One of the most memorable experiences of my recent trip was an overnight homestay in a traditional family compound in the village of Baan Mae On, around 45 minutes from Chiang Mai in northnern Thailand.
The experience started in Chiang Mai, where Amy, a member of our host family, took us to the JingJia farmers market to stock up on ingredients for the cooking class that was the central activity of the homestay.
On arrival at Baan Mae On, after settling in to our traditional accommodation in teak longhouses, we set to work with Amy, her mother Aoi and numerous other members of their extended family in whose home we were guests.
Curry pastes were pounded, ingredients chopped, fried, steamed and simmered throughout the afternoon as we prepared the daunting menu. Fortunately many family members dropped in to lend a hand, their experienced hands making up for the slow pace of we guests.
The kitchen was an impressive and attractive setup, in a covered pavillion with open sides. Gas powered cooking stations for all twelve guests faced towards head cook Aoi and as we worked, she and other family members along with our Intrepid guide Soon kept an experienced eye on use, ensuring that we were preparing our meal in the correct and traditional manner.
In addition to the step-by-step instruction, Soon had assembled all the recipes cooked on this occasion, along with those prepared at a previous cooking class in Kanchanaburi, into an attractive booklet, which has become one of the go-to sources of recipes for dinner parties since my return home.
The results of our efforts were well worthwhile, and as we enjoyed them in traditional style seated on the floor of the family’s living room, while being royally entertained with traditional music peroformed by students of the local school, led by their teacher.
When we had finished eating, we were invited to have a go at playing some of the instruments. My efforts on a traditional stringed fiddle produced sounds that would curdle blood, inspite of the patient instruction of my young tutor, who responded to this cacophony with unfailing courtesy and praise of my talent! Other guests with more musical talent than I fared much better.
We were then led to a candle-lit grotto in the garden where more young locals performed traditional dances for us before we were invited to write our names and good wishes for the future onto delicate paper lanterns, which were launched to carry our prayers into the night sky.
The next morning we were back in the kitchen to prepare traditional Thai breakfast dishes, including fried rice and fresh fruit, which was added to the sticky rice dessert dishes that we had been far to well-fed to consider eating the previous evening.
The homestay is a fantastic experience, thoroughly recommended and was easily the highlight of the week long food tour of Thailand operated by Intrepid Travel. In addition to the opportunity for immersion in traditional Thai culture and hospitality, they provide an important supplement to the income of this farming community.