When my sister and I decided to visit Thailand this summer, we agreed that a visit to Chiang Mai, the country's northern capital, was a must. Established in 1296, Chiang Mai served as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom until 1558, and remnants of its illustrious historical past can be seen throughout the Old City. Eager to explore the history of the city, we booked a room in the heart of the Old City at Le Naview (which I highly recommend by the way!). Le Naview has a small tour desk in their lobby, so shortly after our arrival we stopped by to peruse brochures since we hadn't made any concrete plans aside from booking our lodging. While we were looking, the lovely lady who managed the tour desk arrived and made some recommendations, which included attending a cooking class. We didn't need any convincing. Who wouldn't want to learn to cook Thai food in Thailand? The next day we were on a bus headed out of the city to Smile Organic Farm Cooking School for a half day class that quickly became one of the highlights of our trip. If you're headed to Chiang Mai and haven't considered taking a cooking class, give me a chance to convince you...
10 Reasons to Take a Class at Smile Organic Farm Cooking School
1. Price - At 800 baht per person for a half day cooking class, which includes pick up from your hotel, it's a very affordable option compared to a lot of other tourist activities (and compared to other cooking schools we looked at).
2. Organization - The whole thing was very well organized from start to finish. The school's mini bus showed up in front of our hotel within the expected time range, and the instructors did a marvelous job of keeping everyone on schedule as far as the cooking went. While we were eating each dish, someone would clean our work spaces while the instructors set out everything we'd need to cook the next thing.
3. Really Get to Know the Produce - Each class starts with a visit to a local produce market, followed by a walk + sampling session in the school's gardens with a knowledgable instructor who explains the various produce, herbs, and spices that form the backbone of Thai cuisine. Very helpful for trying to reproduce the food at home. Everyone gets a basket for picking produce and a giant sun hat because... well, probably mostly because it looks good in pictures.
4. Awesome Instructors - Our instructor Ann was an absolute delight. She was very personable and had us laughing the whole time. She also cooked like a boss and helped us craft some pretty amazing food that honestly tasted better than most of the Thai food I've had at restaurants.
5. Vegetarian Friendly - The school offers a vegetarian option for every dish and works with students who have dietary restrictions. For example, one of the girls in our class was unable to eat wheat products and they were able to modify all her dishes as necessary without difficulty.
6. Everything from Scratch - Well, that's not exactly true since we didn't make our own noodles or paper for the spring rolls, but we did make our own curry pastes, which was very insightful. Talk about fresh food.
7. Variety - The half day class cooks five dishes and the full day class cooks seven. That's a lot of food...
8. You Get to Eat Everything You Make: Speaking of a lot of food, skipping breakfast is definitely a good idea, because you get to eat everything you make. If you can't finish everything, they'll give you a container to take it home.
9. Photos + Cookbooks - If you forget your camera/phone or can't be bothered to take photos, the school has you covered. A staff member takes pictures throughout the session, which they post to Facebook at the end of each day. When you finish the class you get a cookbook with all the recipes you made plus more. Ann added a lovely personal touch by writing our names in Thai inside the cover of each book.
10. Follow Up - The school assured us that they would be happy to answer any of our questions in the future via their Facebook if we should run into troubles while trying to replicate what we learned at home. I think they may have opened Pandora's Box with that one, because who are we kidding? It's not if we'll run into trouble but when. I haven't tried to make anything yet because we haven't hooked up our oven yet in the Sprinter, but when we do I'm sure I'll be contacting them!
Convinced? I hope so, because this is an experience that I highly doubt you'll regret. Plus, the people you'll cook the food for when you get home will be eternally grateful, so it's a win-win.