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10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN BANGKOK, THAILAND

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Bangkok at Chao Phraya River

Bangkok view at Chao Phraya River

10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN BANGKOK, THAILAND

 

Bangkok, Thailand is a chaotic, bustling city that offers a never-ending barrage of unusual sights, sounds and activities, making it one of SE Asia’s most popular travel destinations. Unfortunately for budget travelers, in recent years the Thai baht has greatly strengthened against most currencies. Western dollars don’t go nearly as far nowadays.

 

Simultaneously the Thai government has been steadily increasing prices for western tourists at temples, museums, national parks and other attractions. As costs continue rising budget travelers will be pleased to learn that Bangkok offers many exciting free activities…

 

MBK

MBK aka Mahboongkrong Shopping Mall, one of Bangkok’s largest and trendiest

1. Get a ‘youth fix’ watching trendy Thai teens

Thailand’s ever-growing middle class means that increasingly more Thai teens are spending pocket money on fashionable clothes, shoes, hairstyles, jewelry, electronic gadgets, entertainment, coffee shops and night clubs.

 

Thailand’s trendiest teens frequent Siam Square and MBK Shopping Mall at the intersection of Praya Thai and Rama I roads. Hordes of excitable giggly doll-ed up teens wander around the blocks, hallways and shops of this energized shopping mecca. It’s a fascinating glimpse into Asia’s youth culture.

 

MBK itself is an amazing experience for first-time visitors to Asia. Such humongous shopping malls barely exist in the western world. MBK’s 8 floors are crammed with 2000 small boutiques, kiosks, entertainment venues and, of course, teenagers.

 

Wander around. You’ll be astounded.

 

MBK’s 8th floor Is dedicated to a huge multi-screen cinema showcasing Hollywood and Thailand’s latest films. A massive food court selling every kind of Thai and ethnic cuisine is located on the 6th floor.

 

If you’ve ever wondered what Asian youths consider hip, here’s you’re chance. Have fun!

 

Lumpini Park

Bangkok’s lovely Lumpini Park

2. Escape to nature at Lumpini Park

 

Exhausted from shopping, exciting night life or simply the frenzy of Bangkok? Head over to Lumpini Park on Silom Road to relax and recharge. Beautiful Lumpini offers a surprisingly tranquil escape from Bangkok’s noisy, hectic hazy urban sprawl. Set around a large lake, the vast landscaped park has bamboo forests, tropical trees, flowering bushes, and colorful flowers with meandering paths for exploring. Lumpini remains immaculately manicured by its fleet of Lumpini gardeners.

 

Bangkok residents take full advantage of Lumpini. Early every morning running clubs, Tai Chi groups, cyclists and Karaoke lovers gather to limber up and socialize. Lumpini offers children’s parks, weight-lifting gyms, paddle boats, kiosks, food stalls, benches and pavilions. Special events, performances and festivals are often scheduled there. Dozens of stray cats call the park home and are fed by visiting cat lovers and gardeners.

 

Lumpini is one of Bangkok’s best spots to relax, people watch, take a breather from hectic city shopping, exercise or check out Bangkok residents’ leisure activities.

 

3. Get face to face with crocodiles

 

Every Bangkok temple has its claim to fame, be it a Golden Buddha, Emerald Buddha, Reclining Buddha, massage school, marble walls or what not. Chakrawat Temple / Monastery, just south of Yaowarat Rd in Chinatown, has something completely else on hand: live crocodiles in its moat! Go take a look.

 

Besides crocodiles, Wat Chakrawat has several beautiful temple buildings and stately monks quarters to explore. Well worth a visit.

 

one of Bangkok's exotic Thai Temples

one of Bangkok’s exotic Thai Temples

4. Visit gorgeous Thai temples

 

Bangkok’s Royal Palace and several major temples charge highly inflated hefty admission fees to westerners tourists. Other temples charge a more reasonable 20B- 50B admission. If you’re a temple aficionado or budget traveler, even those small fees can add up.

