Thailand: The Journey is More Important Than the Destination (Mae Klong Railway market) 2


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By Jen

It’s an oft-quoted mantra, but today it was definitely true. I had the best day out with the boys possibly since our trip began. We went to a little market around 70km out of Bangkok where the train runs right through the middle of the market stalls, 8 times a day. The stall holders have a 90 second warning to shift their stall off the line before the train arrives. The market was there before the train and they ain’t changing location.

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Katie and Neil were to be spending the day together in Bangkok. Adam, Matt and I were to be making the 5 hour (from where we were anyway) journey to the market and then back.

First to get 2 teenage boys out of bed reasonably early in the morning. The boys’ alarm clock used to be set for 6.15am to be out the door to catch the 6.45 school bus. They got back in the door at nearly 7pm, ate their tea, did any homework that still had to be done and went to bed. There is little nighttime teenage loitering in France because teenagers are too exhausted.

School days from 8 to 6 are a bit of a killer I would say. That’s at Collège from the age of 11. What I found a little hard to accept ( and I wasn’t even there) was that there isn’t actually sufficient academic work to keep the students busy all day. So they have what’s called Étude (study periods) which are anything up to 2 hours long (well that was Matt’s longest anyway). They might more properly be described a teenage crèche detention periods. You sit quietly, homework or no homework, basically so that the school day lasts as long as the parents’ working day.

We are still doing the “core” school curriculum stuff in about an hour a day. A little more on occasion. And there is obviously ancillary learning going on around that. For Katie yesterday it was how to navigate a map with her big brother as teacher to find a Geocache. A separate blog post about the wonders of Geocaching when travelling with kids or otherwise is coming.

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Time will tell how the boys slot back into mainstream education when we return from our travels. I am hoping that there will not be too much beaurocratic resistance or any practical difficulties with them rejoining their peers. I was having a bit of a wobble about the irresponsibility of taking teenagers out of school until I joined a Facebook group called “Families on the Move”. It is full of positive advice on how it can work.

So anyway, our daily rhythm now involves a far later start to deal with the teenage need-for-sleep hormone. A little frustrating at times for the parents whose sleep requirement is going down not up. And a later night. What warmed my heart last night was our 15 year old sitting down next to me with a book. That might not seem unusual for some teenagers, but other than reference books, how to cheat at maths books and magic tricks books, he’s never picked up a book for pleasure of his own volition. That is sad for me because I get so much pleasure from reading. I know everyone is different and the world most definitely won’t fall apart if we don’t all love reading. But last night it happened.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.” Dr Seuss

Back to the day trip and getting the boys up early. I’m not sure if it’s normal or typical, but our boys’ stomachs wake up a good hour before their brain. A cunning plan was hatched. Neil started cooking bacon and I opened their bedroom door and wafted the cooking smells in. It did the trick and we were up and off. Result.

We had a taxi journey first. The bonus is I can practice a bit of Thai with the driver whilst my sons cringe (again) in the back. My new words to try: toothbrush, water, butterfly and how much?. I didn’t set out to learn toothbrush. It’s just that whilst (in our surreal little travel bubble) I was making Christmas cards out of elephant poo, I needed someone to pass the toothbrush to apply the glue with.

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And then we got the Skytrain. Fast, modern, and air conditioned to such a degree that we were frozen.

And then we walked the twenty minutes from the Skytrain to a local train station in the west of Bangkok. A lovely Thai lady directed us to the tiny station hidden amongst the houses and shops, by leaving her market stall and leading me by the arm the last couple of corners.

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And then… we caught the local train from Wongwian Yai to Maha Chai. 10 Baht (20 pence), 59 minute journey. There’s a train roughly every hour. For information about trains from anywhere to anywhere in the world, I can’t recommend www.seat61.com highly enough. You’ll get a timetable on the super informative site.

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The train was a local one, chugging along slowly through the countryside, windows wide open. There are not many trains with candy floss on them.

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And then…! we crossed the Tha Chin river by ferry, along with lots of scooters which drive off the jetty and onto the boat. That was 3 baht. There was a useful map on the station wall which we took a picture of, to help guide us along the little market streets.

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We made it to the station at the other side of the river to continue the journey with about a minute to spare, thanks mainly to the well-meaning locals who pointed us in the right direction with a wave. It’s only 50 odd km from Bangkok but the extra friendliness and curiosity at the farangs – only a few of us on the train – was noticeable.

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The last leg of our journey from this station on the other side of the river (Ban Laem) took an hour and a half. Another 10 baht.

What do you think this is?

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I thought rice, Matt thought salt. We asked around the carriage and the consensus was salt. I lost the bet.

The train we were on was the train which drives right through the middle of a market at Mae Khlong. Literally, after the 90 second warning whistle. There are some tourists who take a minibus out there to see this pretty unusual spectacle, but what better way than to be on the train that does the driving through!

It’s amazing to watch, here is it in reverse as the train passes.

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We stopped for lunch, unfortunately with red flecky bits in it for the boys – but they survived. Instead of making the same journey in reverse to get home, we decide to get the 8 baht, 20 minute songthaew to Amphawa, a nearby town with a floating market. The market is only at the weekend, and it was actually pretty quiet, but we did find a place for a drink. The boat trip out to see the thousands of fireflies which congregate in the surrounding trees was a bit too late for the last bus back to Bangkok. We swithered about staying over for an impromptu night and would have done had the floating market been the next day.

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But, we decided to head back to Bangkok, had a wee walk round Victory Monument en route (it was erected to celebrate “victory” in the very short Franco-Thai war where land was gained and then taken back shortly thereafter). It’s one of the biggest and busiest transport hubs in Bangkok and was buzzing by the time we arrived in the early evening.

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After another Skytrain/taxi combo, we stumbled in the door of home for the week (an enormous thank you again to Lee and Vicki for that). Although Adam has just gone out for a run, in the heat and humidity of the evening. Crazy.

Do you know of any other markets which cross a train line? Would love to hear if you do. Or if you’ve seen those fireflies?

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