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Bangkok Travelbug November 11 – Samut Sakhon – the "Chinese port"
October 27, 2011

Samut Sakhon – fishermen’s wharf in the "Chinese port"

This month we visit an unusual place with an unusual name using a different mode of transport. The experience of getting there and back was as enjoyable, if not more, than being at the destination itself.

Please join me on this journey to Samut Sakhon.

Contents (click on the link to go directly to the topic)

About Samut Sakhon

Samut Sakhon (samut – sea, sakhon – river/sea) is a province adjacent to the western edge of Bangkok and about 40 km from the city centre. It isn’t on the usual tourist circuit and I doubt if many visitors have even heard of it.

Samut Sakhon city

The city is situated near an estuary which used to be a popular port of call for the Chinese trading junks and hence it’s old name Tha Chin or Chinese port. Later when the Mahachai canal was dug to join the river, the city was renamed Mahachai, a name that’s still in use today.

Today Mahachai is a sub-district in the city district of Samut Sakhon and is the most populous area.

In the reign of King Rama IV (1851 – 1868), the city was given its present name of Samut Sakhon. The river which flows past the city is still called Tha Chin. The Tha Chin River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River, is one of the major rivers draining water from the Chao Phraya basin* into the Gulf of Thailand.

Tha Chin River, Samut Sakhon

Floods in Thailand – a sombre reminder

*Since the end of August 2011, Thailand has been hit by the worst floods in recent history. 62 provinces have been affected in the north, north-eastern and later central regions. At the time of writing, several provinces in the central region are still underwater and the flood waters have inevitably reached the outskirts of Bangkok.

The toll in human lives, homes and livelihoods is heavy; 366 dead, homes, shops and 1.4 m ha rice fields destroyed, 8.2 million people affected, 930 factories closed and 200,000 jobs lost.

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The Maeklong Line

Travel to Samut Sakhon and the neighbouring province of Samut Songkhram further west and the Maeklong Line comes to mind. This is a quaint railway service linking Thonburi to Samut Sakhon and subsequently to Samut Songkhram.

The Maeklong Line was started as a private rail link to bring sea produce from the two coastal provinces to Bangkok. As a private line it was not linked to any of the lines of the State Railway of Thailand. The State Railway of Thailand has since taken over the Maeklong Line.

The railway line isn’t continuous; it’s in two branches, another peculiar feature.
  • The first branch is from the Wong Wian Yai station (not to be confused with the skytrain station) to Mahachai station in Samut Sakhon

  • To connect to the second branch, commuters have to cross the Tha Chin River by ferry and board another train at the Bang Laem station nearby. This will take them to their final destination at the Maeklong station in Samut Songkhram

The Wong Wian Yai – Mahachai branch of the Maeklong Line consists of the following stations:

Wong Wian Yai – Talat Phlu - Wat Sai – Wat Sing – Bang Bon –

Khan Kha He – Rang Sa Kae
- Rang Pho - Sam Yaek - Phrom Dan

Thung Si Thong – Ban Bang Nam Jeud - Khok Kwai

Ban Khom – Khlong Chak – Mahachai


**The stations in italics are not on the map. In some of the stations, the words on the signboards at these stops have faded.

The Phrom Dan station is the last in Bangkok, beyond which you would be in Samut Sakhon.

Map of the Maeklong Line

View Maeklong Line in a larger map

This train ride on the Maeklong Line was the highlight of the trip and merits special mention in the following section.

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Train ride to Mahachai

The Wong Wian Yai train station is in Somdej Prachao Taksin Road near the busy roundabout where the King Taksin Monument is located.

King Taksin Monument, Wong Wian Yai

It’s hardly noticeably from the main road except for a signboard in Thai. During all the times I’ve passed the place, I hardly it noticed it.

Entrance to the station is to the left of the green signboard

Though in the middle of a busy Bangkok street, it has all the charms of a small town station where commuters were waiting for the train to arrive. It’s my first train ride in Thailand! That’s not counting the tourist train on the Kanchanaburi Death Railway.

A ride on the Maklong Line gives an insight to the real life in Thailand, about ordinary folks going about their daily lives. The line also passes through parts of Bangkok which few of us would have a chance to see.

It’s a simple train, clean with no frills. The carriages were swept and mopped while we waited for departure which was dead on time.

We invite you to sit back and enjoy some of the sights along this line to Mahachai.