 

Luckily, many beautiful and unusual Bangkok temples are free. Some of my favorites are Wat Ratchabophit and Wat Ratchapradit near the Royal Palace. Nearby, Wat Suthat’s, famous Giant red ‘swing’ stands outside on public ground.

 

Wat Bowoniwet along the river in Banglamphu and Wat Chana Songkran near Khao San Rd are free.

 

Finally, Wat Hua Lampong near Penninsula, Shangri La and Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotels off Charoen Krung Rd is an unusual little-visited temple.

 

Each of these temples has unique architecture, elaborate decor and interesting activities.

 

5. Visit a western inmate at ‘Bangkok Hilton’ 

 

Bangkok’s main prison, Bangkwang, is located at Chao Praya River’s northernmost ferry terminal, Nonthaburi. Located just 2 blocks from the ferry dock, the prison is easy to find. Many westerners are incarcerated there, mostly for drug violations. They live in pretty grim circumstances and immensely appreciate visits by westerner travelers.

 

While you’re out traveling the world enjoying the adventures of your lives, some unfortunate souls are stuck behind bars indefinitely. Consider taking a little time out of your trip to visit.

 

Anyone can arrange a visit to the prison. It will take some planning, including finding out a prisoner’s name and nationality, which you can do at the various western Embassies in Bangkok. You’ll also need to schedule your visit  beforehand. Complete instructions are provided on the website above.

 

public aerobics at Lumpini Park

6. Join an outdoor public aerobics class 

 

If you’re near the Royal Palace and Wat Po some evening, wander over to lovely Saranrom Park, just across the street. Saranrom, originally part of King Rama IV’s palace, is a lush shady handsomely- landscaped garden- a mini Lumpini Park.

 

The big attraction at Saranrom in evenings, however, is a massive public aerobics class. Join in or just watch. Joining an aerobics class in public with strangers from a different culture, while initially a bit intimidating, is actually mighty fun. Local Thais will be delighted and encouraging. Go for it!

 

( public aerobics classes also held in Lumpini Park, as in above photo)

 

Chinatown in Bangkok

7. Wander around Chinatown

 

Did you know that among Thai nationals are many Chinese and Indian Thais? Chinese Thais have large communities all over Thailand, especially in the main cities.

 

Bangkok’s large Chinatown is an intriguing area, in many respects quite different from the rest of the city. Wandering around Chinatown’s streets and alleys you’ll find several excellent Chinese temples (free entry), temple offering shops, bustling fresh markets, gold shops, strange Chinese ‘health’ drinks, delicious Chinese food and bakeries, a large flower market and a long alley full of plastic ‘junk’ from China.

 

You can easily spend a few hours or a whole day exploring this fascinating section of Bangkok.
Thai dance performance at City Pillar Shrine

8. Marvel at traditional Thai dance and drama performances

 

Traditional Thai dance, drama and music are not readily accessible in Thailand like their counterparts in Bali, Indonesia. While some 5-star hotels in Bangkok present dinner-dance events for tourists, overall these classic performing arts are no longer part of daily Thai life. I find this quite unfortunate.

 

On the bright side, Bangkok does offer two public venues where Thai dance and drama are performed daily. Better yet, visitors can watch for free. Both locations are at temples where patrons ‘hire’ standby dancers to perform in hopes of Godly favors. Onlookers are welcome to observe.

 

1. Erawan Shrine is located at the intersection of Rama I and Ratchadamri Rds outside the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel in the heart of Bangkok. Erawan is one of Thailand’s most famous and popular shrines. Visitors are pretty much guaranteed to see Thai dancing since patrons are so numerous they often must wait in line to hire the dancers.

 

2. At Lak Muang, Bangkok’s City Pillar, dancers perform more elaborate dramas. Located directly across the street from Sanaam Luang field and diagonal to the Royal Palace, Lak Muang is a 10-15 minute walk from both Khao San Rd and Chang ferry pier.

