Although Thailand – like the rest of Southeast Asia – is relatively cheap, all that sightseeing can start to add up. And when you factor in the cost of your flights and hotel, it can sometimes get rather expensive. But there’s no need for a holiday to Bangkok to break the bank. While you’ll certainly find some attractions worth splurging on, there are plenty of free things to do, too. These are some of our favourites.
Enjoy some downtime in Lumpini Park
One of Bangkok’s biggest and most popular green spaces, Lumpini Park offers a bunch of free things to do. Stroll around the manicured lawns, or settle down with a book under a tree. If you visit early in the morning, you can watch the groups practising Tai Chi, and in the evening there are free outdoor aerobics classes which anyone can join. During the cool season, there are free concerts most Sunday evenings. And if you do have some cash to spare, rent a paddle boat or pedalo and potter about on the lake.
People watch on Khao San Road
Khao San Road is Bangkok’s most famous thoroughfare. In his novel The Beach Alex Garland described it as the “centre of the backpacking universe” – that was true at the time and continues to be so 24 years later. Even in a city as chaotic as Bangkok, this one-kilometre stretch of road is particular lively, with an anything-goes attitude. It’s lined with cheap bars and restaurants, market stalls and budget hostels. But there’s no need to spend a penny if you don’t want to. Simply soak up the atmosphere, watch boozy backpackers chow down on roasted scorpions, and listen to the live music. It might not be the most authentic experience you have in Thailand, but it’s pretty much a rite of passage the first time you visit Bangkok.
Smell the roses at Bangkok Flower Market
The Bangkok Flower Market – known locally as Pak Khlong Market – is where Bangkokians go to buy the floral garlands which adorn shrines around the city. In Thailand, people give them as religious offerings and signs of respect. The giant indoor market is packed with row upon row of orchids, roses, jasmines, and countless other blooms. It’s an incredibly colourful spectacle, and one of the best free things you can do in Bangkok. Although the market’s open 24-hours a day, it’s at its most lively in the very early hours of the morning. Deliveries happen just after midnight, and the haggling begins immediately. Wait a few more hours, though, and you can watch the vendors making wreaths and floral displays.
Have a spiritual moment at Erawan Shrine
Bangkok has more shrines than you can shake a stick at, but Erawan Shrine is probably the best. Popular with Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, it sees hundreds of Thais stop by every day to pay their respects and make offerings. Tourists, meanwhile, come to check out the traditional dance performances that take place around it. Its notoriety means that, like many free things to do in this city, it can get pretty crowded. Located in the heart of Bangkok’s busy commercial district, near the Grand Hyatt, the Erawan Shrine’s easy to find. And you’ll know when you’re close by – there’ll be a distinct smell of incense in the air.
Meander around Chinatown
Bustling Chinatown is Bangkok’s oldest neighbourhood. The alleyways off Yaowarat Road are jam-packed with shops and stalls selling everything from traditional Chinese medicines to gaudy gold jewellery and t-shirts – often with nonsensical, badly-translated slogans. Spend a few hours weaving between the crowds and you’ll no doubt find it a very sensory experience. And if you visit during the Lunar New Year celebrations – in late January or February, depending on the year – you’ll find the area’s even more boisterous.
Chinatown’s also where you’ll find Wat Traimit, one of Bangkok’s most impressive temples. It’s famed for housing a colossal 5.5-tonne gold Buddha statue – the largest solid gold Buddha in the world. While not included on the list of free things to do, it’s worth the relatively small admission fee.
Ogle some art at the BACC
Thailand’s capital is home to several excellent museums – but unfortunately nearly all of them charge an entrance fee. If you fancy a bit of culture without breaking the bank, a trip to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC) is a great free thing to do. The hub of Bangkok’s burgeoning contemporary art scene, it features works by local and international artists. Its various galleries and exhibitions showcase painting, photography, musical performances, films, and more. There’s also a cafe, eco-friendly shops and a bookstore.
Watch the sunset behind Wat Arun
Wat Arun is one of Bangkok’s most iconic landmarks. Also known as the Temple of Dawn, it stands on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Its 82-metre-tall spire is adorned with ornate floral mosaics made from glazed Chinese porcelain, and inside there are murals dating from the reign of Rama V. One of the few Buddhist temples that people are encouraged to climb, it has steep stairs leading to the top. From here, you get fantastic views of the river and the city skyline. It’ll cost you about THB 100 (that’s roughly £2.50) to go inside Wat Arun. But if you don’t want to pay that, you can still admire the temple from the other side of the river. In fact, seeing the sunset over Wat Arun from the east bank of the Chao Phraya River is one of the best sights in the whole of Bangkok.
Catch a Muay Thai fight at MBK Center
Muay Thai – aka Thai boxing – is Thailand’s national sport. Seeing a match here is like going to a basketball game in America, or catching an AFL game when visiting Australia. The crowd’s enthusiastic and the atmosphere can be positively electric. Tickets to watch Muay Thai at Lumpini Stadium or Rajadamnern Stadium can be fairly expensive, but the MBK Center hosts free fights once a month. So if you’re a sports fan looking for free things to do in Bangkok, this should definitely be on your list.
Stroll around Chatuchak Market
Spread across 35 acres and with over 15,000 stalls, Chatuchak Market is the world’s largest weekend market. It’s also one of the most diverse. You’ll find vendors flogging everything from plants, antiques and electronics to furniture, clothes and books. Pretty much anything you can think of will be on sale somewhere here. Even if you don’t have any cash to splash, Chatuchak Market offers a great insight into Thai culture. And when the hullabaloo starts to get a bit much, you can always retire to nearby Chatuchak Park.
Feel zen with a meditation class at Wat Mahathat
As a Buddhist country, meditation plays a huge part in Thai culture. There are thousands of temples and retreats across Thailand where you can spend anything from a few hours to months on end getting to grips with this ancient practice. If you want to give it go while you’re in Bangkok, Wat Mahathat offers free classes every day. The monks who live at the temple organise walk-in sessions for both seated and walking meditation. Of all the free things to do in here, this is probably the most peaceful. Each session lasts a couple of hours and, although they’re conducted in Thai, there are English-speaking monks around to translate.
Admire the view from Wat Saket
Wat Saket – also known as the Golden Mount – is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples. It occupies an 80-metre-tall manmade hill and, even if you’re all templed-out, it’s worth ascending the 300-odd steps to the top. Once you get there you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. It might seem hard to believe, given how many skyscrapers now populate the skyline, but this was once the highest point in Bangkok. The climb itself is a free thing to do, but if you want to go inside the temple there’s a suggested donation.
Spend an evening at Asiatique: The Riverfront
Asiatique – Bangkok’s newest shopping area, just south of Chinatown – is a whole mix of things all rolled into one. And it can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Part night market, part mall, part riverside dining venue, it occupies the former docks of the East Asiatic Trading Company. You can easily pass an evening browsing the boutiques, or taking in the entertainment. Two of the biggest draws are a Thai puppet show and Calypso Cabaret – one of Bangkok’s celebrated ladyboy shows. There’s also a giant Ferris wheel and a faux-Italian courtyard, called Juliet Love Garden.