(Lonelyplanet)-One reason for the Thai capital’s popularity, besides its gorgeous religious buildings and proximity to pristine beaches, is how budget friendly it is – if you eat like a local and avoid túk-túks you can save major baht.
And if you’re really counting the pennies, Bangkok has a whole host of sights and activities – unique temples, contemporary art, world-famous markets, warehouses filled with flowers – that can be enjoyed without spending a thing. Here are 11 ways to explore the city for free.
Beautiful Bangkok is a city with plenty of wonderful, free things to do © Thatree Thitivongvaroon / Getty Images
- Lose yourself in Chatuchak Weekend Market
Window shopping doesn’t get any better, or more diverse, than at Chatuchak Weekend Market. Step into compact corridors lined with shops selling everything from mass produced souvenirs and custom-made leather goods, to Thai designer brands and imported vintage clothing. There’s nothing you can’t buy here and that includes animals: along with fluffy kittens, it’s not uncommon to spot illegal wildlife.
- Admire contemporary art at Bangkok Art and Culture Center
If you like contemporary art (and air-conditioning) head to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, a modern building with shops and galleries flanking a central atrium. On the lower floors you’ll find private galleries, boutiques and coffee shops. Upstairs, discover exhibitions from some of Thailand’s best and brightest, along with works by famous foreign artists.
Enjoy a moment of peace at the Erawan Shrine © Micaela Marini Higgs / Lonely Planet
- Have a spiritual moment at the Erawan Shrine in the centre of the city
Join the crowds burning incense and making offerings at the Erawan Shrine, located next to an intersection in the city’s main shopping district. Take a moment for reflection and watch the unique blend of Buddhist and Hindu traditions on display. Worshipers can hire Thai dancers to accompany their prayers, and throughout the day there’s a steady stream of visitors keeping the area filled with smoke, music and wreaths of flowers.
- Discover Bangkok of the past at the Bangkokian Museum
Delve into city living during the 1940s at the Bangkokian Museum, a collection of three teak houses showcasing life before today’s modern expansion. The main house is filled with furnishings offering an insight into middle-class Thai life in the mid-20th century, while the third house is a bric-a-brac museum of curiosities with an upstairs gallery on the neighbourhood’s history (in Thai).
A view through the trees and over the pond at Lumphini Park, Bangkok, with city lights reflected in the water
Visit Lumphini Park at sunset for cooler temperatures and magical views © Prachanart / Getty Images
- Spend some time in nature at Lumphini Park
With manicured lawns, lush landscaping and an artificial lake complete with swan boats, Lumphini Park is an escape from the city located in the centre of Bangkok. An expansive green space filled with benches and shaded by trees, it’s the perfect place to relax with a book or picnic. It comes alive in the mornings and evenings when temperatures are lower.
- Find out where your food comes from at Khlong Toey
Make an early morning trip to the city’s largest wet market to discover where most street vendors and restaurateurs source their ingredients. Ironically named Khlong Toey after the fragrant pandan leaf, the air here is usually thick with the stench of fish or the divisive odour of durian. The sights are better than the smells, and food doesn’t get fresher than this – among other things, you can browse a selection of live insects, sheep heads and chickens awaiting slaughter.
A mother and child step out of Sri Mariamman temple in Bangkok. Above them are hundreds of colourful carvings on the temple building
Photogenic Sri Mariamman is a little bit of India in the middle of Bangkok © Micaela Marini Higgs / Lonely Planet
- Explore the other India Town
Bangkok’s official India Town sits along the edge of Chinatown, but Soi Pan in Silom is another major hub for the community. Pass Indian restaurants and browse window displays of colourful desserts before entering the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple, whose 6m towers are decorated with vibrant, elaborate carvings of deities.
- Visit the shops and workspaces of the Creative District
In a refurbished World War II-era building, Warehouse 30 is a collection of shops, workspaces and cafes offering regular lectures and exhibitions, and joining a growing community of creative spaces in the Bang Rak district. After you’ve browsed the work of Thai designers, head round the corner to snap a shot of the Vhils mural, carved into the concrete wall in front of the Portuguese Embassy.
A line of vendor tables selling an assortment of colourful flowers at Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok
Experience the smells and colours of Pak Khlong Talat © Micaela Marini Higgs / Lonely Planet
- Stop and smell the flowers at Pak Khlong Talat
For sweet smells, visit the Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market next to Wat Pho to find the source of the city’s phuang malai (floral garlands given as religious offerings or signs of respect). With fresh flowers spilling onto the street and warehouses bustling with flower traders, you’re guaranteed to get some gorgeous photos.
- Check out Chinatown
Its streets thick with the scent of traditional herbal medicines, Bangkok’s Chinatown offers a total sensory experience that you won’t see anywhere else in the city. In the narrow market alleys off Yaowarat Road, find traditional Chinese cooking ingredients and clothing bearing delightfully nonsensical phrases in English. Don’t miss the street food for which the area is famous – at night the crowds of vendors and eager customers are illuminated by neon signs on the main road.
- Inspect an amulet at the Amulet Market
In Thailand, amulets are typically worn by men in dangerous professions – chances are you’ve noticed one or two in a taxi. For great people-watching, and to appreciate the amount and variety of talismans available, visit the Amulet Market, where you’ll see customers flipping through catalogues and using magnifying glasses to inspect the merchandise.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
This article was first published by Micaela Marini Higgs in October 2017, and updated by Nardia Plumridge in June 2019.