 

Lak Muang houses Bangkok’s guardian spirits. It’s also the point from which all distances in Thailand are measured. If you’re into trivia, Lak Muang is an interesting diversion after watching free dramatic performances.

 

Chatuchak weekend market

Chatuchak weekend market with clock tower, Chatuchak’s easiest landmark

9. Wander through the world’s largest market: Chatuchak

 

Nowadays nearly every visitor to Bangkok knows about massive Chatuchak weekend market. Aside from the wonder and novelty of exploring the world’s largest market, Chatuchak really is an excellent place to discover Thai handicrafts from all over the country, eat delicious authentic Thai food on the cheap, watch trendy Thai youth and find the latest super-cool fashions.

 

Chatuchak also has large sections of paintings, books, antiques, blue jeans, second-hand clothing, pets, party decor, jewelry, plants and just about anything else you can think of.

 

Shops start opening between 9 – 10 am. Customers are already arriving. By 11am Chatuchak’s narrow alleys start getting cramped and hot. By noon both the crowds and heat under the plastic roofing are unbearable, even for someone like me who loves the tropics. Personally I always arrive by 9am and escape by 11.

 

Extra tip: there’s a small lush park just outside Chatuchak market, great for cooling off and relaxing after your visit.

 

10. Explore the crazy world of  ‘adult erotica’

If you’re not adverse to prostitution, you’ve gotta go check out Thailand’s largest thriving ‘adult’ industry on Patpong Rd, an alley off Silom Rd. From 6 pm the entire road is packed with souvenir stalls selling knock-off designer goods such as watches, purses and sunglasses.

Lining either side of this mash pit of stalls are Bangkok’s strip joints, dance halls and live performances. Charismatic touts work their charms to lure you inside using booklets full of photos to whet your appetite for the ‘delectables’ awaiting you inside. Open doorways provide quick glimpses.

If you haven’t been exposed to such open trade before, be prepared for an intense experience.

Warning: be very careful about pick pockets, scams, and other ploys to separate you from your cash and valuables in this area! Otherwise, enjoy the shows.

For more information see: www.bangkok.com then click on nightlife then Patpong.

local ferry along Bangkok's Chao Praya River

Taking a local ferry along Bangkok’s Chao Praya River

BONUS:

11. Boat up the Chao Praya River 

 

Ok, strictly speaking riding a ferry up the Chao Praya River is not free. It costs 12- 31B ( 35 cents- $1 US) It’s almost free. But what a way to see the city!

 

If you can afford to splurge 1/3 dollar for a fantastic city tour, I highly recommend catching the local ferries plying up and down the river. It’s a truly cultural experience and a great tour of Bangkok without heavy road traffic. ( warning: the relatively new Tourist Ferries are NOT the same thing and cost 150B)

 

Hopping on a ferry near Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, you’ll get to see almost the entire length of Chao Praya’s course through Bangkok, all the way to the ferry’s northern terminus at Nonthaburi.

En route you’ll pass many of Bangkok’s most famous and impressive temples including Wat Arun, the Royal Palace and Wat Po. You’ll watch locals living along the river in rickety shacks and cement apartment buildings going about their daily lives including swimming, bathing and washing clothes in the river. (Yikes!)

You’ll share the ferry with Thai professionals, students, families and even Thai monks dressed in saffron robes, carrying their satchels and begging bowls. The boats designate special sections for Monks to ride. You’re joining Bangkok locals’ daily transport.

 

The whole ferry experience is quite intriguing. Watching ferries arrive, dock, discharge and pick up passengers is fascinating. Getting on and off the ferries yourself is another adventure. Even buying tickets is an unusual experience. Go on, splurge 12B!

 

Find full ferry schedules, prices and options at the aforementioned website.
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Please leave a comment to let me know how this list of freebies helps you enjoy your Bangkok visit. Got any more great freebies to add? Please do!

