A couple of weeks ago I went with a friend to a town called Mahachai for the purpose of seeing a giant fish market (as in a giant market where fish are sold, not one where giant fish are sold.)
To get there, we took the train from a station across the river. The skytrain now — at last — crosses the Chao Phraya. From the second and currently last station on that extension of the line, it’s a 15 min walk up a main road to what at first glance seems to be a busy little market beside the terminus of a disused train track, but is in fact a station.
I had gone there the day before just to look around, having seen very little of west Bangkok. I went wandering down the railway tracks, browsing the market stalls, bought a couple of pieces of kitchen crockery, and then found a white-flowered bush of a species I didn’t even vaguely recognise. The flowers smelled like, well, English hedgerow came to mind. Blossoms of the May, and all that. All around was tropical vegetation, and maybe this bush was native to the Southeast Asian tropics too, but the smell took me right out of Bangkok and deposited me in a woodland I know (indeed, the only English woodland I know personally) on the outskirts of London, with oak and holly and bluebell lawns and foxes and distant grey Brutalist housing estates on a grey horizon peeping through the poplar trunks on the forest fringe.
Suddenly missing Old Blighty (though whenever I go there, all I ever do is complain about the cold and the food), I stood there sniffing the flowers like they were full of cocaine, not minding the odd looks I was getting. I had to resist the temptation to pick a few flowers to take home.
Anyway, I knew where the railway track was, and my friend correctly identified the area on which the market stood as the platform of a station (I had missed seeing the clock and the ticket booth they day before — observant, aren’t I?). The train to Mahachai came, and for an hour’s ride (sans cushions, mind you), cost 10 baht — about 30 cents.
Mahachai was a fun place to wander around. Apparently we completely missed the main part of the town, but we found a fish market anyway. What I found most interesting were the pastes — shrimp pastes, I guess — moulded into huge smooth egg-shapes. It all smelled wonderful, of course. On the other side of the market was a river. Fishing boats were working on the water and ferries were going back and forth between Mahachai and a town on the other bank. Half the passengers on the ferries were on motorbikes, which they didn’t wheel but rode directly onto and off the boat, up and down the pier ramps.
No knowing where to go, we had been following a group of tourists from Bangkok. On the other side, they all got into a fleet of rickshaws (real rickshaws, not tuk-tuks) and went…somewhere. So we wandered around, and presently came to a wat with a large glass case in its front courtyard. The case contained an enormous stuffed turtle, festooned with pearls and flowers and attended by a mongoose (I think) and a small mummified cetacean, possibly a river porpoise (below the mongoose(?)’s chin in the photo).
A sign on the shrine proclaimed the turtle to be Mafeuang the Turtle Goddess. The case had wheels, so maybe Mafeuang sometimes gets trundled through the streets — or the wheels might just be for ease of transport for cleaning and upkeep, I guess.
A little further on we came to an ornate Chinese cemetery. The graves were like beds, some king-sized, with voluted and painted surrounds. On a house near the cemetery was this banner featuring Taoist Jesus, advertising a pre-burial body-washing service for unclaimed corpses:
There was a dearth of restaurants in the town, so we ate back at Mahachai, then explored a blingy Chinese temple. Chinese settlements in Thailand tend to be along coasts and rivers, since trade used to go by water.
On the way back, at the skytrain station, I noticed this sign:
And thus the day closed on a note of ponderable mystery.