While researching things to do in Chiang Mai, two activities seemed to come up again and again: spending a day with elephants and taking a Thai cooking class. I definitely wanted to do both, but since a large majority of my decisions in life are led by my stomach, I planned the cooking class first.
In the end, I chose a day-long class at the Thai Farm Cooking School. With super high reviews and having heard from a few friends that they had a great time there, I felt like it was a pretty safe bet, and it ended up being one of my absolute favorite days of my three weeks in Thailand.
The day started on a positive note, as the school picks you up right from wherever you’re staying, as long as it’s not too far from the city center. I always appreciate when pick-up is included with day tours and activities because it saves so much time and avoids the potential of getting lost (which I’m so good at!) or missing a meet-up.
Our first stop of the day was at the Ruam Chok market, where our guide and teacher, Liam, took us around to a few different stalls to show us a variety of classic Thai ingredients.
We then had some free time to explore the market on our own before continuing on to the organic farm where the classes take place, which is located about 11 miles outside of Chiang Mai. This was a benefit all on its own – it was great to escape the city and have a quiet day surrounded by lush green forests and beautiful gardens.
After arriving at the farm and having some tea, we took a brief tour and were able to see and try some of the herbs, fruits and vegetables they grow on-site and use for their classes.
Next, it was time to get in the kitchen. I’m not sure how other classes work, but if you choose this one, be prepared to really do some cooking. (I would assume that those signing up for a cooking class are into that, but just in case…) Though a lot of the mise en place has been taken care of, everyone gets their own kitchen station and it’s up to each student to put each dish together, from start to finish. I was a little nervous about this at first – my wok skills aren’t exactly the best around, and I had never even seen some of the ingredients we were using. Not to worry, though, because Liam was super helpful throughout (as I’m sure the school’s other teachers are as well), and everything was totally fine.
Before getting started, everyone received a card with six courses. Each course had 2-3 different choices and everyone was able to choose one dish to make from each course.
First up was curry paste. Each student could make yellow, red or green, and I chose green. I was a bit hesitant with the curry, as I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to spicy food, but Liam let everyone determine how spicy they wanted theirs to be by changing up the amount of chili peppers they used.
After that, I used my paste to make green curry with chicken. My next two choices were tom yam soup with shrimp, and chicken with cashews.
Next, everybody sat down to enjoy our morning’s work and dig in to our first four courses for lunch. I wasn’t sure how much I should count on my food actually coming out well, but it was delicious – I think largely due to Liam’s helpful demos and the freshness and quality of the ingredients – and it was extra satisfying knowing we had made it all ourselves.
After lunch, there was a little free time to explore the grounds again, and then we all headed back into the kitchen to prepare two more dishes. I went with pad thai and mango sticky rice. At that point we were all pretty full, so we packaged up our lunch leftovers and last two dishes and took them back to our respective hotels. (Another bonus – what’s better than great leftovers, especially while traveling on a budget?!)
Later that night, I dug back into my leftovers for a delicious dinner. Somewhat surprisingly, the green curry I made ended up being my favorite dish of the day, even though it was still pretty spicy for my unaccustomed American taste buds. I also loved the mango sticky rice, which I couldn’t get enough of throughout my time in Thailand.
I know there are many other cooking school options in Chiang Mai and I’m sure they all have their merits, but I was so pleased to have gone with the Thai Farm Cooking School (and they’re not even paying me to say this!). There really wasn’t anything about the day that I would have wanted to change. The preparation and care the team puts into the classes is evident from start to finish. It didn’t feel too rushed or contrived, and Liam clearly wanted everybody to have fun learning together.
Plus, while I love cooking classes in general, it was especially interesting to take part in one having to do with a cuisine that I had never tried to make on my own before. I absolutely love Thai food, but knew largely nothing about the traditional ingredients and techniques that go into making it. Learning more about a variety of Thai staples that I had never personally stocked in my kitchen before (tamarind, lemongrass, fish sauce, galangal and shrimp chili paste to name a few), as well as how to use them, made the day that much more valuable.
The final bonus of the day was receiving an adorable recipe booklet to take home, which I still have in my kitchen and reference from time to time. I personally do not live near any good Thai restaurants (terrible, I know) so it’s great to have the recipes on hand for when I’m hit with a craving! (AKA – all the time.)
Feel like trying your hand at some classic Thai food but don’t see Chiang Mai in your future? Never fear! Thai Farm Cooking School’s website is super comprehensive, with ingredient overviews, photos and more. You can find all of the recipes they use in their classes here.
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