Thanks for stopping by. Happy travels, Lash

You might also enjoy the following posts in this ’10 Free Activities in… Series':

 in KL, Malaysia
in Hanoi, Vietnam
in Singapore
 on Tropical Islands and Beaches

and: Guide to Scuba Diving in Thailand

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100 Free Things to do in Asia - eBook - LashWorldTour

100 Free Things to do in Asia eBook

If you found this post useful, you’ll love my FREE eBook:

100 Free Things to do in Asia. It describes 10 free adventures in 10 different Asian cities and destinations.

Check out my eBook here



 photo credits from Flickr Creative Commons:
( antwerpenR   zoonabar  emilio labrador   spotter_nl   Fletchy182  Keng Susumpow  Argenberg    Lukas )

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  1. Amy

    Last time we were there we stayed down an alley from the MBK. We had so much fun wandering around people watching and the food court was actually really good and almost as cheap as street food!

  2. LASH

    Hi Amy. Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, MBK food court is amazing. I didn't know about guest houses near MBK… did you stay at a hotel? guest house? How much was it? Lash

  3. Raymond @ Man On The Lam

    Did you visit a prisoner while you were in Bangkok? I think I'd like to try this!

  4. LASH

    Hey Raymond,
    I actually have not visited a prisoner there. But several times I have been to the ferry stop / market just down the street from the prison and have heard about people visiting. I also have an Oz friend who has. lots of pals in prisons- in Bali, jakarta, Bkk- and she often visits them when she's in those countries. Basically, I'm aware that many westerners are held in prisons around SE ASia, that its' possible to visit, adn that they really appreciate some outside western contact. I'd like to do that at some point too…

  5. Alba

    Thanks for this list of things to do in Bangkok while on a tight budget. I’ll be traveling with my family in a few weeks …Hoping to visit some of these places!

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Alba,

      thanks for reading and for leaving your comment. It’s so nice to hear when my articles are actually useful to people! Yes, I hope you get to visit some of the places I suggested. Let me know what you think of them if you do. cheers, Lash

  6. Clive and Lou

    Hi Lash, thanks for the article on 10 free things to do in Bangkok. We tend to travel/holiday 5 times a year to various destinations, and colleagues always ask how do we afford it!!! Like you we enjoy the life style when we arrive, live cheap, and can never understand why anyone would visit anywhere in the world and eat, drink and relax (for too long by the pool) when there is a whole new world outside the door.
    We are heading back to Bangkok in Sept, and taking my 18 year daughter with us, who does not like curry,spices, spicy food nuts or fish…( that’s gonna be a challenge). We are searching for interesting things to do when your website popped up.
    Reading through your items we have done them all except the prision visit, and must add Lampini Park is the most amazing place in the world if you are into exercise, like you. It’s a must to visit early morning but also to a lesser extent the evening to see the abundance of different exercise classes taking place and the wave of humanity jogging anti clockwise around the park. Just wait for 8am or 6 pm and watch the world inside the park stop like a freeze frame as they play the National Athem. We will take in Saranron Park this time for the aerobics, Thais love it when Westerners join in. Keep it up

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Clive,

      Great. Glad you found the post useful. And really cool to hear htat youv’e done most of the things yourselves as well!

      Yes, Lumpini Park is awesome! I used to cycle around that park almost daily whenever I was in BKK, between the years 1998-2004. I love the cats there, too. Amazing you can almost entirely escape the city in that park!

      Enjoy your trip… I”m sure you know that there are many many Thai foods that are not spicy at all: fried chicken, satays, papaya salad can be ordered not spicey, a clear soup with veggies & meat called ‘geng jeut’and, of coures, the delicious fresh fruit juices.. She’ll have plenty to eat!

