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10 Best Free Things to Do in Bangkok

10 Best Free Things to Do in Bangkok

Whether it is enjoying the green spaces that give escape from the Bangkok traffic and heat, or people watching in the fantastic traditional markets or futuristic boutique malls, you don’t have to break the bank in Bangkok, nor even spend any baht for that matter. Spots like the giant green space of Bang Krachao or Suan Rot Fai come without a price tag (other than cheap transportation to get there). and centrally located Lumpini Park is a great public oasis that even has free symphony performances in the cool season!

The traditional floating market life along the Klong Bang Luang in Thonburi is fascinating, but the main reason to come here is to watch the traditional Thai puppet shows at the Baan Silapin Artist’s House. Performances are free, but they do welcome donations. Chinatown is also a fantastic place for people watching and walking, there is everything from temples to market alleys to street vendors selling delicious food that is quite cheap, and make sure to take in a free Chinese opera if one happens to be going on. If the crowds are a bit much, consider heading out to Ko Kret Island, Bangkok’s urban escape, where you can go bicycle riding, check out some fantastic pottery, and enjoy a bit of Mon  culture, none of which cost a baht other than the bike rental fee or nominal public bus/ferry ticket to get out here.

For an afternoon of free art exhibitions, the cool Bangkok Art & Culture Centre always has something going on, and is a great local place to hang out. Finally, for some unique birdwatching and one fantastic and easy city escape, head out to Bang Pu to watch the gull migration. There is plenty to do here for free.

Bang Krachao

While many might think of Bangkok and nature in the same sentence as being an oxymoron, they probably have never heard of Bang Krachao. Bang Krachao, also known as “the lungs” of Bangkok is a vast area of green space just across the Chao Phraya River from Klong Toey. Originally a settlement for ethnic Burmese Mons, Bang Krachao is made up of orchards and gardens, and a strict local planning code prohibiting high rise buildings and factories has kept the area in a pristine state. The 100 acre Sri Nakhon Kuenkhan Park with its oasis of trees, lakes, and trails is the highlight here, as is renting a bicycle and heading out along the raised embankments that run through villages built on wooden stilts.

Museum of Counterfeit Goods

certainly one of Bangkok’s more unique, relevant, and interesting museums, the Museum of Counterfeit Goods is well worth spending a morning or afternoon in. Bangkok is well known as one of the world’s capitals of counterfeit goods, as any waltz down the street through a night market will show. While the average person might not think twice about buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag, a watch, or some perfume, this well laid out display that is part of the Tilleke and Gibbins law firm, seeks to educate people about intellectual property infringement and just how pervasive and intrinsically destructive it can end up being for all parties involved. There are thousands of goods seized in raids, case study examples to learn about, and the law firm provides well prepared free lectures and guided tours. The museum has been around for 30 years and is one of the largest in the world.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

Originally a flea market started in the 1950’s by a former prime minister who wanted to put a flea market into every town in Thailand, Chatuchak, more affectionately known as JJ Market, is now the largest market in Thailand. Over 5000 stalls vie for business, selling everything from clothing to pets, antiques, plants, amulets, and plenty of food and drink. The market is now a highly touristed affair, hot, crowded, and no longer dirt cheap, yet it is still a great place to people watch, find something you don’t have to buy, and the latest addition of impromptu cafes for sipping a cappuccino or having a cold beer and watching the world go by make it worth an afternoon.

Lumpini Park

Created by King Rama VI in 1932, and named after the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumpini Park is an urban oasis, one of the city’s largest parks located smack in the middle of central Bangkok. Besides offering plenty of shady trees under which to picnic or nap, and being a great respite from the city chaos and heat, there are also free aerobic classes held around sunset, and the park’s jogging and bicycle paths are a big hit with the city slickers.

You can also rent paddleboats to head out on the lake which is in the center of the park, plenty of fun for the whole family, and there are also playground areas for the kids and even rudimentary outdoor gym facilities (free weights and exercise stations) for mom and dad.

Other than getting a workout in or just relaxing on a bench or the grass with a good book, there are a few other things to do in Lumpini. The park is home to large monitor lizards, who look a lot scarier than they really are, as well as plenty of birds, squirrels, and other small critters for you to observe.

Lumpini is also home to the “Concert in the Park” series, where you can catch classical music performances by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra during the cool season, as well as the annual Bangkok Street Show, which features performance artists from around the world.


Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

Bangkok’s Chinatown is full of history, mazes of tiny alleyways to get lost in, find great food, markets, temples, and one of the few places in the city where it is actually pleasant and preferable to walk, not to mention that none of the highlights, other than eating, will cost much. Highlights include the giant Wat Traimit Temple with its 700 year old 5.5 ton Buddha image, the largest in the world, along with Wat Mangkon Kalawat, Chinatown’s busiest temple. consistently filled with incense smoke and worshippers waving joss sticks. Besides this, there are old shophouse lanes, the outdoor seafood restaurants on the corner of Yaowarat and Soi Padungdao, the Sampeng Lane alley market and the Trok Itsaranuphap wet market with produce and spices.

