Blending elements of several Southeast Asian traditions, Thai cooking places an emphasis on lightly prepared dishes with strong aromatic components. They forge a balance between three to four taste sensations in every dish - sour, sweet, salty, and sometimes bitter. Learning to cook this complex, yet simple cuisine is somewhat of an art and more of a science as most of the ingredients aren’t readily available in the western world. Nevertheless, Thai cooking schools have become immensely popular and a “must do” vacation activity for the whole family.

There are plenty of popular cooking schools in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but the good ones don’t just instruct you how to make a dish, they take you on a full tour of the markets to scour fresh produce or source local ingredients from homegrown gardens so you get a full idea of what goes into your meal from ground to table. From tasting herbs you’ve never seen before (did you know there were three different kinds of basil?) to identifying new and exotic looking fruits, being walked around the market with a chef sampling the different kinds of chili’s and pastes is the best way to know what to look for when you’re on your own.

Blue Elephant Cooking School in both Bangkok and Phuket offer half day classes that take you from the morning market to the classroom for theory to hands on chef stations and then serve you your final four-course creation in their fine-dining restaurant. From kitchen to plate, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and deeper understanding of the land and vegetation plus be amazed by how refined everything looks served in fine china. It’s okay to wonder if you really made that, we sure did. In addition, the apron and Thai spice chart make a great memory or gift.

Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School offers an interesting Stay and Study option, essentially a home stay in the master chef’s quarters to live and breathe cuisine. The tranquil surroundings of Master Chef Sompon’s house provides you access to pick some of your own ingredients fresh from the soil and access to the organic herb garden where you'll experience life as a Thai farmer for the day.