Six of the best cultural activities to do in Thailand

COOKING CLASSES

Australians have been eating Thai food for so long it's almost our national cuisine. Not surprisingly, classes are very popular not only to learn new skills and recipes but for meeting other travellers. Five-star hotels run them, where the staff do most of the prepping, as do guesthouses in the hills of Chiang Mai and beyond and Bangkok's flower market. Newcomers will be introduced to ingredients like galangal, Thai eggplants and kaffir lime. Dishes may include a curry, which differ between the north and south of Thailand, papaya salad and coconut chicken soup. Rustic classes are held at the charming Khum Lanna lodge, north of Chiang Mai. See khumlanna.commarketexperiences.com

MAKING HERBAL COMPRESSES

Herbal compress massages sooth aches and pains and are also said to boost the blood and lymphatic circulation systems. Several resorts conduct simple classes in making these little muslin "packages" (known as luk prakob), which contain herbs including turmeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime, camphor tree and plai, a type of ginger. It looks easy but there's an art in bundling those herbs into a square piece of cloth, plain or patterned, and tying them into a tight parcel, which will later be steamed in a pot. It's fun to try back home in your own kitchen. InterContinental Koh Samui and Villa Royale Phuket resorts have classes. See samui.intercontinental.com; villaroyalephuket.com

FRUIT AND VEGETABLE CARVING

If you've mastered Thai cooking, perhaps you'd like to add another string to the culinary bow. Thais are master carvers and there's rarely a Thai meal that arrives without a little flower that's been fashioned from the humble carrot, while banquet tables are decorated with intricately carved watermelons, cantaloupes and green mangos. Students start making petals and leaves from carrots and tomatoes; who knew you could even carve chillies? The art known as kae sa luk is taught at Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy, which has a branch in Hua Hin. See bangkokthaicookingacademy.com

MAKING FLORAL TEMPLE OFFERINGS

Turning Thailand's beautiful tropical flowers into delicate works of art is an age-old craft, which, with a little practice, can be learnt. Students can practise making vases from banana leaves and may advance to the circular garlands, known as malais, that are popular temple offerings and gifts. Classes take place at the historic Hong Chao Fong Kham Folklore Museum in the northern town of Nan where the owner, known as "Aunty Pat", and a descendant of a local noble family will offer encouraging instruction. The always buzzing Bangkok Yodpiman Flower Market (near the Grand Palace) offers classes as well, while many resorts will show their guests the correct way to make offerings at Spirit Houses, which every hotel has at its entrance. See nannoblehouse.com; marketexperiences.com

INDIGO DYEING

The leaves of the indigo plant are still used to dye clothes in Thailand, especially in north-east provinces of Phrae and Sakhon Nakhon. The leaves are soaked in water and later lime is added to the mixture to make a sticky paste that will stain everything it touches. Visitors to Ban Thunghong village in the city of Phrae can try their hand at making small tie-dyed kerchiefs first by folding the material and pegging the folds and then dunking it into a vat of the indigo goo. It looks easy but getting those perfect patterns – this is where good pegging comes in – takes skill. Afterwards, browse the shops where a huge range of very cheap professionally dyed clothes is on sale. See tourismthailand.org/Attraction/Ban-Thung-Hong--4222

PARASOL PAINTING

Beautifully painted umbrellas and parasols are synonymous with Chiang Mai and particularly the village of Bor Sang, which is about 10 kilometres from the city. Parasols were said to have been introduced to northern Thailand by a Buddhist monk who brought back a few bamboo samples from neighbouring Burma. The Thais embellished them with artwork and today the village is dotted with umbrella shops and several workshops. You can see every stage of construction at the Sa Paper and Umbrella Handicraft Centre, which also sells unpainted brollies that can be painted on the spot with help from the craftsmen. The Sampran Riverside Resort in Nakhon Pathon, about an hour from Bangkok, also conducts parasol painting and other craft classes. See sampranriverside.com; saa-handicraft.com

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