by Carmel on December 28, 2013 · 14 comments

Bangkok was a welcome breath of fresh air (in a manner of speaking) after our little meltdown in the Philippines. We had an eventful few days in the capital city, but we were ready to move on to a quieter, slower pace in the popular northern expat city of Chiang Mai. Our resolve to change our travel style had led us to book a couple of weeks in an apartment in Chiang Mai and it was exactly what these weary travelers needed.

Cooking is a huge part of my life. When we had an apartment in Mongolia, I took advantage of my little kitchen at least once a day. It fulfills me in ways other than just sustenance. It’s my creative outlet and usually a great way for us to save money on eating. Knowing, with the cheap street food offered in Thailand, there was no way I would be cooking in our apartment, I decided I would take a cooking course while in Chiang Mai. I looked into several options, but decided on the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School because it offered a five-day course, which most of the other schools did not. There were some schools where you could take the course multiple days, choosing to make different dishes each day, but it seemed that the same format would get tedious. So I took the plunge and signed up for the full five days.

Things got off to a rocky start. After confirming with the owner of the school that I signed up, as told to do on the website, I expected my ride to the facilities to arrive around 9:30 the first day. Finally at 10:00am, I went upstairs to our apartment to give them a call. They forgot me. Ok, a little weird given all the confirmations I had received, but they arrived 10 minutes later with a van full of people – so I hadn’t missed anything.

The covered, outdoor cooking facilities set in a idyllic location about 20 minutes from the city center was the perfect place to spend the hot days over an open wok. We started the day being introduced to the various flavors and ingredients of Thai cooking.


Our chef instructor, Pon


The owner, Sompon, showing us how to make soup (also the only time we would see him)

We set to work shortly after being shown the first dish. I don’t think any of the 20+ people in our class expected to have to recreate the dish essentially from memory after the demonstration, but that’s what happened. As I have what my friends and Shawn call a “steel-trap memory,” it wasn’t a hard task for me. It had been weeks since I was in the kitchen, so I started off a little hesitantly, but quickly fell back into the rhythm of chopping, slicing, and stirring without a hiccup.

Each day we prepared six dishes. They weren’t difficult to prepare, but that’s in part due to all the meat being sliced and portioned out to each of us, and the rest needing little prep work. Honestly, it was a little below my skill level, but that just gave me more time to socialize and enjoy the process. I could go into flowery detail the flavors of the dishes, but instead, I think I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

Day 1 – Introduction to Thai Ingredients


Thai Hot and Sour Prawn Soup, Thai Style Fish Cakes, Green Curry with Chicken
Pad Thai, Spicy Minced Chicken Salad, Water Chestnuts in Coconut Milk

Day 2 – Making the Curry Paste


Making curry paste – good for eating, also good for upper body strength


Panaeng Curry with Pork,  Fried Fish Chillies and Basil, Sweet and Sour Vegetables
Chiang Mai Curry with Chicken, Black Sticky Rice Pudding, Spicy Glass Noodle Salad


One of our instructors frying up what some might call a delicacy

At the end of day two, an Irish girl in my class and I got brave enough to try eating a bug that one of our instructors was frying up. I have no photographic evidence of this feat and Shawn wasn’t there to testify that I did it. But I did. And I probably never will again.

Day 3 – Tour of the Local Markets

On the third day, we started the day in the market. Besides the class, there were very few tourists at this market. After we wandered around with our instructor and learned about shopping for our ingredients, we had a chance to look around on our own. Being that it was Loy Krathong, there were beautiful flowers and decorations on display at many of the stalls. If I hadn’t been going to my class next, I probably would have bought all the flowers.


The “frog lady” on the left was having a good time being our entertainment


Apparently I was being brave during this cooking course since I tried this thing called a “century egg”

This was one of my favorite days of cooking and of class. We had some incredible dishes and, almost as important, I had made some friends by this time, so we had a good time sitting and chatting during our breaks.


Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup, Red Curry with Fish, Fried Mixed Mushrooms with Baby Corn
Fried Big Noodles with Thick Sauce and Pork, Papaya Salad, Steamed Banana Cake

Day 4 – Shopping at the Market

Unfortunately, despite the title of this day’s activity, I did not get a chance to shop at the local market. They forgot me…again. It was frustrating, to say the least. Even more frustrating was that when I spoke to someone at the office informing them that I had been left yet again, she replied, “well, you went to the market yesterday.” Hmm, not exactly the point. I showed up in a foul mood, but knew it wasn’t the fault of most of the people at the school, so I dropped it – not an easy task for me as I usually get worked up about these things. But knowing I am no longer in the U.S. and playing by American rules, it seemed pointless to stay upset for long.


Fried Big Noodles with Sweet Soy Sauce, Steamed Fish in Banana Leaves, Chicken with Cashew Nuts
Yellow Curry with Chicken, Spicy Prawn Salad North-Eastern Style, Bananas in Coconut Milk

After being forgot for a second time and being that our time in Chiang Mai was cut short by a couple of days due to a scheduling mistake on our apartment host’s part, I decided to get a refund for my last day of class and skip it. It turned out for the best, but it was sad to leave what was otherwise one of my favorite parts of our trip so far.


Masterchef Thai style?