      If you want more eating ideas, check out Mark Wien’s excellent book, Eating Thai Food Guidebook, in my bookstore. (sorry link not going in here)

      Enjoy!

      cheers, Lash

  7. Josef Polgar

    Dear Lash,
    You must be a wonderful person, rich in travelling experience. Thank you for your valuable info regarding things to visit in Bangkok! I appreciate every word of it. Would you be so kind to suggest me a place to stay, please? I am leaving to Thailand on July 12th and we are planning to stay in Bangkok itself for several days. All the other places I will manage, but for Bangkok I would really NEED you advice, please. I mean a place not too expensive, not more than 800-1000 bath per night, not toot far from the river or to the Khao San, but absolutely NOT in Khao San.
    Would you be so kind to help me out?
    Many thanks in advance,
    Josef and Annelies Polgar from Paterswolde, a village just south of Groningen! NL

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Hi Josef,

      Welcome! Thanks for all your kind words.

      I’m glad my articles are helping you with your trip to Thailand.

      So sorry for my late reply. I haven’t been inside my website until just now. It’s July 12th. Oh, dear.

      Hopefully this message will reach you in time to be useful still. I do recommend one great little hotel in Bangkok. Riverview Guest House. It’s right beside the river, has an open-air restaurant on the 8th floor with amazing views up and down the river. And is reasonably priced. Also in an interesting all-Thai neighborhood and far from Khao San Rd. It’s near 2 boat piers, several buses and Chinatown. Located near Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel and Hualampong Train Station. Look up Riverview Guest House website to get the details on prices and directions.

      Enjoy Bangkok and your trip!

