My friend Fiona took a Thai cooking class when she was in Thailand a few years ago. I thought that was a marvelous idea. Shortly before my trip I read some good things about Baipai Thai Cooking School, so before I left home, I booked a class.
I was told they'd pick me up from the hotel lobby at 8:30am. The lobby was bustling and I had no idea how I'd recognize them, but eventually a van with "Baipai Thai Cooking School" on the side pulled up, so I jumped in and off we went.
The class was great, and I recommend the school wholeheartedly. The teachers were knowledgeable and helpful, the class was organized and structured well, we made (and ate) delicious food, and I'm pretty sure I could even make the food again on my own. Cooking sure is easy when someone else does all the measuring, chopping, and cleaning up! I learned to make spring rolls, a spicy beef salad, curry paste, curry sauce, and egg custard. Yum!
It was clear that they knew what they were doing. They gave us recipes and pens at the start of the class so we could follow along, read ahead, and take notes. They answered questions about how to modify recipes to make them vegetarian or what to do if we couldn't get this or that back home. The food we prepared was tagged so that when they came back from the oven, we got our own dish back. There was an angled mirror over the demonstration area so we had a top view of what the chef was doing. They even emailed us photos of ourselves as soon as the class was over. The space itself was also wonderful, and it was a pleasure to spend a morning there.
The rest of the day was less wonderful. My favorite way to get the feel of a city is on foot. It worked, but in the same sort of way that you might get a feel for dirty shards of glass by swishing them around in your mouth. While I only saw a tiny part of a large city, I can only describe it positively as an educational experience, which is another way of saying that I hated it.
With the blaring and coughing engines of countless motorbikes and tuk-tuks, the streets of Bangkok assailed my senses. To make matters more annoying, every couple minutes someone tried to sell me something.
I did see some interesting things. One was that shops come in groups. I came across a shop selling carved wooden trinkets, and the shop next door sold the same things. Not just the same sorts of things, but exactly the same merchandise. And the next one. Three or four shops in a row, each one more identical than the last. I thought the phenomenon was strange the first time I saw it, but the pattern repeated itself all day. The most surreal was when I found myself in what must have been the shrink-wrapped golden Buddha district (Bamrung Muang Road, between Maha Chai and Suriphong).
After a couple hours of too much loud traffic and too many people shouting at me, I'd had enough. I was overwhelmed. I bought a book and hid in my hotel room the rest of the day.
There are nice parts of the city and it's certainly an interesting place, but I think when I'm done with Laos in a couple weeks, I'll seek someplace a bit quieter.
tomorrow: Bangkok to Chiang Rai