Several excellent cookery options in town
Published/Last edited or updated: 11th June, 2019
If you haven't yet signed up for a course in Chiang Mai, Pai or elsewhere then a cooking class in Chiang Rai may be your last chance to put into practice some Thai cookery (as opposed to Lao cookery classes in for example Luang Prabang) before you head off on a slow boat down the Mekong.
None we checked had in-town offices so, apart from a scroll through a search engine, you'll come across them by way of flyers, pamphlets or posters on your reception wall or travel agent desktop. You can then book yourself directly on the cookery school's website, telephone them or ask your hotel or guesthouse to call on your behalf. Bear in mind though most accommodation spots will probably deal with just the one school that they're friends with or have a commission deal with so you won't necessarily get the full choice.
All the courses we checked had very similar formats, prices and timing. The standard package is 08:30 or 09:00 pick up from your hotel followed by a visit to the municipal market where you'll be enlightened on the myriad weird and wonderful vegetables herbs and so-on before heading to a suburban house adapted for the purpose, where you'll cook your own lunch. Five courses including starter, dessert, soup and a couple of mains seem to be par for the course so you'll need to go with an appetite. Drinks and fruits are included as is the return transfer to your hotel around 2-ish. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are offered and choices include the usual tourist faves; tom yam, tom kha kai, massaman, yellow, green red curries and so-on. (All schools have complete menus on their websites.)
All three we checked seemed very good, well-organised and receive excellent feedback so, though there's little to choose between them, we did like the specifically local twist provided by the Akha Kitchen. You can learn to cook a tom yam anywhere in Thailand from Phuket to Pai but there are very few schools that include Akha options. Owner Juruwan (ex Le Meridian no less) did point out that since her native Akha cuisine is unfortunately little known among foreign visitors she has to advertise the standard Thai classics but does include at least one dish per course. When we popped along she'd prepared an array of superb, traditional Akha specialities, on the basis of which we'd say it's a cuisine that deserves a higher profile.
The usual concoction included in the course is a spicy vegetable dish called sapi tons (we think) but the peanut salad and sha byeh—a kind if minced pork, coriander, mint and chilli pate—were equally delicious. It's great to sample dishes that are so unique to this specific area and while we understand the need for compromise it could be worth requesting another Akha option or two since if more interest was demonstrated by adventurous students she might well then expand her repertoire.
CTY (Cook Thai Yourself) and Suwannee Thai Cookery are decent looking alternatives with, as we said, very similar packages on offer. The former has wide flyer distribution in guesthouse lobbies and states a maximum class size of four while Suwannee posts a wider choice of dishes than most and claims to have been the first cookery school in town having started up some 20 years ago. All three of our recommendations have efficient websites so peruse at your leisure but you may find in high season it depends which one has availability while in low season it'll be who's got enough interest to run a course that day.
An excellent way of filling a day in Chiang Rai then and if you're back in your hotel early afternoon that still leaves time to head out to Wat Rong Khun or Baan Dam before taking in the evening Night Bazaar. Recommended!
Akha Kitchen: 693/2 Ban Kon Rat Rd. T: (090) 331 8485 https://www.akhakitchen.com/
CTY (Cook Thai Yourself) food Adventure: T: (081) 844 9913 https://www.cookthaiyourself.com/
Suwannee Thai Cookery Class: T: (084) 740 7119 http://suwanneethaicookingclasschiangrai.blogspot.com/2008/12/suwannee-thai-cooking-classes.html
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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