      cheers, Lash

  1. Asia's Amazing Shopping Malls - LashWorldTour » LashWorldTour

    […] LashWorldTourTravel Blog offering Cultural Insights, Travel Tips, and Tales of Adventure from 14+ years of world travelsHOMEABOUTAbout LashWorldTourAbout LashContactWhat’s in a name?LashWorldTour Travel MapLash’s Travel Fast FactsMissionsWorld Travels Overview: 1991-2011PressDisclaimerCOUNTRIESASIABALI- INDONESIABalinese CultureDiving in BaliBicycling in BaliAmedSanurBali MiscBANGLADESHBRUNEICAMBODIASHANGHAI- CHINAHONG KONGINDONESIABaliJavaLombokJAPANLAOSMALAYSIAKuala LumpurPenangLangkawiBorneoDiving in MalaysiaMalaysia MiscMYANMARNEPALPHILIPPINESSINGAPORESRI LANKATHAILANDVIETNAMAUSTRALIAEUROPEENGLANDSPAINS AMERICABRAZILUSAAdventuresBicycle TravelCycling in Bali SeriesHikingMotorbike TravelScuba DivingSky DivingSurvivor TV CrewTravel DisastersWWOOFCruisesTravel TalesCulturePhoto GalleriesTravel Tips10 Free Things to do in… SeriesAccommodation TipsFlight TipsLuxury Travel TipsMoney TipsSafety TipsWhy Living Overseas is Better SeriesMisc Travel TipsBeyond GuidebooksTravel ResourcesTRAVEL INTERVIEWSBook ReviewsHotel – Tour – Museum ReviewsLINKSTravel StoreFREE eBookTravel Books StoreLash’s Guidebooks to Bali wp_flash_img_show will display here (config: default)« Choose the Best Wardrobe For Your Next Cruise Holiday Asia’s Amazing Shopping Malls 2013/02/28 by Lash WorldTourION Shopping Mall – Orchard Road – SingaporeAsia’s Amazing Shopping MallsLet me start this article by qualifying that I am not into shopping. At all. For instance, whenever making plans with friends or on my own, I would never come up with the idea, “Hey, let’s go shopping!”. Not gonna happen. I’m much more inclined to head outdoors for hiking or cycling, to visit a museum or art gallery, or to venture to a trendy cafe for an espresso and a chat. And I don’t resort to ‘retail therapy’ when I”m feeling down.Shopping for me is a purely pragmatic endeavor. When I need a new dress, skirt, pair of shoes, electronic gadget, bike part, toothbrush or some such, then I make my way to a small shop or mall to buy exactly what I need, no more. On those occasions I really do enjoy browsing through the selections, choosing my favorites, trying them on and then using my new purchases. To that extent I’ll admit that yes, shopping is fun. But I certainly never think of shopping as a fun leisure activity or a hobby.Star Vista Shopping Mall – SingaporeYou won’t find it surprising, then, that I’ve always disliked shopping malls. At least while growing up in the USA. There, shopping malls are not enjoyable places to go and certainly not uplifting places to hang out. Architecturally, they are designed for purely practically, utilitarian purposes – essentially rectangular box structures with no interesting detailing, long plain hallways, few windows, little natural light and no ambiance whatsoever.Besides their complete lack of architectural interest and atmosphere, the people who frequent America’s shopping malls are types I generally prefer to avoid: packs of raucous roaming teenagers and the dodgier end of lower class families, with their loud rough mannerisms. (no offense intended, please. Some people you click with and others you don’t. That’s all.)KLCC shopping mall at the base of Petronas Twin Towers is Kuala Lumpur’s most exlusive mall – MalaysiaI will admit that I did briefly find shopping malls exciting when I was a teenager and first discovered big city malls. About a grand total of three times I thought malls were fun. After that I quickly came to disdain shopping malls and henceforth avoided them like the plague. They were not places I wanted to hang out, immerse myself in or even step foot inside.MBK in Bangkok – Thailand – by Brad Augsburger PhotographyThen I moved to Asia. Here I discovered a whole new meaning for ‘shopping mall’.Not so much in Japan, but once I started traveling around SE Asia, I began finding amazing shopping malls that exhibit astounding modern architecture, wonderful ambiance and an entirely different class of visitors.Particularly in major cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Shanghai, shopping malls are an entirely different ball game from their sad counterparts in the USA.Asia’s shopping malls are so amazing that I’ve actually come to seek them out whenever I visit new cities. For me, they are destinations in themselves.And in certain cities, I make a point of returning to my favorite malls every time I visit, just to sip an espresso while soaking up their pleasant atmosphere and admiring the masterful architecture and detailing.Every mall is different but some typical features of Asia’s best malls include:Marina Bay Sands Mall – Singapore* Light, spacious airy ambiance created by very high ceilings, lots of floor to ceiling windows, and massive atriums and lobbies.* Unique architectural design, both inside and outside. * Open-aired cafes in spacious hallways or lobbies, providing astounding views of the mall interior architecture. * Some have pools, fountains, artificial streams. *The exterior walls of some malls double up as massive video screens, which showcase changing light displays, video ads, music videos and movie clips.I’m not into shopping but I am into modern architecture, new innovations, luxurious spaces and great atmosphere. So in Asia, I’ve come to love shopping malls. Not to shop (except on occasion) but to admire the buildings themselves.If you’re into new experiences, modern architecture, or ambient spaces, I recommend that you make a point of seeking out a few big city shopping malls while you’re visiting Asia. They are whole different worlds in themselves.at night the exterior walls of Orchard Central Shopping Mall display vibrant videos – SingaporeHere are a few amazing malls to check out in SE Asia:Bangkok, Thailand: MBK MaBoonKrongKuala Lumpur, Malaysia: KLCC at the base of Petronas Twin TowersSingapore: ION and Orchard Central Malls, both on Orchard Road (check out their exterior walls at night)QUESTIONS:Do you like shopping malls? Why or why  not? Do you have any favorite malls in Asia? ——————————————————————————————————————————————You might also enjoy: Travel Tips: 5 Unique Things to do in Singapore10 Free Things to do in Bangkok, Thailand———————————————————————————————————————————————-  /* /* Leave a Reply Cancel replyYour email address will not be published.Name:Email:Website:Message:You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> […]

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