Get out of busy Bangkok and take a ride one-hour southwest to Amphawa in the Samut Songkhram province where you can enjoy a more laidback side of Thailand and witness some unusual Thai traditions. Here’s my guide about the things you can do in Amphawa and Samut Songkhram.
It was refreshing to explore nearby spots that gave me a different experience of Thailand – thanks to Tourism Authority of Thailand who had invited us to witness the commemoration of the late Thai King’s birthday.
Amphawa tends to be quite busy on the weekends because of its special markets and as a day trip option from Bangkok, so it is worth checking out Amphawa in the middle of the week before the weekend crowds arrive.
Maeklong Railway Market / Umbrella Market
One of the things Amphawa is most famous for is the Maeklong Railway Market. What’s special about this market is that an active train track runs right through the centre of the market – products and awnings extend right onto the train tracks most of the time, so the fun part is seeing what happens every time the train passes by.
Yup, all those umbrellas and awnings come down and the tourists get shooed to the side and the train passes through reeeaaaaalllly close to you. Fun fact: In Thai, the locals know this market as Talat Rom Hoop which loosely translates into ‘Market Umbrella Close’, which is why it’s also known as the Umbrella Market.
The train goes reallllly slowly as it exits Maeklong station and toots its horn as it goes by, so close that the temptation to touch the train is very high. It’s also really funny seeing the people on the train eagerly taking photos of us as we took pix of them. I’d love to actually be on the train, maybe something to do in future if I come back here :)
Things to know
Timings: The trains move through the market 6 times a day, 3 departing Maeklong (0620, 1020, 1430hrs) and arriving at Maeklong (0945, 1345, 1822hrs).
If you are interested in riding the train from Bangkok to Maeklong, it involves:
- Taking the Bangkok BTS Silom Line to Wongwian Yai Train Station
- Taking the train to Maha Chai Station
- Crossing the Tha Chin river by boat to Ban Laem Station
- Taking the train to Maeklong Station
Check out this site for more detailed information. It’s pretty cheap (20THB is less than S$1!) in total but it looks like it would take the better part of a morning to accomplish.
Tha Kha Floating Market
Another interesting market to check out in Amphawa are the floating markets – there are several floating markets that tourists like to visit, but I really liked Tha Kha Floating Market or Talat Nam Tha Kha, one of the smaller ones because it’s got more local flavour and was generally quieter than some of the others.
Floating markets mean that instead of physical stalls, everything is sold out of the slim wooden boats on the shore of the canal – step carefully on the floating pontoons and you can buy fresh produce or street food prepared right there for very cheap. Tha Kha is a regular market with over 100 years of farmers rowing down the river to sell their produce, so you aren’t going to get kitschy souvenirs here.
Things to know
Opening Hours: The market only opens on weekends – Saturday and Sunday from 6am. Morning is the busiest when the weather is cool, and the boats start leaving as the midday heat takes over.
Locals might offer to give you a boat ride along the river – we didn’t have time to do this but this account on Travelfish makes it sound pretty charming.
Amphawa Floating Market
If you rather not wake up too early, the Amphawa Floating Market is an afternoon market that sees more people and boats than the Tha Kha market. Here you can buy kitschy souvenirs – I got myself beer can and pencil point earrings as souvenirs, and there is of course street food in abundance.
Things to know
Opening Hours: Weekends – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 2pm – 8pm
You can also take a boat ride along the river, something nice to do in the evenings and apparently very popular for firefly appreciation.
Amphawa Chaipattana Nurak Conservation Project
What I found interesting about Amphawa is that they placed a lot of focus on preserving their local cultural heritage, evidenced in the Amphawa Chaipattana Nurak project, a Royal project endorsed by the late King and the current Princess. You can read more about it here.
We visited the Samut Songkhram Life Museum, a living museum where local craftspeople were demonstrating traditional crafts, like this little old lady who is apparently the last remaining person who knows how to weave this particular style of hat, as well as other ladies who wove roses and helmet-like hats out of pandan leaves. There were some exhibitions as well, but watching the craftspeople at work was definitely enlightening.
Across the road is an outdoor section or Chaipattana Park that showcases traditional agricultural methods and architecture. Sometimes there are cultural performances as well – we didn’t see any unfortunately but we did see some traditional food prep. This conservation project also focuses on sustainability, and I do hope that it succeeds in preserving Amphawa’s traditional charm in the long term.
Wat Bang Kung
I’ve seen plenty of temples, but Wat Bang Kung is completely covered and encased in Banyan tree roots and really surreal looking, almost as if it popped out of a dream. This national archaeological site was once a spiritual centre for the navy in the late 1700s following the fall of Ayutthaya.
Things to know
Opening Hours: Everyday, 8am – 6pm
Almsgiving by Boat
Almsgiving is a Buddhist practice usually seen in the staunchly Buddhist countries – Luang Prabang is pretty famous for its morning ritual that I got to participate in, but almsgiving in Amphawa is a little different from the procession of monks you normally see because it happens by boat!
It’s also a much more sedate affair as we had just one monk visit us and collect alms on behalf of his temple – I’m not sure if it was because our location was a bit quieter at Kanokrat Resort Amphawa along the Pee Lork Canal (off Mae Klong River).
I was invited to Bangkok and Amphawa on a media trip with Tourism Authority of Thailand. All opinions are my own.