If you’re in Bangkok on a budget, you’ll have to do some careful thinking. The restaurants, bars and taxis can drain your finances quickly – and you’ve likely got another two months to go in Thailand. Luckily, from lung-cleansing green spaces to electric streets, relaxing islands to invigorating markets, you can enjoy yourself without completely draining your funds in the Big Mango.
Even if you’ve never been to Bangkok you’ll doubtless know all about it from Alex Garland’s infamous tale The Beach (Leonardo DiCaprio starred in the movie, remember?). The cheap-backpacker cliches are all here when you arrive: the wide-eyed new arrivals; the blinking neon; the alcohol-laced buckets. But you don’t even need to spend that much to enjoy the people-watching and live music along this road. From tipsy foreigners nibbling scorpions on sticks to the old man who never stops dancing outside one of the clubs for spare change, it’s all a sight to be seen.
It’s on everyone’s wish list – the chance to witness a Muay Thai fight or two on your big trip to the Land of Smiles. Word of warning – tickets can be costly, but there are ways around this. MBK Fight Night holds free fights at MBK every Wednesday from 6pm to 8:30pm so you’ll get that ringside seat if you’re here in good time.
Bangkok’s largest river island lies in the northern district of Nonthaburi. Here urbanity fades to sleepy rural landscapes of small villages and paddy fields. The island has long been famous for its traditional pottery makers, who sculpt elaborately decorated earthenware – water containers, vases – from the local clay. Riverboats for Koh Kret leave from a pier under the Rama IV Bridge. Tour the island by bike – locals rent them at the arrival jetty.
Housed in a striking neo-brutalist concrete building on the Bangkok University campus in the far north of the city, BUG is one of the largest spaces devoted to contemporary art in Southeast Asia. Much of the work on display is by artists from the university’s School of Fine and Applied Arts – one of the leading private education art institutions in the country. There are occasional shows by visiting international names, as well as by the current artist in residence. You will be absolutely captivated as you wander.
Few visitors ever make it to this peaceful temple – only a ten-minute stroll from the tourist-teeming Grand Palace. But it’s one of Thailand’s most illustrious: a royal temple, it is the home of the country’s Supreme Patriarch. The garden grounds are tranquil, the great golden chedi covered in glistening ceramic tiles and the main ubosot, or ordination hall, is built in the English neo-gothic style loved by King Rama V, resembling an Anglican chapel.
Looking like a library from an Oxbridge college, this stately neoclassical building sits in a leafy garden in the busy, business-orientated Bangrak district. The establishment preserves the largest collection of English-language books in Thailand and was founded in 1869 by the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association – a small group of British and North American women who set up an association to exchange books within the then tiny expat population. The library is open to non-members for a small fee.
You’ll find this quirky museum on the banks of the Chao Phraya River next to the Phra Pin Klao Bridge in Thonburi. Comprising the personal transport collection of Thai millionaire (and President of Chase Engineering), Jesada Dejsakulrit, there are military transport aircraft, double-decker buses, a submarine, classic British, French and American town cars and one of the world’s largest fleets of bubble cars.
Kelly Iverson contributed additional reporting to this article.
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