How to see Bangkok's top spots without breaking the bank? Johnny Lawlor reveals the best things to do for free in Thailand's intoxicating capital
1. Stop and smell the flowers
Unleash your inner horticulturist at Pak Klong Talad, Bangkok's biggest flower market in the Old City. Wander around the beautifully vibrant stalls, or arrive pre-dawn between 3-4am to see the market truly come to life when exotic flower deliveries arrive from many regions across Thailand.
Catch a free public muay thai boxing match outside the MBK Centre in the Siam district (Wednesdays, 6pm). See mbk-center.co.th for details.
3. Sweat it out
Join the masses in any green space in the city at 5pm for a guided aerobics session. No need to feel self conscious – all ages and dance abilities welcome! You’re guaranteed to sweat though. Lumpini Park hosts one of the larger workouts; afterwards, catch your breath by strolling along the lake, looking out for turtles and large lizards.
Find a moment of serenity in the heart of the bustling commercial district: Erawan Shrine is a Hindu sanctuary, blanketed in flower offerings and mosaics, and conveniently located near some of Bangkok’s most lavish plazas. Watch a traditional dance, balance your karma, and then get back to shopping.
5. Be at one with nature
Head over to the beautiful Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in Vachira Benchatat Park to be surrounded by a garden filled with thousands of varieties of butterflies and bugs. Entrance, and exhibitions about the lives and habitats of various insects, is free everyday!
Shop ’til you drop (or simply browse) at Chatuchak Weekend Market, which sells everything you never knew you wanted. Amble around the stalls of antique tea-ware and exotic pets before trying the street food. Or head to the adjacent Chatuchak Park, to have a picnic next to the pond.
7. Meditate with monks
Soothe your mind, body and soul with a spot of meditation at one of Bangkok’s only working wats. Wat Maha That is one of the oldest temples in the city and provides a great chance to engage with monks studying at the Buddhist university. Section 5 of the wat conducts three daily vipassana (insight) sessions; if you’re lucky, you might have your future foretold too.
Stroll along the waterways of Taling Chan floating market, browsing treats stacked high on the long boats. Try a range of Thai fruits including custard apples, yellow longan and the pungent durian.
9. Climb Wat Saket
Ascend the 318 steps to this sacred spot. The path winds up through tropical plants, past waterfalls and via bronze prayer-bells before reaching the gold-embellished temple: from here, 58m up, you get great views of much of Bangkok.
Head to South-East Asia’s second-largest shopping complex, CentralWorld, and stay outside the mall to glimpse one of the regular public exhibitions, which range from motorbike displays to handmade craft shows.