The trip from Luang Probang, Laos to Chiang Mai, Thailand took a lot longer than it should have. When Finn and I crossed the border into Thailand our connecting bus had already left without us, so we had to spend the day in a tiny border town. I was pretty annoyed at first, but couldn’t complain too much because the travel company that sold us the bus tickets took us to a little resort to spend the day by the pool to wait for the next bus in the evening. We ate lunch in town at a little vegetarian restaurant that had fantastic Thai curry.
We arrived in Chiang Mai at 11pm and since it was high season for tourism in Thailand most of the hotels were completely full. We walked all around the centre of town and eventually found a little guesthouse called Baan Na Na in the old city which had a single dorm bed available. Thankfully they let Finn and I share it for $8 and I fell asleep right away. It had been days since I’d slept in a bed and I was still recovering from being sick, so that tiny dorm bed felt like the most comfortable place in the world.
The best thing about Chiang Mai was the food. I had been craving healthy food for months so it was fantastic to find delicious fresh food, brown rice, avocados, all kinds of tasty, nutritious meals. There were vegetarian restaurants everywhere. The food in Laos was really oily and bland so the Thai food tasted spectacular in comparison. Finn and I spent hours sampling different food. The night market was cheap and offered dozens of stalls selling fresh fruit, pad thai, curries and a variety of other food.
We decided to splurge on a Thai cooking class, which cost about $40 each. There were lots of cooking classes offered in Chiang Mai and they all look similar so it was hard to choose. I looked through the half a dozen brochures at our guesthouse and picked one called The Best Thai Cooking Class. I sent them an email to sign up and they and responded right away that they would pick us up for the class in the morning.
At 9am the next morning we clambered into a 15-seater van full of other tourists. The man running the cooking class, named Permpoon, was gregarious, middle aged and Thai. He spoke great English and was always smiling. The first stop was the fresh food market, where we each chose 6 dishes that we wanted to make from 20 options. I felt silly standing around in a big group of tourists while Thai people did their shopping. Cooking class helpers bought the ingredients for all the food we would make while Permpoon walked us around the market and taught us about the food. I learned that morning glory is called that because the flowers only bloom in the morning.
After the market visit we went to the a farm outside of town where the cooking class was held. We picked a few hot peppers and eggplants from the garden and walked through the picturesque grounds to the instruction area. The large building had high ceilings and no walls and twelve cooking stations with stoves, cutting areas, pots and woks for each of us were set up in a semi circle around Permpoon’s station. We helped ourselves to coffee, tea and water before getting started.
The other people in the class were from all over the world and most of them were under 30 years old. Everyone was in a great mood, which helped Permpoon’s jokes land exceptionally well, even when repeated. He asked someone to help him cook, but give him a massage first. Everyone laughed, even me. He asked someone to keep their eye on the time and let him know when the food is ready in 10 minutes. If the food burns it’s their fault! The crowd was in hysterics. The laughs were just as big or maybe even bigger the second time.
Permpoon led us through how to make curries, pad thai, coconut milk soup, tom yam soup and stir fried vegetables and we made papaya salad, mango sticky rice and spring rolls as a group.
At the end of the class we ate the food together and everything tasted amazing. We were given the ingredients measured out in advance and told precisely when and how to cook everything, so making the food didn’t give me a huge sense of accomplishment, but we were all given a certification for having completed the course.
Other than the cooking course, Finn and I spent lots of time walking around the city. There were cute little shops, great cafés and art spaces everywhere. We had foot and Thai massages for $6 per hour and they were fantastic. Chiang Mai was great because it’s a real city, not like the phoney tourist towns we had been visiting. There were lots of tourists, but the place wasn’t built only to service tourism like Vang Vieng and 4,000 Islands in Laos seemed to be. Many people told me before this trip that I would love Chiang Mai and they were right.