You too can amaze your friends back home after attending a course in Thai cuisine. Cooking courses pop up wherever there are tourists willing to dice some shallots. Bangkok's courses tend to be more formal, with dedicated kitchen facilities and individual work stations; but Chiang Mai is the undisputed cooking-course capital. Elsewhere, a resourceful entrepreneur might hang a sign on the front door, and students join the rhythm of a typical Thai kitchen.
Formal, university-affiliated language programmes are available in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Both cities also offer an array of short-term coursework tailored to suit different communication needs from business Thai to reading and writing.
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One of the fastest growing sectors of Thailand's educational tourism, muay thai (Thai boxing) training takes place at dozens of camps around the country. Before the global surge in interest, most muay thai camps were unable to accommodate short-term foreign fighters. Traditional muay thai camps, especially in the rural areas, are in the business of training winning fighters, who elevate the prestige and earnings of the teacher and the school. The training sessions are gruelling, the diet is rudimentary and the facilities are little more than a dusty ring for sparring and a few shared cabins. Some foreign fighters with the potential for competitive success have trained in these schools but they did so through personal introductions and a dedication to the sport.
Better suited for the athlete interested in the sport rather than becoming a potential prize fighter are the camps that specialise in training Westerners. Many of these facilities have English-speaking trainers and better equipment, and subsidise the training through increased tuition fees. Training periods can range from a one-day course to multiweek sessions. Do be aware that the potential for some camps to be interested only in tuition fees is a concern and it pays to do a lot of advance research. Bangkok and Chiang Mai have long-established foreigner-friendly training camps. Phuket and other resort towns have less serious schools intended for less serious students.
The website www.muaythai.com contains useful information including the addresses of training camps.
Thailand has long been a popular place for Buddhist meditation study. Unique to Buddhism, particularly Theravada and to a lesser extent Tibetan Buddhism, is a system of meditation known as vipassana (wípàtsànaa in Thai), a Pali word that roughly translates as 'insight'. Foreigners who come to Thailand to study vipassana can choose from dozens of temples and meditation centres specialising in these teachings. Teaching methods vary but the general emphasis is on observing mind-body processes from moment to moment. Thai language is usually the medium of instruction but several places also provide instruction in English.
Instruction and accommodation are free of charge at temples, although donations are expected.
Some places require that you wear white clothes when staying overnight. For even a brief visit, wear clean and neat clothing (ie long trousers or skirt and sleeves that cover the shoulders).
For a detailed look at vipassana study in Thailand, read A Guide to Buddhist Monasteries & Meditation Centres in Thailand, which is available from the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Bangkok.
Thai massage is more like a yoga workout than a deep-tissue massage. The theory behind the tradition is to promote health by manipulating certain sên (pressure points) along the body meridians so that energy is distributed evenly throughout the nervous system. The dynamic aspects of Thai massage also address the muscular-skeletal system in a way that is often compared to modern physiotherapy and chiropractice.
Since a Thai massage usually involves pulling, twisting, thwacking and elbowing, most masseuses are small but powerfully strong women who use different angles and positions as leverage. Training in Thai massage is available in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai. The centre of Thai massage pedagogy is at Wat Pho in Bangkok.