Thailand from the train

‘The beauty and the beast’

For veterans there’s nothing new on the horizon, they know and made the trip who knows how many times. I did but in the beginning it still was a real odyssey on this most peculiar stretch of the SRT network. By now even the ordinary tourist flocks to the venture and enjoy a ride on the first part of the so called ‘Mae Khlong Railway’ in the eighties there wasn’t any stranger to be seen. Actually I should say lines, isolated from the rest of the network two different parts dived by the Tachin River at Samut Sakhon or the more popular name: Mahachai.
It was the TRC = Tachin Railroad Company who opened in 1901 a line between Bangkok – Klong San and Samut Sakhon. On the other side the MRC = Mae Khlong Railroad Company opened their line from Ban Laem to Samut Songkhram in 1905. In 1908 both companies became one and not before 1952 taken over by the state. The first part of the line was in the middle of the Charoen Rat Road and abandoned in the early sixties due to the increasing traffic. Dark strips in the surface still shows were once the track was imbedded. Before as far as Wat Sing the line was even electrified and besides the steam hauled trains a tramcar was servicing. It’s all history now, olden times in a nutshell but worth remembering it.
It’s the second part of the line less important in traffic volume than the first one but far more interesting. With a mere eight trains a day in both directions it requires a strict planning if one wanted to see the whole enterprise in a single day. Always be prepared for the worst, there’s only one train available and if it brakes down any replacement fails.  Ban Laem; were spirits creating loneliness, a forlorn sphere, and Buddha counts the blessing though a busy ferry creates another impression.
The hours of waiting at the station for the train and making the last return trip possible. Well, station is a big word, in all the years of visiting more or less it became a dump. In the eighties the yard was still there and a shed too, it all fallen apart together with a rail pier whereupon I never seen any vehicle but still in usable order. The toll of time or disrespect for railway matters, a slowly decay and a certain dying but it has survived.
And so the end of the line closes by the station of Samut Songkhram on the Mae Khlong River were several times a day the game of train and trader taking place. It’s presumed the track came first but these days completely surrounded by a vivid market. On arrival and departing blowing the horn activated a change of scene. The traders nearest to track lower their awnings and let the train pass by where after they put it back in position and the trade resumes. Products are stored in between the track and stay unharmed when the train roll over them.
The last train of the day heading in the direction of Bangkok for long have been the happiest one for a group wild monkeys (macaques) living halfway the line. Especially for them staff of the SRT collected left over’s from the market for a free distribution. A blow on the horn activated the animals rushing to the track from their habitat for a feasting on veggies and fruit. While the driver slowed down the conductor opened the front door of the diesel motorcar in order to empty two big sacks of the wanted.
The monkey stop, at first the beasts must have been bewildered but over time got used to it and became even time table proof. A daily returning ritual around four o’clock and the circus would have been complete if they gentlemanlike had orderly lined themselves up beside the track and waived. Only the latter for the ones who believe in fairy-tales. The past tense because I am not certain if driver and conductor still are doing this and if so take a seat in the front otherwise it’s over before you know.



About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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