Maha Chai Market

Samut Sakhon

It is a centre of commerce and transport of Samut Sakhon. Talat Maha Chai is a spot where there are boats to various districts. There are charters as well as regular long-tailed boats to Khlong Khok Kham.

Flower Market Pak Khlong Talat

Article from TAT by Heribert Gaksch

The name Mahachai is still used today even though the town has been called Samut Sakhon since the reign of King Rama IV. Mahachai is home to one of the biggest seafood piers in the Gulf of Thailand.

A trip to any one of the traditional markets in rural Thailand never fails to be a fascinating experience. Such excursions should be made an integral part of all Thai cooking classes because they offer tremendous insights into traditional Thai ways and folk knowledge. In times past, young children would accompany their mothers and grandmothers on their daily trips to the fresh market, affording extra pairs of hands to carry the groceries back home. This was also part of the informal ‘schooling’ process. Folk knowledge was handed down from generation-to-generation by word of mouth. Children learnt by example and acquired basic skills on how to select the finest, freshest ingredients — vital to any good Thai meal.

Little has changed in this regard. The ability to source the finest (and sometimes rare) fresh ingredients remains the most important undertaking for chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers, and even management and owners. Knowing which fresh ingredients are available makes all the difference when it comes to designing exciting new menus.

Given my background in the catering, fine dining and hospitality business, I was intrigued to learn more about the biggest seafood pier in the gulf. So one day I drove the thirty kilometres down the Thonburi-Pak Tho Highway (No. 35) to the mouth of Tha Chine River where Mahachai is located. If you don’t have a car, or would like to opt for a more off-the-beaten track experience, take the local train. It departs from the Wong Wian Yai Railway Station on the Thonburi side of

When you arrive at Mahachai, park your vehicle in the lot by the Mahachai City Pillar. Then stroll along the river towards the pier at the junction where Klong Mahachai canal and the Ta Chine River converge to watch fishermen offload their catches: big and small shrimps, myriad fish, cuttlefish, shellfish and other fruits of the sea. Deckhands slide baskets of seafood down from the boat into the hands of traders who immediately auction off the catches and distribute them either to one of the many frozen seafood plants in the area or to vendors at the fresh market just behind the pier.

From the pier, wander down through tiny alleys to the market where a dazzling array of fresh seafood are on display. Don’t worry about venturing through this bustling maze. The people are very friendly and happy to show off their goods. As a foreign visitor, you are as ‘exotic’ to them as the people and market are to you. Often you will hear the question “What is your name?” or “Where you come from?”. Respond but don’t expect to strike up much more of a conversation. This might well be the full extent of their English.

On my last visit, one seafood vendor who spoke surprisingly good English told me that nowadays the really big trade has shifted to Talat Thalay Thai, a market for wholesalers. For a split second, I thought to myself there goes another traditional market, cast into oblivion by the clout of modern trade and hyper-markets. I soon realized this was no big loss after all. Mahachai Market still retains its rural character and offers more than enough for the smaller restaurants and individual customers who don’t need hundreds of kilos of fresh seafood all at once.

Walking around, taking in all the fascinating sights and sounds that surrounded me, brought back memories of a prior trip when, as a part of a Thai cooking class, I accompanied five Swedish Executive Chefs looking for the freshest ingredients. I had initially feared that organizing such a shopping spree for five Master Chefs would be a daunting task. We had planned to be at the market for about ninety minutes and then return with the fresh ingredients in time to prepare lunch.

As it turned out, we had lunch at the market and only returned some five hours later when the chefs were satisfied that they had seen, touched and photographed every kind of seafood on offer. That was an exciting day for all of us and we ended up preparing our ‘catch of the day’ for dinner instead.

Traditional markets invariably offer incredible photo opportunities. Presented with sights rarely seen in glossy travel publications or guides, visitors can capture something really authentic and different on film.

Mahachai Market also offers plenty of unusual ingredients that might not be on your day-to-day shopping list back home. Frogs, for example, which I thought had been taken off most menus these days. There are also various bugs and other exotic protein sources.

You’ll also find fresh vegetables, sauces and heaps of curry pastes — everything you could conceivably need for a dinner feast back home to delight your heart and, better still, stomach.

Always plan to arrive at the Mahachai Market by at least between 8.00 and 10.00 am. If you can manage earlier, all the better, since you can watch the laden boats arriving. Allow at least two hours for your visit.

You might also want to have lunch here and sample all the delicacies — grilled, steamed or fried; Thai, Chinese or Western Style. There are numerous fine seafood restaurants either at the market or along the river in the Mahachai area.

Having regained your strength after a hearty meal, continue your explorations on the return trip to Bangkok by taking a scenic route. Continue along Highway 35 past the salt fields, then turn right to the districts of Amphoe Krathum Baen and Ban Phaeo. These are dotted with verdant orchards. You can also visit one of the many manufacturers of Thailand’s famous five-coloured benjarong ceramic. From there it’s only a short trip back to Bangkok via the strikingly modern Rama 8 Bridge or the older Phra Pin Klao Bridge.

Heribert Gaksch

Heribert Gaksch is currently General Manager of the Hospitality Division at PB Partners. He oversees project development and operations of several resort properties under the PB Partners corporate umbrella. Phulay Beach Resort & Spa, a new five-star property in Krabi officially opens in September 2006, and PB Valley Resort, where he recently supervised the development of the Great Hornbill Grill and Restaurant.

Heribert began his career with an apprenticeship in the bakery at his parents’ hotel in Reit im Winkl, an all-year-round resort in Germany’s Bavarian Alps. He then went on to learn the ropes of the international hotel industry, working in various positions in hotels in Germany, Turkey and Thailand with such chains as InterContinental and Sheraton. He was general manager of the Tawana Ramada hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

In June 1992, he took the helm of LSG Siam Flight Services and took this pioneering operation to a whole new level, going from 1,200 meals a day to an average of 8,500, and from 6 international airline customers to 17, and growing from a staff of 120 to 430. In 1998 he started LSG’s catering operations in Yangon, Myanmar, from scratch while continuing his role in Bangkok and consulted for ACS Air Catering Services Ltd, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on behalf of LSG. In 1999, he and his team were presented with a silver medal for best International Caterer on Asian Routes from Lufthansa and gold and bronze medals from United Airlines. Heribert returned to the hotel industry in 2000.