Most of us are accustomed to keeping trains at a distance, but in the Far East people have learned to live with them in close proximity. How close? Well, I suppose I’d have to call it “brushing-past close.”
The Mae Klong Train Market in Samut Songkhram Province, Thailand (an hour or two from Bangkok) is one of the best-known examples of intimate trains. It’s become a favourite tourist destination, ever since it appeared on YouTube in some stunning videos.
I’ve visited the market a couple of times and on both occasions have found it incredibly hard to get the perfect street photo. I admit I’m way out of my comfort zone, photographing a moving train from six inches away.
Fortunately, the Mae Klong Train Market also presents opportunities for regular street photos and indeed for other kinds of photography, from still lifes to portraits. While waiting for a train to arrive (there are only four each day) I took shots like the one above. It’s hard to image that a train will run along this track in a few minutes’ time, but that’s what happens.
See What I Mean?
The train comes perilously close, but local people have learned to live with it. In fact, it’s been good for business.
Once vendors had figured out how to make full use of the tracks, by means of folding umbrellas and ingenious mechanisms for pulling their wares away from the train at the last moment, they were on to a winner. You could go shopping and be entertained at the same time. That’s a philosophy which has only recently been copied by modern shopping malls (and never by old-fashioned department stores in the UK).
The process of closing the umbrellas has given the Mae Klong Train Market its local name: “Hoop Rom” “umbrella/parasol-closing” Market. Honestly, the procedure is a whole lot more complicated than that, but you get the gist of it. If you want to see it: visit, but take care!
In the meantime, here’s some fish:
If you look closely at the above shot you’ll notice how the bowls of fish are directly on top of the rail. I know, it’s just a nice still life when it’s taken out of context, but the shaft of sunlight shining between the umbrellas takes the place of the almost unseen rail.
Wongwian Yai Station
In Bangkok itself, another place where you can find what I’m calling “intimate trains” is Wongwian Yai Station and the little road which runs alongside the track.
This is a favourite haunt of street photographers, not just because of the trains, but also for its buildings which are picturesque or ramshackle, depending on how you choose to see them.
Personally, I love this area. The people are friendly and are clearly happy to be living in such an unusual neighbourhood: one that combines commerce with a certain amount of wilderness. Some of the ramshackle buildings even echo the design of a typical railway station:
People walk across the track, ride across it on motor scooters (below); and children sometimes play on it, despite being warned of the danger. Fortunately, the station is not far away, so trains are going quite slowly in the mile or two leading up to it.
Note: If you plan a visit, you can go to Wongwian Yai Skytrain Station, but that’s not it! You’ll need to walk several hundred yards to the old railway station on Somdet Phra Chao Taksin Road.
I’ll be making another trip to Wongwian Yai, determined to get more shots before the developers move in. I like it just the way it is.