Chiang Mai and Cooking Class

January 18, 2007

Two mornings ago, we arrived into Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second biggest city. We took the overnight bus from Bangkok, which was cramped, hot, and uncomfortable. As I was already feeling lousy, that trip made things worse; therefore, most of my time in Chiang Mai has been spent in our guesthouse, sick.

Never fear, I’ve recovered and I can now give you the low-down on the city. Chiang Mai is to Bangkok what Kyoto is to Tokyo. Bangkok is crowded, noisy, frenzy-paced, the economic and political center of the nation. Chiang Mai is laid-back, green, and filled with temples and universities, Thailand’s cultural heart. Like Kyoto, Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains, restaurants and bars flank the city’s main river, and big, old houses hide in the back streets. And while there are still plenty of tourists here, we seem resented less than we were in Thailand’s capital.

Chiang Mai’s temples and scenery lure travelers into the city, but the activities are what keep them. The city is a haven for educational opportunities – from Thai massage to Thai boxing, and of course the ubiquitous cooking classes, offered by seemingly every guesthouse and travel agency in the city. Today, we sampled an introductory Thai cooking course offered by Gap’s Thai Art School, (no, not the Gap where you can buy jeans and cheap T-shirts.) We made gorgeous food, pigged out on said food and got to take home the leftovers, plus came away with a recipe book, too.

Market in Chiang MaiWhat I liked about this course was that first they took us on a tour of a local market. Not a tourist in sight, although by the looks of indifference on the market-people’s faces, I figured they were well used to seeing us and our sleek cameras. Our teacher explained all of the local vegetables and fruits, pointed out that stuff that makes tourist’s skin crawl (ant larvae, fried bugs, etc.), and riled-up the buckets of catfish by shaking his keys at them (catfish are sensitive to sound, the poor things.)

Food we made!Then, we got back into our covered pick-up truck and headed towards the open-air kitchen. We were given recipe books and taught how to make five dishes: green curry, fish soufflé, chicken and cashew nuts, fish cakes and Tom Yang Kun. By the fish cakes, our stomachs were begging to be fed, and at 1:30, we chowed down. My favorite was the green curry, since we made the paste from scratch. It took about one million chilies, two hundred shallots, seven handfuls of garlic, twenty-three spices, and the kitchen sink (more or less), but in the end it was so fragrant and such a beautiful color and consistency (like fresh guacamole), that the curry just sang. Yum!

After lunch, we made three more dishes: pad thai, spring rolls, and pumpkin custard. We got to take these home for dinner. In addition to all of this, we got to try our hand at fruit carving, making a lotus flower out of an onion, and a rose out of tomato skin.Lotus Onion

We had a good group of fellow students, although some of them asked too damn many questions (i.e. how many tomatoes do we put in the Tom Yang Kun? Just look on the plate they gave you!!)

The course was a bit expensive, about $27 for each of us. But, considering the quality of the instruction, the amount of food we made, the fact that both lunch and dinner for today were covered, and that I had a lot of fun, I think it was a great deal!


4 Responses to “Chiang Mai and Cooking Class”

  1. erica said

    oo, i loved chiang mai! i don’t think i should say how many massages i got when there, but i will say that i also did a cooking class… a different one from you, but i think the gist of it was the same. we should compare recipe booklets.

  2. Keiko said

    I wonder if pad thai in Manhattan (like from that place “Spice”) can compare to real pad thai that you actually made!!! I bet it was way better and you were able to add way more than the sad three peanuts that you get at restaurants. How come you aren’t in any of the pictures? Or….is that tacky blogging form??

  3. Jessi said


    I’ve so badly wanted to get a massage here, but there are so many places that my head swims and I just say “Oh the heck with it!” If you have any recs, I’d appreciate it!!


    To be honest, the pad thai we made was actually kind of crap. But that’s our fault because we took it home and refrigerated it and the noodles ended up getting all hard and gross. But, the pad thai you get in the street stalls for like 75 cents is the bomb!! Seriously good. And you can’t beat the price!

    I’m not in the pictures because 1) I’m wearing no makeup, 2) I’m wearing outfits that are practical, yet so God-awfully fugly, and 3) I have only 3 shirts and I’m getting embarrassed that I’m wearing seemingly the same thing in every picture. LOL.

  4. erica said

    hmm, my rec on massages is, if you see one, get it. the fact that there are enough to make your head swim, just means that you should take it easy, sit down, and relieve your swimming head with a nice message. i remember i got one or two by the night market (they are such tiring work, night markets are) and some other random ones between temples… i will try to dig up the info for you.

    hmm.. does that mean i should give you massage recs for the rest of the trip? there’s that slightly sketchy red cross place up in laos, angkor wat is exhausting in the heat so you are going to have to get a couple in cambodia, there’s a blind massage institute down down in vietnam which was an experience, malaysia and thailand have plenty on those pretty island resorts, and of course singapore has as many massage places as chiang mai (though in a completely different atmosphere, of course).

    as i sit here at work at the computer with my aching back, i envy you. (wait– i am off to get a massage tomorrow morning. but still :)

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