Chiang Mai: Cooking Thai Food, Chatting with Buddhist Monks, and Encountering All Kinds of Animals

January 9, 2018

Chiang Mai, the capital of the northern region of Thailand, was the second major stop in our trip through this diverse country. It has a completely different pace of life than Bangkok, and it has a clearly defined old center. If you stay in a hotel in this old town, go visit the temples in this part and also go for your meals here, it’s very easy to forget that you’re actually in a major, modern city.

But visiting the tourist attractions in the old part of Chiang Mai is only a small part of what you can do here. There are dozens of other activities on offer, from kayaking (which Daniel did twice during our stay in Chiang Mai), to all types of massages at all possible price tags, to visiting elephant sanctuaries (which I wrote about in the previous post), to trekking in the forests close to the city, to tens of cooking schools, to a tiger safari (where you get to spend time and take photos with real live tigers, no cages, no separation between you and the animals. I wonder if this is legal anywhere else in the world. Needless to say, we passed on this one.)

Learning to cook Thai food

We spent one day in a Thai cooking class, which started with a visit to a local market, where we got explanations of what the different types of rice are and how to judge their quality (the particular booth where we stopped had 12 (!!) types of rice on sale) and what the typical Thai spices and oils are.

After the market visit, we drove to a farm a bit outside of the city where we had the actual cooking class. Here we were first shown some typical Thai herbs in the organic garden of the farm and then it was time to roll our sleeves up. We each had an own cooking station and, following the teacher’s instructions, we made a Thai soup (Daniel and I chose Tom Ka, a soup made with coconut milk), vegetable spring rolls, a red curry and a cashew nut stir-fry. Of course, we all ate what we made ourselves, plus a papaya salad and the classical Thai dessert of mango and sticky rice, which were made for us. It was a fun day, but the food was waaaay too much. Some of the course participants chose to take the remaining food in doggy bags with them.

Daniel and I had taken a cooking class in Bali before, but there we didn’t get to do much ourselves, we were mostly just shown how the various dishes were made. In contrast to that, now, in Chiang Mai, we made most of the food ourselves and had to bear the consequences if something didn’t turn out as expected. But no one in the course complained that what they made was bad :)

Temples in Chiang Mai

While Daniel was off on his kayaking adventures, I visited two of the major temples in the city. They were both quite lavish and obviously prosperous enough. Two things were special though here, compared to the temples we saw in Bangkok:

  • Both temples contained incredibly life-like statues of monks who had previously lived or participated in ceremonies there. When I first saw such a statue, it really scared me, because I hadn’t expected to see a person sitting down there in a meditation position inside a glass box. Took my brain a few seconds to realize it was not a real person…
  • I got to chat with some Buddhist monks! I had read in the travel guide that some temples offer the possibility for tourists to talk to resident monks, because the monks want to practice their English, and tourists are curious about their lives. So I went to one of the temples that offered this and had a very interesting chat with 2 young monks – or rather novices, as I was told. They were 17 and 19 years old, and they told me and the 3 Americans who also participated in the conversation about their life in the temple, what they want to do in the future, and a bit about Buddhism. While some of the content was lost in translation, it was still a very interesting experience. I went there a bit worried about not saying the wrong thing or asking something I shouldn’t, but what surprised me most was how normal the whole conversation was. They were still teenagers, one of them very shy, the other one more talkative, they still had their mobile phones, and they seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them. When asked to give us one piece of advice, they told us to meditate every day, because that’s the best way to know yourself. Here is a photo of the 2 lovely monks I got the chance to chat with:

And finally, here are some photos of the temples:

  • Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan:
  • Wat Phra Singh:

Highs and Lows


  • Of everything we got to do while we were in Chiang Mai, the day we spent with the elephants was the highest high for me – and hence it got its own blog post ;) That aside, the monk chat and the fun Thai cooking class were also highs for me, as this post shows. Talking with the other people who attended the cooking course was fun and a way for us to get in touch again with other travelers. Since we’ve only stayed in hotels since we arrived in Thailand, we haven’t had so many chances to talk to other tourists as we did in New Zealand, and we were missing that.
  • Surprisingly (for me, at least!), there is great coffee in Chiang Mai! Every time I had coffee in a coffee shop here, it has been great, even the types of coffee with milk that I love so much. Plus, a latte or a cappuccino costs around 2 CHF, so what’s not to love? Here is the prettiest cappuccino I got (in the cafe of the Lanna Folklife Museum in the city):
  • This is embarrassing, but here goes: stocking up on some western food was also a high. While Daniel was out kayaking, I found a huge supermarket a bit outside the city. It had an incredible selection of food, including what was called “western” food, meaning things you normally find in our supermarkets in Europe, but not in Thai food shops. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, as the local food here in Thailand is actually great, but I was so excited at finding some foods which I haven’t seen since leaving Switzerland! As it’s all imported, the prices are accordingly high, but who could say no to a piece of good cheese or a Greek yoghurt??


  • Seeing a lot of rats and big cockroaches on the streets of Chiang Mai. Although we had already seen both in Bangkok, they seemed to be a bigger problem in Chiang Mai. On our first evening in the city, we went to a nice restaurant, which had great reviews, and we really enjoyed the food, but, by the end of the evening, we had kind of made friends with a rat that kept going by our table. The restaurant was set in a lovely garden and our table was on one side of that garden, and the rat kept going along the fence. The first time I saw it, I was rather shocked, but after it went by our table a few times and didn’t really bother us, it wasn’t that special anymore. I guess it just shows you get used to everything…
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