By Bethaney Davies ~ Surprisingly, there aren’t many free things to do in Bangkok. Many of Bangkok’s attractions (with the exception of the Grand Palace) cost next to nothing to attend but if you’re doing a lot of sightseeing on a tight budget even the smallest entrance fees can add up. Here are five truly free things to do in Bangkok.

Exercise at Lumphini Park

 

free things to do in Bangkok Lumphini Park

Early morning exercise at Lumphini Park     Source: Steffengo at Flickr.com

Bangkok’s largest green space, Lumphini park is a mecca for locals to play, exercise and socialize. Visiting in the early morning or sunset provides the best opportunity to people watch, stretch your legs & lungs with a jog or take part in a spot of Tai Chi or aerobics. There’s a childrens’ playground at the North of the park. Be aware that Lumphini Park gets a tad seedy after dark!

Chatuchak Weekend Market

 

free things in Bangkok Chatuchak Market

Chatuchak Weekend Market     Source: Prof. Tournesol at Flickr.com

If you’re in Bangkok over the weekend, don’t miss out on a trip to Chatuchak. Again, go early! It gets hot quickly in the maze of alleys running through the thousands of stalls that make up Bangkok’s largest market. Bring water and wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Although you can navigate your way through with a map, if you’re not looking for anything in particular it’s best to just meander through without the worry of getting lost. There’s plenty on offer that you won’t want to buy, but it’s interesting to look at – check out the antiques and exotic pets.

People Watching on Khao San Road

 

Khao San Road

Khao San Road at Night     Source: Skoll at Flickr.com

The backpacker ghetto that is Khao San Road makes for excellent people watching – both of the local and foreign variety. The Khao San Road phenomenon brings out the strangest in people. Backpackers come to Bangkok and seem to lose all their inhibitions and sometimes their common sense. An eclectic mix of locals flock to flog their wares, hang out with tourists and take advantage of the unaware. The entire street comes alive at the night with food vendors, bar girls and market stalls. Watch as brave tourists chow down on deep-fried insects. Listen to the thumping music. Don’t take Khao San Road too seriously and you can have a good time.

Wander the Amulet Market

 

Bangkok : Amulet Market

Buddhist monk searching piles of amulets     Source: -AX- on Flickr.com

Located near the river on the sidewalks of Thanon Maharat, Bangkok’s Amulet Market makes a great stop before or after visiting Wat Po or the Grand Palace. You’ll see Buddhist amulets everywhere in Thailand. Once you start noticing them, you won’t stop. Around the necks’ of monks, hanging from a taxi driver’s rear-view mirror, amulets are prized possessions. Wander down the street, admire the vendors’ wares and get a glimpse into a fascinating part of Thai life. It’s a great place to snap photos.

 

Visit a Buddhist Temple

 

Wat Pathum Wanaram    Source: Wiki image

Bangkok’s touristy temples, like Wat Po and Wat Arun, charge a minimal entrance fee (usually around 20 to 50 baht) but there are plenty of temples you can visit for free. Enjoy the wonderful architecture, golden Buddha, saffron-robed monks and a more serene vibe at lesser known temples like Wat Indrawihan and Wat Pathum Wanaram.

All photos sources under Creative Commons License and attributed accordingly.

Bethany Davies flashpacker familyTravel writer Bethaney Davies is one-third of Flashpacker Family – a semi-nomadic, globetrotting family from Christchurch, New Zealand. Bethaney, Lee and their toddler Reuben spend half the year at home and the rest out exploring and enjoying the world. Flashpacker Family has great tales from the road, tips on travelling on a budget & travelling with a toddler and information on living a location independent lifestyle. Bethaney also runs Travel Thailand Guide – an online tourist guide to Thailand. You can follow Bethaney on Twitter and Facebook.

 

We really looked forward to visiting Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Travel writers outdid themselves crafting clever similes to describe its ethereal beauty and local color. Others used one word repeatedly to describe it: amazing. That overworked description should have been our first clue that it would be anything but.

Just another tourist ghetto?

Perhaps Chiang Mai was once a magical place for a visit. But whatever attracted those early tourists has morphed into what our Canadian friend Markus calls a “tourist ghetto,” places where the visitor and their wallets are fresh meat. The amenities of such a place are usually no different from hundreds of other similar towns around the globe.

Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai each block takes on a monotonous sameness: hostel, laundry, pub, souvenir shop, 7-11, cross the street and start over again. One sign of a tourist ghetto is a locale where the burger and fried chicken joints outnumber places offering the local cuisine, which in Thailand is a real sin.

Adding to the atmosphere, quite literally, is the incredible air pollution hovering over Chiang Mai. After spending a week hacking and wheezing through the gray air of Hanoi, we looked forward to finally getting out in the country and giving our overworked lungs a break. That was not to be.

Burning season in Chiang Mai

As our flight from Bangkok descended into the muck of Chiang Mai we noticed a change in the cabin air quality, as if some long-lost “Smoking” sign had turned on and the first twenty rows obliged. A view out the window revealed sporadic fires spewing various shades of gray on into the horizon. Farmers here engage in a form of slash-and-burn agriculture that creates a burning season as predictable as spring or summer. Add to this the local custom of burning trash wherever it sits and it appeared that we were descending into Dante’s Inferno.

