you’ve had your fill of the markets, head to Mahachai Pier just south of a park and west of the main market area to take a ferry across the river to the old Chinese-Thai market town of Tha Chalom. Spread over an oxbow, this quieter area features Chinese shrines and temples emerging from old wooden houses hosting humble noodle shops. You’ll also find several seafood restaurants with river views on both sides of the river, and menus in English are common.
Another fun part of the Mahachai experience is a ride on the obscure Mahachai Railway Line. From Bangkok’s Wongwian Yai Station in Thonburi, trains depart roughly every hour starting at 05:30 and the last one returns from Mahachai at 19:00. Along the way you’ll roll slowly past fruit orchards and rural villages that you may not have known existed so close to Bangkok, before pulling up through the market into Mahachai.
After taking the ferry to Tha Chalom you can also head to Ban Laem Railway Station, less than a kilometre west of the pier, and catch another train departing for Mae Khlong Train Market in Samut Songkhram three times daily between 06:00 and 12:00. Go on a weekend and you can then grab a songthaew or tuk tuk from Mae Khlong to floating markets like Amphawa and Tha Kha. Fares are extremely cheap and the Mahachai Line offers one of the more memorable train rides in Thailand.
Though it’s quite old, a post on the Thailand by Train site still has some good info on hitting Mahachai and Mae Khlong by rail.
To take the train, catch the BTS Skytrain to Wongwian Yai BTS Station, leave the station through exit 1 and then hang a right on Somdet Prachao Taksin Rd, crossing the street when possible. Keep walking for about a half km and then take a left on Rim Thang Rotfai Rd, and you’ll see Wongwian Yai Railway Station about 100 m up on the right. Trains depart at least once every hour from 05:30 into the evening, returning frequently from 04:30 to 19:00.
You can also reach Mahachai by minibus from Bangkok’s Sai Tai Mai (Southern) Terminal; they depart hourly from 05:00 to 19:00 for 75 baht and drop off next to the seafood markets. If you’re not up for the second leg of the train journey, these minibuses continue from Mahachai down to Mae Khlong, where they turn around and return to Bangkok. Mahachai can also be reached direct by minibus from Mae Khlong, which in turn can be reached from Phetchaburi and Hua Hin.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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