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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: For Bangkok's biggest park and green space without the tourists, Bang Krachao is one of a kind.
Dave's expert tip: If here on a weekend, make sure to go to the nearby Nam Peung floating market, an authentic Thai affair featuring excellent food and organic products. Motorcycle taxis go here from the ferry pier. To get across to Bang Krachao, a 10 minute 5 baht ferry runs from the Klong Toey Pier at Klong Toey Nok Temple.
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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: For a unique and free look at the world of counterfeiting in Thailand, this tiny museum is one of the city's best.
Dave's expert tip: You'll need to make an appointment to come here, and the tours are given on Mondays at 2 pm and Thursdays at 10 am. Call or email Piyawan Khantabandit (02 056 5548) in advance to set something up.
Originally a flea market started in the 1950s 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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: For great people watching and an amazing variety of goods, Chatuchak is a Bangkok institution.
Dave's expert tip: The back section of the market is probably the most interesting, as fairly illegal things such as cockfighting and various animal (some endangered some not) species are to be found but don't get too pointy with your camera back here, as the merchants may be suspicious of your motives.
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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Bangkok's great urban green spot is also one of its best freebies.
Dave's expert tip: The closest public transport to Lumpini is the MRT subway station of the same name.
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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: For Bangkok's best area to walk in and not spend a cent while being entertained, Chinatown is the top draw.
Dave's expert tip: If you ever come through this area at night especially around any festival time, there is a high chance you will see local Chinese opera troupes performing streetside, a beautiful, but seemingly dying art, as the audience consists only of old folks.
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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The free butterfly garden, car-free bicycling, and ample green space make Suan Rot Fai a great place to spend the day.
Dave's expert tip: The best way to get here is to take the BTS to Mo Chit or MRT to Chatuchak. From the station, get out on the Chatuchak Market side and cross through Chatuchak Park (the one with the lake in it visible from the BTS station) to its northwest exit. From the gate here, cross Kamphaeng Phet Road and immediately enter another park gate, which leads into the southern end of Rot Fai Park in a few minutes. It is another 15 minutes on foot to reach the northern end of the park where they rent bicycles and sell food, so you might want to take a taxi or motorcycle from the BTS to the northern gate and rent bikes from there.
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. Its 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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: For modern art, photography, and film all in one cool building, the admission-free BACC is a top city art choice.
Dave's expert tip: Take the BTS Skytrain to National Stadium, where an exit leads directly to the BAAC. Check their website or Facebook page for changing exhibition information.
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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Koh Kret is a great city escape, not to mention that the only expense you'll have is renting a bicycle!
Dave's expert tip: Getting to Ko Kret takes a bit of planning. Either take the Chao Phraya "green flag" express ferry from Saphan Taksin Pier to Pak Kret (before 8 am) or else take the regular ferry to Nonthaburi (slightly south of Pak Kret) and then either bus 32 or a minivan that goes to the Pak Kret Pier.
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 2 pm (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 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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: For outstanding traditional Thai arts in a great setting, Baan Silapin is highly worth a visit.
Dave's expert tip: The best way to get here is to take the BTS Skytrain to its last stop in Thonburi, Bang Wa, and grab a taxi from here, and tell them you are going to either Baan Silapin, Talat Nam Klong Bang Luang (the canal market), or Wat Kuhasawan (the main temple right by the canal); they ought to know at least one of these, and locals can help with the rest.
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.
Recommended for Free Things to Do because: For free family-friendly fun, the gulls of Bang Pu make for a top city escape.
Dave's expert tip: It's best to take the BTS Skytrain to the end of the Sukhumvit line at its eastern terminus of Kheha, from where it will be less than 100 baht by taxi to take you the remaining stretch to Bang Pu. There are also public buses running all the way out here from town, costing only 7-8 baht, but they will take a long time.