Culinary Exploration and a Little Soul Searching in Chiang Mai

I did a cooking class. Me. The one who can functionally cook, but has never been passionate about it. The one who likes trying new food, but has also been known to live off nothing but takeaway for literally three months. Me. A cooking class. And what’s more? Loved. It. And more again? It tasted pretty awesome *buffs nails, looks smug, directs you to finely filtered Instagram evidence*:


It helped that the day was extremely well organised, and the teacher was just the right side of crazy energetic. We walked the farm first and tasted some of the ingredients we’d be using. Strange comparison, but as someone who loves DVDs because of the extras and gag reels, this Behind The Scenes start to the day was something I loved.
However, I did go into a tailspin of self-doubt over the colour of chilli to pick, and how many I’d need. I kept retesting it to see if it was as hot/mild as I thought. Surprisingly: not a good idea! My inner geek was just terrified of getting it wrong! I needn’t have worried though. I have no one to back this up, as we all made and then ate our own dishes, but mine was perfect.

I had fun, I laughed, and I ate a lot, so a cooking class, particularly with Thai Farm Cooking School, and even more particularly with Wass is probably the one thing I’d recommend to do in Chiang Mai. And actually, if push came to shove (although I’m unsure why trip recommendations should descend into violence) and I had to pick just one thing to do in Thailand, it would be this.

Yes, I am including Elephant Parks in that too. Yes, even so-called ethical ones. Yes, even though I went to one. Yes, even though I loved it and would count it as a very special experience. No, I don’t think the elephants I saw were being abused. Yes, I think they had been in the past, by other people.

ellyWhat was the experience? It was exhilarating and crazy and weirdly quite emotional. I felt privileged to be in such close proximity to these gentle, magnificent giants. From the playful, trotting babies, to the unrelenting regal glide of the bull. It was beautiful, and I was in childlike awe of being able to be so close to them. It wasn’t until the next day that the doubt crept in. If the Park never separated family groups, why had that two year old’s mother been moved? I didn’t want the elephants to pose for pictures or give me kisses, and it made me uncomfortable to see one of the keepers holding its ear to keep it still. Bathing and rolling in the sand is a natural thing for them to do, but how many times a day? How regularly are they fed, that they’re so keen for bananas and sugar cane from every tour group?

I do think the Park I visited was trying to be ethical. It certainly had all the right buzz words and I think my naivety did the rest. I wanted to believe I would go and visit with retired elephants in their little haven, now they’re no longer working.
But elephants are still big business, albeit one that’s in transition and trying to be kinder. I’ve been to various zoos before, I’ve been to animal sanctuaries and held all-sorts of amazing animals. So I don’t know why this experience struck me so hard.

Some people might think I’m overreacting, others might wonder how I could consider going in the first place. I’m not going to judge what other people decide to do either way. What I do know is, I got a lot more guilt free joy out of randomly coming across hermit crabs in Koh Samui, or dino-lizards in Bangkok. Maybe I had to have my elephant experience in order to realise that though.

I loved being in Chiang Mai, the change of pace from Bangkok and the fresh air; the quaint hotel and of course the night market. The cooking class was the cherry on top of the mango sticky rice! Although I can’t see me managing a repeat, without the wonderful Wass to direct every step…



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