Suan Rot Fai

Suan Rot Fai (The Train Park) is located slightly northeast of Chatuchak Park, along one of the city’s largest connected green belts. The park sprawls over 150 acres in a space that was once a golf course for the State Railway Association which was subsequently turned into a park. On weekdays, you might feel like you have stumbled into Bangkok’s quietest nature zone, while on weekends, the crowds do come, but everyone is enjoying the place and despite the groups, you will still be mighty moved by the greenery.

Bicycling is the top activity in the park, and there are loop paths around the park of about three kilometers which are completely car free. Picnicking is also a top draw, and you can rent bamboo mats, bicycles, and buy food at the park’s northern end. Best of all might be the completely free Butterfly Garden, a living museum where a lush garden has been sealed off from the sky by mesh covering, and is home to dozens of species of exotic tropical butterflies, some of them quite large like the giant Golden Birdwing. There are plenty of avid micro photographers spending hours in this living greenhouse, and the beautiful collection of butterfly species (which are also fairly well described on signboards in English and Thai) makes a stopover here a must on any park visit.

Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC)

The Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, more commonly known by its abbreviated form, BACC, somewhat put the Bangkok art scene on the map, as it was built back when the city was really a backwater for contemporary and cutting edge modern art. These days, it’s a magnet for the burgeoning Thai art community and hosts regularly changing film, photography, and other art exhibitions. Almost all of the displays throughout the multi-story building are free, and it’s one of Bangkok’s better places to spend a rainy day wandering around and not spending anything, although you most likely will be tempted to have a cup of the city’s best coffee at the master brewing Gallery Drip cafe, which is located on the ground floor of the BAAC. The building itself is also intriguing, circular and set around an atrium, with plenty of glass and light. It’s access directly off the National Stadium BTS station is also an added plus, meaning you can avoid the city traffic, heat, and smog to get here.

Ko Kret Island

Ko Kret is an island in the Chao Phraya River at the northern end of Bangkok. Originally settled by Mons, it is famed for its earthenware ceramics and for the traditional Thai sweet, khao cher, rice served with fragrant water and side dishes which is rare to find elsewhere in the capital. The island feels more like a southern paradise than part of Bangkok, as it is composed of small traffic free lanes, dilapidated homes, and a rustic feel. The island is only 7 kilometers around, so it’s perfect for walking or renting a bicycle, and the morning can be spent visiting pottery shops, the several Mon (Burmese) monasteries, eating seafood or sweets, and taking in some quiet gardens, a great escape from hectic Bangkok. Other than a bike rental and some food, you won’t be spending much here.

Baan Silapin Artist's House

Baan Silapin Artist’s House is an old wooden home that sits on the Klong Bang Luang canal, which is home to a small floating market. The community here, a traditional old Thai group of canal homes, has gotten together to keep its young people away from trouble and keep the tradition of local performing arts surviving, by teaching Thai puppetry and getting the young folks to become performers and pass on the lineage. Every afternoon at 2pm (some days there are no performances as the puppeteers get hired out, so call ahead), there are traditional handcrafted puppet shows, with 3 puppeteers pulling the strings to control one lifelike marionette puppet, enacting Thai folktales and scenes from the Ramayana. Entry here is free, it is all about community and art, but donations are encouraged. The house itself is worth a wander, and there are plenty of homemade art projects from paintings to books, along with fantastic local food for sale, all going to a great cause.

Bang Pu Recreation Center

If you are looking for a very local experience as well as a quick city escape, jump on the eastern skytrain line out to Kheha, and then take a taxi from there to the Bang Pu Recreation Center. Bang Pu is known by Thais for its history, as it went from an early seaside resort to later on being the place where the Japanese landed on the same day they launched the Pearl Harbor attack and entered WWII. However, these days, Bang Pu plays host from October through March to one of Asia’s greatest gull migrations, where thousands of gulls from an array of about a dozen different species call in here on their great northern-southern hemisphere migration.

Serious bird lovers will have a field day here, as there are pedestrian-only walkways that run along the coast offering great birdwatching opportunities, but for most of the folks that come here, it’s just a really fun escape from the congestion of downtown, the air is a lot cleaner, and the pier that leads out to sea also has an assortment of excellent seafood restaurants to have lunch at.

It gets very crowded here at sunset, with loads of families coming to feed the birds and take selfies with them, and it really is a very local experience, as you’ll see few foreign tourists making it out this far. Best of all, other than your transport out here, it’s entirely free.

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