My new Belgian friend wouldn’t be there the next day, so it wouldn’t have been much fun anyway

I plan to return to cooking school when we get to Vietnam. Even though most of the recipes are simple for an experienced cook, it was a great way to be introduced to new dishes I had never tried. It also gave me the opportunity to say, “this is ok, but my curry was better” the next time we went out for dinner.

See all the photos from my class on our Facebook page.

Have you taken any cooking courses during your travels? What was the best part? I also welcome suggestions on where to go for cooking classes in Vietnam.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) December 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I can’t believe they forgot you TWICE! Maybe the first day makes a little sense, but after you had been there for a few days, you’d think they would know to look for you/expect you! You’re not exactly a shy wallflower, after all, and we all know you dominate the kitchen!

Also, all of your dishes look great (I’m sure they tasted even better). My biggest issue at cooking classes is that we always wind up with WAY TOO MUCH food and I can never eat it all… I guess the nice thing about having an apartment is that you can take leftovers with you. I’ve also only done one cooking class in Asia where we did all of the prep work rather than having everything pre-chopped, etc., for us. I liked that it gave us an accurate sense of what would really be involved in making the dishes in question, though it did wind up taking us about 4 hours to make as many dishes!
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Carmel December 30, 2013 at 7:10 pm

The funny thing is that the second time was the morning after I had been out with our instructor and friends from class. But he wasn’t picking me up and my friend Greet was one of the people who noticed I wasn’t there. At least there were people who KNEW I was supposed to be there.

Anyway, we all had WAY too much food. In fact, we learned after the first day to not eat everything so we were able to eat the rest of the day. Poor Shawn – I would come back from class stuffed and not wanting dinner and he had usually just had a small lunch.


Gillian @GlobalBookshelf December 29, 2013 at 4:46 am

I LOVE taking cooking classes! It’s a great way to discover new dishes, make friends, and get stuffed! Your pics look great!
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Carmel December 30, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Thanks, Gillian! Yeah, it was a really fun way to learn more about Thai cooking. What we made isn’t too difficult, so I’m excited to replicate it at home.


Rob December 29, 2013 at 11:48 am

What the what?? They forgot you twice! Very annoying indeed!

Your photos are great in this Carmel, the colours of the food are fantastic. We plan to do a cooking course in each country we visit. We did one in Thailand on Koh Lanta, it brought our Thai cooking up to the next level. Hopefully it will do the same her in Mexico…
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Carmel December 30, 2013 at 7:12 pm

I thought about doing cooking classes in each country, but it gets to be expensive and it’s not something Shawn wants to join me in, so I have opted to just focus on the countries where I have a major interest in their food – Thailand, Vietnam, and possibly a couple in Europe. We’ll see how that goes, though. 🙂 I’d love to see the results of a Mexican cooking course. My mom’s family is from a different part of Mexico, so I love to see what flavors are being used in other states.


Amy December 30, 2013 at 6:06 am

Great pics; I love the one of you with the Thai chef! It must have been pretty annoying to be forgotten, twice. We have had a few experiences in Asia where we’ve been picked up late or not really gotten what we’ve paid for but you’re right; you kind of just have to go with it. I’m not the best with food or cooking so a class like this always felt a bit daunting for me but you made it sound pretty simple – perhaps I’ll give it a go.
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Carmel December 30, 2013 at 7:15 pm

It’s funny how often you have to manage your reactions and remember where you are in order to not embarrass yourself or, more importantly, the other person. Doesn’t help that I have quite the temper when it comes to such injustice! 😉

Honestly, these kinds of classes are made for people who know nothing about cooking. My friend Greet (in the pictures) knew nothing about cooking and was amazed at what she was able to make. Oftentimes they will have vegetarian menu options, too, so you might try it out!


Lindsay @ Where Is Your Toothbrush December 30, 2013 at 8:41 am

Great photos, Carmel! Now I am a little sad we’re now going to Chaing Mai, as I hear they have the best cooking schools. Looking for one in Krabi, where we’re headed tomorrow. Cooking classes are the BEST souvenirs because they keep on giving and you get to share the fruits of your labor with your loved ones. Hope you two have a great New Year’s!
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Carmel December 30, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Chiang Mai does have some great schools – and a LOT of them. It was really hard choosing which school to attend. I hope you find one where you are! I am excited to use some of my new skillz back home.

Have a wonderful start to 2014! Can you believe it??


Lindsay @ Where Is Your Toothbrush December 30, 2013 at 8:42 am

I meant – sad that we’re not going to Chaing Mai. We decided to head further south instead 🙂


Maddie January 10, 2014 at 6:33 am

Glad you had fun despite the many mishaps! All of your dishes look absolutely scrumptious and are making me absolutely starving/annoyed that I can’t have $2 street food in England! I’ve been attempting some of the dishes I was taught in Chiang Mai and it has been so much fun, a nice change being able to eat really authentic food back home. Looking forward to hearing about your Vietnam experience soon 🙂
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Carmel January 14, 2014 at 1:42 am

Oh I know! We just arrived in Vietnam, so we’ll get some cheap street food again, but I missed it soooo much when we were in Cambodia. I can’t imagine how much I’ll miss it once we’re home.


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