When we got off the plane we noticed that the air was actually worse than Bangkok, a crowded city of 18 million people. Chiang Mai sits in a bowl formed by the nearby mountain ranges. All that smoke has to go somewhere but it can’t. Instead it gets breathed in and filtered by the people trapped below.

Chiang Mai street scene

The sex trade in Chiang Mai

On the ground our impression of the place didn’t improve. We knew that Bangkok had a notorious red-light district and was a world leader in sex tourism. We didn’t think that Chiang Mai, a city with over 300 Buddhist temples also offered its own tawdry side.

One night after dinner we strolled a few blocks from our hotel. We came upon a street that appeared to be the type of pub row found in many tourist areas. Upon looking in the open-air bars a little more closely we noticed that the typical male tended to be a Westerner in his 60s, gray-haired and paunch-bellied.

Sitting out in front of the pubs were clusters of understandably sullen twenty-year old Thai women available for the hour, the day, the week; legs splayed provocatively to show off their wares. Their lips were painted such a bright scarlet they practically glowed in the dark, as if they were each advertising their own personal red-light district. Now that’s a simile the writers never use to describe Chiang Mai.

What places have disappointed you in your travels?

Click on the link for our candid review of a rubbish-filled beach in Bali. Instead of a burning season this one has a “trash season.”

Chiang Mai air quality update

One of our readers suggested we do a bit more research on the air quality in Chiang Mai. We did and found this interesting story in the Bangkok Post which addresses some of the deteriorating air qualities issues in Northern Thailand. It looks like we were sort of fortunate because the air got even worse during the month after we left. Lesson learned here, even if a place sounds great do your own thorough research before going there. Since we’ve been traveling for so long we got a bit careless and didn’t do so.

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I’m usually not much of a nature boy, saving the passion of the outdoors for my forester brother. But in the Southern Hemisphere I couldn’t help take pictures of trees that are really different from the ones at home.

The tree picture above is planted near One Tree Hill in Auckland, New Zealand, the site made famous in the U2 song. Ironically, the actual One Tree Hill is treeless due to a dispute between the native Maori and the later arriving Kiwis about what type of tree should be planted there, a native one or a colonizing intruder.

Here are a few photos of some other unusual trees we’ve seen along the way:

Pictures of trees

Alongside the road in the Australian Outback people place bottles on this tree, probably to relieve boredom.

tree pictures

These trees at Angkor Wat reminded us of heart-shaped lollipops.

Pictures of trees

We try to make like Lara Croft and climb this tree at the Ta Prohm temple.

Pictures of trees at Ta Prohm Angkor Wat Lara Croft (444x525)

At the Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Wat the trees have sort of taken over.

Pictures of trees at Ta Prohm hidden statue (422x525)

The only remaining Buddha statue face at Ta Prohm barely peeks through an overgrown trunk.

The Buddha statue pictured above is the only one at the Ta Prohm temple of Angkor Wat that still has its head.  Through decades of political turmoil and strife, including most recently the Khmer Rouge regime, the tree has protected the little Buddha.

Tree pictures Ta Prohm Angkor Wat

Imagine planting this tree next to your house?

My Lai tree

This tangled tree at My Lai reflects the area's tortured history.

Tree picutres

Wispy branches reach for the sky in Australia.

Pictures of trees

The trees in Auckland are huge and gnarly. Larissa makes like a Keebler elf in this one.

Pictures of trees

Thailand suffered from huge floods last year. This tree soaking in the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok shows the waters have not fully receded.

Picutres of trees

A 750-year old Boab in Perth, Australia.

Pictures of trees Clare Valley sunset (439x525)

Sunset filtering through branches in the Clare Valley of Australia.

This is our very first black-and-white photo essay. We’re curious, what do you think about it? 

 

We’ve come across some unusual signs in our journey. Some funny signs caution people about not doing things that would seem to be self-evident. Like the sign posted above. It’s in the bathrooms at the Adelaide Airport in Australia. Not that we’ve ever been tempted to drink from the toilet, public or otherwise, it’s nice to know they care enough to give us another reason not to. Here are a few more funny warning signs:

Sign Bangkok taxi no humping (515x402)

These no-nos were posted on a taxi in Bangkok. We understand no animals, we didn’t realize the other one was such a major problem.

Dubai metro fish warning sign

Apparently people carrying fish is a real issue on the Dubai metro.

funny signs

I guess in the land of the hopping kangaroo, Aussie drivers need to be reminded that not everything bounces.

Spit Junction Sydney

An actual Metro stop in Sydney, it can’t be good for property values.

Sarah Palin passport

There was something about the face in this photo shop in Australia that looked familiar but we just couldn’t place it.

A clean toilet seat costs about 60 cents at this Kuala Lumpur Mall. If you’re not so particular you can go down the hall for free.

Squat toilet sign

Okay, in Asia there are Western style toilets and there are squatters. This sign in Cambodia warns against combining the two concepts.

durian warning sign

Durians, also known as stinky fruit, are banned from most hotels in Asia. Their stench is noted for its quite remarkable lingering effect.

What unusual signs have you seen in your travels?