On leaving Wong Wian Yai station, the train passes through Thonburi district before turning south-west through Chom Thong district, then passes between Bang Bon and Bang Khun Thien*** districts before entering Samut Sakhon province.

This train ride will take you past canals, small communities, modern and traditional homes, village railway stations and a side of Bangkok rarely seen.

You will know when you have arrived at Mahachai station, the final destination. It’s a most unusual railway station.

Mahachai station when trains are not passing, life goes on

Mahachai station shortly after trains arrive or depart


***Bang Khun Thien is the only district in Bangkok with direct access to the sea, a 5 km stretch of mangrove swamp where the ecological balance has thankfully been preserved. Please see the Bang Khun Thien Museum

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Mahachai Market and the Fishermen’s Wharf

Visitors to Samut Sakhon are left in doubt of the mainstay of the local economy; fish, fish and more fish, cuttlefish, prawns, crabs and clams. Almost everyone seems to be selling seafood of one kind or another.

The Fishermen’s Wharf (Saphan Pla) is a short walk from the Mahachai station. It’s a big hangar-like building with a wharf for fishing boats to dock and unload their catch.

Saphan Pla – the Fishermen’s Wharf

Unfortunately when I got there at around lunch time, there was a lull in activity. The last lots of fish were being packed and loaded up the pickups driving in one way and leaving the other.

Fishing boat on the way home

The ferry pier is a short walk from the Fishermen’s Wharf. This is where commuters take the ferry across the Tha Chin and continue on the second branch of the Maeklong Line to Samut Songkhram.

Tha Chin Pier, Samut Sakhon

A broad esplanade extends from the ferry pier along the river front to the next set of interesting landmarks in Mahachai.

Riverside esplanade, Samut Sakhon

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City Pillar Shrine

In accordance to Thai custom, the city pillar (sao lak mueng) is raised and blessed on specially chosen auspicious dates. This ceremony must be done before the construction of the rest of the city. For this reason, every major city in the provinces has a City Pillar Shrine.

Samut Sakhon City Pillar Shrine

For other City Pillar Shrines Bangkok City Pillar Shrine.

The City Pillar Shrine of Samut Sakhon is located in a small park near the river. There’s a big hall with a Chinese altar next to the shrine. A constant stream of visitors pray at this altar which appears to be more popular than the main shrine itself.

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Cannon of Fort Wichian Chodok

There’s a low white wall along the side of the City Pillar Shrine facing the river. On a closer look one can see old cannon placed at intervals along the ramparts.

I’m not sure if this is the original wall of the old Fort Wichian Chodok, it looks too new. The brass plate with inscription just by the entrance is gone so I am unable tell.

Fort Wichian Chodok was built in the reign of King Rama III (1824 – 1851) during the war with Vietnam. It was part of a number of forts built at the estuaries to prevent a Vietnamese incursion upriver.

For other river forts built during this period, please Fort Phairi Phinat in Chanthaburi.

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Map of Wong Wian Yai

View Wong Wian Yai railway station in a larger map

How to get there

Take a skytrain to the Wong Wian Yai skytrain station which is the terminal station of the Silom line. From there you can walk or take a taxi to the Wong Wian Yai Railway station about 600 m away in Somdet Prachao Taksin Road.

The train schedules are listed below.

Wong Wian Yai - Mahachai

The left column shows the departure times from Wong Wian Yai and the right column the arrival at Mahachai. The journey is about an hour.

Mahachai – Wong Wian Yai

The left column shows the departure times from Mahachai and arrival at Wong Wian Yai.

The fare is 10 baht, it’s free for Thai nationals. On my second ride on the Maeklong Line a week later, I made the mistake of going into the first class carriage. Don’t worry, you won’t be thrown out. When the conductor comes around, he’ll ask you where you are going, just tell him Mahachai and pay the difference of 25 baht.

The first class compartment is air-conditioned and less noisy. But not all trains have it. However, it’ll be difficult to take photographs through the closed glass windows.

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Map of Samut Sakhon

View Samut Sakhon city in a larger map

Getting around Samut Sakhon

All the places mentioned here are within walking distance.

Here’s a video of the scene from Mahachai back to Wong Wian Yai. This is the stretch in Samut Sakhon just before we enter the outskirts of Bangkok. You could almost reach out and pluck a banana off a tree.

Or you can click on this link to see the video.

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Next month

Tha Chalom – the fishermen’s port in Samut Sakhon

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Till next month then.

Eric Lim

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