The metropolis of Thailand. Bangkok is so many things: old and new, extravagant and seedy, and absolutely gigantic.
When visiting, you'll quickly figure out that you can spend a lot of money here. A luxurious massage, a dinner at a rooftop bar, a nice museum and you've spent just as much as you would in a western country. So I'm featuring all the best things I did and saw in Bangkok that were either free or cheap.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The best place to buy unique clothing and goods in Bangkok is this market. Get there early as it fills with locals and tourists quickly. Hundreds of stalls create a maze where you can find everything from original artwork to tapestries to jean shorts and vintage coats. Come hungry and ready to barter.
Queen Sirikit Park
A nice alternative to Lumpini, this park is green and has a nice little stream. The perfect place to stop and have a snack or watch people go by. Also there is butterfly garden on the grounds that is free to the public, I simply was too tired to visit.
This museum is free after 4pm and they are open until 6pm. A friend and I stumbled upon it after being overcharged and taken to the wrong destination by a tuk tuk driver. We couldn't believe how cool this place was! All the exhibits were about the development and history of Southeast Asia. The museum had really good, straightforward information and so many interactive exhibits. You could play video games, go on pretend archeological digs, and more. This would be a great place to take kids, as well as being enjoyable for adults.
Wat Po (100 thai baht, about $3 US)
Wat Po is one of the major temples in Bangkok, so I thought I'd better visit. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this temple. Most notable is the gigantic reclining Buddha. He is so absolutely huge that it is hard to see all of him at once. The other portions of the temple grounds were really beautifully done and I even got to watch a painter working on a golden mural. I think if you see one temple in this city, Wat Po is a great option (Wat Arun, the other big temple, is currently under major construction, so I didn't visit).
Totally worth an evening's stroll. It is open 24/7, I went around 5pm right as it was beginning to get busy. Thousands of gorgeous flowers and some food and produce too.
Bangkok Art and Culture Center
In the Silom district, this modern building contains beautiful modern art. On the first four floors there are funky shops and hipster cafes and art bookstores. In the upper levels are free art exhibits. I was treated to a great print show. If you want to escape the heat and like contemporary work, the BACC is definitely a good place to pop in.
The Golden Mount a.k.a. Wat Saket (20 thai baht or 66 US cents)
Sitting on a small hill in the middle of the city is a huge gold chedi, a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics often ashes of monks. Climb over 300 stairs to the top of the hill. Ring all the bells on the way and enjoy the magnificent view of the city. It is very important that you keep your shoes with you (instead of leaving them at the entrance when you remove them in respect of Buddha) because the roof where the chedi is gets extremely hot. If you don't have them you will probably burn your feet and hop around like a lunatic before running to a corner of shade and using a security guard's sandals in order to cross the roof to exit. So yeah. Remember your shoes.
MBK or Terminal 21 Shopping
Shopping is always interesting in Asia. You never know what you are going to find. But it is fun to try on some of the more outrageous clothes and find trinkets and small gifts for everyone back home at the smaller stalls and shops. One of the megamalls like I suggested give you the full Bangkok experience.
Notes on Transportation:
The skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT) are super easy to use and cheap. They are both gloriously airconditioned, very clean, and quite safe. However Bangkok is huge and these do not cover all of it. Ferries and river taxis are great fun and help you get to other areas of the city. Just make sure you jump on a boat going in the correct direction and pay a few baht onboard. Taxis and tuk tuks should be taken with caution, they are often expensive and many drivers will scam you or take the long way. Ask for the meter to be put on in taxis and see if anyone else is going in the same direction--you can split the fare. The last way and often faster in traffic, is to take a motorbike taxi. Just look for a driver in a colored, official vest and settle on a fare. I found this the most convenient when I couldn't take public transportation and cheapest for a single traveler.