Worth a Trip: Jouney to Amphawa
Amphawa is only 80km from Bangkok, but if you play your cards right, you can reach the town via a long journey involving trains, boats, a motorcycle ride and a short jaunt in the back of a truck. Why? Because sometimes the journey is just as interesting as the destination.
The adventure begins at Thonburi’s Wong Wian Yai train station. Just past the Wong Wian Yai traffic circle is a fairly ordinary food market that camouflages the unspectacular terminus of this commuter line. Hop on one of the hourly trains (10B, one hour, 5.30am to 8.10pm) to Samut Sakhon.
After 15 minutes on the rattling train, the city density yields to squat villages. From the window you can peek into homes, temples and shops built a carefully considered arm’s length from the passing trains. Further on, palm trees, patchwork rice fields and marshes filled with giant elephant ears and canna lilies line the route, punctuated by whistle-stop stations.
The backwater farms evaporate quickly as you enter Samut Sakhon, popularly known as Mahachai because it straddles the confluence of Mae Nam Tha Chin and Khlong Mahachai. This is a bustling port town, several kilometres upriver from the Gulf of Thailand, and the end of the first rail segment. Before the 17th century it was called Tha Jiin (Chinese Pier) because of the large number of Chinese junks that called here.
After working your way through one of the most hectic fresh markets in the country, you’ll come to a vast harbour clogged with water hyacinths and wooden fishing boats. A few rusty cannons pointing towards the river testify to the existence of the town’s crumbling fort, built to protect the kingdom from sea invaders.
Take the ferry across to Baan Laem (3B to 5B), where you'll jockey for space with school teachers riding motorcycles and people running errands. If the infrequent 5B ferry hasn’t already deposited you there, take a motorcycle taxi (10B) for the 2km ride to Wat Chawng Lom, home to the Jao Mae Kuan Im Shrine, a 9m-high fountain in the shape of the Mahayana Buddhist Goddess of Mercy that is popular with regional tour groups. Beside the shrine is Tha Chalong, a train stop with three daily departures for Samut Songkhram at 8.10am, 12.05pm and 4.40pm (10B, one hour). The train rambles out of the city on tracks that the surrounding forest threatens to engulf, and this little stretch of line genuinely feels a world away from the big smoke of Bangkok.
The jungle doesn’t last long, and any illusion that you’ve entered a parallel universe free of concrete is shattered as you enter Samut Songkhram. And to complete the seismic shift, you’ll emerge directly into a hubbub of hectic market stalls. Between train arrivals and departures these stalls are set up directly on the tracks and must be hurriedly cleared away when the train arrives – it’s quite an amazing scene.
Commonly known as Mae Klong, Samut Songkhram is a tidier version of Samut Sakhon and offers a great deal more as a destination. Owing to flat topography and abundant water sources, the area surrounding the provincial capital is well suited to the steady irrigation needed to grow guava, lychee and grapes. From Mae Klong Market pier (tâh đà·làht mâa glorng), you can charter a boat (1000B) or hop in a sŏrng·tăa·ou (passenger pick-up truck; 8B) near the market for the 10-minute ride to Amphawa.
Feature: Bangkok’s Green Lung
If you've been to any of Bangkok's rooftop bars, you may have noticed the rural-looking zone just southeast of the city centre. Known in English as the Phrapradaeng Peninsula, the conspicuously green finger of land is surrounded on three sides by Mae Nam Chao Phraya, a feature that seems to have shielded it from development.
The Phrapradaeng Peninsula encompasses rural homes, orchards, canals and lots of wet, unruly jungle. Most people visit the peninsula for the Bang Nam Pheung Market, a fun, weekends-only market with an emphasis on food. While there, you can check out the wonderfully dilapidated, 250-year-old Wat Bang Nam Pheung Nok, a Buddhist temple.
For something more active, the area is on the itinerary of many Bangkok bike tours, which take advantage of the peninsula's elevated walkways. Alternatively, there's Si Nakhon Kheun Khan Park, a vast botanical park with a large lake and birdwatching tower.
If you're really enjoying the Phrapradaeng Peninsula, you can extend your stay by overnighting at Bangkok Tree House, near Wat Bang Na Nork.
To get to Phrapradaeng, take the BTS to Bang Na and jump in a taxi for the short ride to the pier at Wat Bang Na Nork via Th Sanphawut. From there, take the river-crossing ferry (4B) followed by a short motorcycle taxi (10B) ride if you're going to Bang Nam Pheung Market.