There are no two ways about it; Bangkok can be a pretty expensive place to hang out. The vibrant night life and tempting food can eat through your budget faster than a mouse through grain.
For those on a tight budget, Bangkok’s diversions can seem out of reach, and becoming confined to whiling away the hours watching movies around Banglampu becomes a disheartening prospect.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many activities in the city cost less than 50 baht and can be rich and rewarding. Here are some of my favourite ways to spend time in the city
Situated just behind Chatuchak, Suan Rotfai, or Railway Park, is one of Bangkok’s best kept secrets. Filled with water lilly ponds, streams and places to relax, this huge park is extremely picturesque. One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon is to hire a bicycle from the stand at the far side of the park and navigate the specially constructed cycle paths. Just 20 baht will buy you three hours of cycling fun.
Whilst exploring the park, don’t forget to visit the Bangkok Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in the Southeastern area. A 15-metre-high glass dome covers an area of 1,100 square meters, abundant with beautiful butterflies. Admission is free and you can watch the butterflies and learn about them in the attached museum. Open 8:30-4:30 Tuesday-Sunday.
The easiest way to get to the park is to take the MRT to Chatuchak Park station or the BTS to Mo Chit. You can also take bus 3 from Samsen Road, just around the corner from Khao San. Simply walk through Chatuchak Park, turn right and walk along the back road until you come to the gates to another park.
If you are interested in science, the Bangkok Planetarium and Science Museum is a great place to spend a few hours. A combined ticket to the Planetarium and Museum costs just 20 baht and includes an information leaflet. Tracing the history of space travel, the Planetarium show has spectacular visual imagery and sound. Visit on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. for the English language show.
The science museum covers everything from dinosaurs to marine biology and has many interesting exhibits. Open 9-4 Sunday to Tuesday, it is located near to the BTS Ekkamai Station and the Eastern Bus Terminal. You can also catch buses 2, 25, 38, 40, 48, 72, 98, 501 and 511.
Few visitors venture across the Chao Phraya River to the Thonburi side, but there are some attractions worth visiting. Take the ferry down the river one afternoon to pier 6, known as Memorial Bridge or Phra Pok Klao. After walking across the bridge, follow the road to your right and you will soon come to a large red gate flanked by two enormous stone turtles. I love to watch the cute baby turtles learning to swim under the watchful guidance of their and feed the older turtles meat and fruit on sticks.
Just around the corner, The Princess Mother Memorial Park is another good place to relax. Established in 1993 by His Majesty the King as a tribute to his mother, these beautiful gardens feature a reconstruction of the Princess Mother’s childhood home. These open rooms allow a rare insight into a traditional Thai home and are very interesting to observe.
The gardens also include two exhibition rooms, where photographs and text both in Thai and English tell the story of the Princess Mother’s life. Perhaps most revealing is a passage written by the King’s elder sister, HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana:
“Mother said once she was living in this house near Wat Anong. It was like a row-house with many rooms, a rented house with only the wall panels and the roof. The tenants had to provide the other parts of the house, such as the floor. It had a balcony with a roof. Inside the house to the right was a raised platform, which served as an image room and Father’s office. Beyond that there were a sleeping chamber and a kitchen. There was no bathroom. They took a bath by the water jar on the front balcony, or in the canal nearby.”
A sign outside Wat Prayura Wongsuwat illustrates the way to the Princess mother’s memorial Park. Just a five minute walk away, simply follow the green signs.
Just a short boat ride from Thailand’s capital, Koh Kret is like the land that time – and tourism – forgot. Steeped in culture, this is the perfect place to escape from the frantic pace of Bangkok for an afternoon.
No cars are allowed on Koh Kret, and you can walk around the island – which is a little under 4 kms in circumference – undisturbed. The smell of traffic fumes is replaced by a rich, earthy scent. People sit in the shade beside their houses, completing household chores and chatting to pass the time. Koh Kret has an unusual history. The name literally means ‘the land surrounded by water.’ It was artificially created nearly 300 years ago, when a channel was cut through a bend in the Chao Phraya River to make the journey to Ayuthaya shorter.
Thousands of Mon people flocked to Thailand in 1757, when Burmese troops destroyed Pegu, the capital of Monland. King Taksin the Great of Thailand encouraged the Mon People to settle on Koh Kret and they used their skills in pottery to set up kilns, producing pots, jars, plates and bowls for Thai people. Today, more than 6,000 people live in peace on Koh Kret.
Worth a visit is Suan Kret Phutt, or Buddha Park, a beautiful garden in the center of Koh Kret. Secluded from the road, this is a wonderful place to sit and meditate, and I spend an hour or so relaxing and listening to the wind in the trees.
Before you leave, stop at the food market near the ferry pier to sample some Mon delicacies. Especially good are Khao Chae; rice in jasmine water, accompanied by tempura vegetables. This food is refreshing and delicious and sweet tea is served in clay pots, which make great souveniers.
I love to finish the day by taking a ferry down the Chao Phraya River just as the sun sets. Wat Arun looks spectacular lit from behind by the warm rich tones on Bangkok’s sunset.
Housing a total of 52 vessels, the Royal Barge National Museum is worth a visit, as are the National Museum and National Gallery. If you are looking for somewhere cheap to eat, check out the vegetarian food section of Chatuchak market, where all dishes range from 12-20 Baht. Situated near the MRT and open daily from 8 a.m-2 p.m.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!