Thailand Explorer: A Recipe for Adventure


When we dream of traveling, it might be the iconic sights or unique culture that draws us in. Or, perhaps it’s the thought of tasting local cuisine that inspires your wanderlust. If you’re anything like us, there’s no better way to get a taste of a place than to ACTUALLY get a taste. Local cuisine has a wonderful way of intertwining all aspects of a culture in a manner that allows us to connect and understand a community, especially if you have the chance to cook it yourself. From the ingredients included to the cooking techniques, to sharing your finished product, crafting a meal in a new place is part of what makes the journey so memorable.

And, when it comes to flavor and culture, there’s no place quite like Thailand that so perfectly embodies the experience of adventure through a meal. To inspire some travel nostalgia, we’re looking back at a recent experience some of our travelers had when they attended a traditional Thai cooking class as part of our Thailand Explorer adventure. During the cooking class they learned to cook a mouthwatering Papaya Salad, but even more than that, they left with a greater understanding of and insight into Thai culture. As part of that learning, here is the ‘recipe to adventure’ they cooked up along the way, which is sure to leave you hungry for more:

Step 1: Start with something fresh   

Approach travel with the same fresh eyes, as you would cooking with fresh ingredients – it makes all the difference. While traveling, we’re often exposed to cultures very different than our own, but if you keep an open mind, you’ll find that every culture has their unique strengths, many of which you may even end up taking home with you. Keep your mind fresh, and eyes open to all the amazing things you’ll see. In Thailand, trying new, fresh things often means haggling for newly picked fruit in a floating market, or zipping through the streets of Bangkok on a tuk-tuk, all while trying not to spill your pad Thai! Fresh experiences are endless here.

Step 2: Try something new

Try new flavors, try new foods, try it all. Trying new things is something that unites us not only with locals, but also with our fellow travelers. By exposing ourselves to the new flavors and ideas, we open our minds to what the rest of the world has to offer. We allow ourselves to be more understanding and accepting, which gives us a more well-rounded, educated view of the world. Thailand offers a plethora of ‘new’ experiences such as visiting elephant sanctuaries or getting lost in Chiang Mai’s lively night markets. 

Step 3: Mix different things together you wouldn’t normally put together

Like mixing different flavors and textures in a dish, it’s important to combine different kinds of experiences to craft an adventure. Be culturally immersive by chatting and meditating with monks; sight-see by bike instead of by van; or stay in the Chinese H’mong people’s hill tribe lodge in Northern Thailand’s mountains. By mixing together different types of excursions, you get to experience the destination to its fullest.

Step 4: Go a little nuts 

A major lesson of travel is to not take yourself too seriously! Eat bugs from a street food cart; get a Thai massage; come across and hang out at a craft beer garden in the middle of Bangkok. Embrace the surprises, and travel unscripted for an adventure like no other.

Step 5: Like in cooking, expect that adventure is full of surprises

When cooking, it’s never based 100% on a recipe. Rather, it’s more of trial and error, which is remarkably like adventure. Be open minded; talk with your fellow travelers during Friday night rush hour Bangkok traffic; talk to locals or visitors on a lengthy layover. Your trip never goes exactly the way you planned, nor does the preparation of a recipe, which is what makes both such incredible adventures. 

Step 6: Share a kitchen table 

One of the most adventurous things you can do is to meet people in their home where they’re most comfortable, which may also push you outside your comfort zone. As Anthony Bourdain once said, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal with them.” Meet people, and to truly immerse yourself in a destination, be welcomed into locals’ homes to fully understand a different culture. 

Thailand is a country like no other, full of different colors, flavors, and sights. It is one of the most interesting and exciting destinations in the world, and it’s a perfect paradigm for adventure travel. The welcoming culture allows for travelers to experience all aspects of the country in full force, taking the time to appreciate how wonderfully unique adventure travel can be!

If all this talk of adventure has you looking to whip up some traditional Thai food at home, check out this local recipe for Papaya Salad that our travelers have brought back to share with you! 

Recipe: SOM TUM // Papaya Salad

Ingredients Needed:

  • 1 very firm, unripe green papaya 
  • 1 carrot
  • 5 cloves small garlic, whole
  • 2-5 Pods Thai chilies
  • 1/4 cup long beans, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 2 medium tomatoes, quarters
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice from 1-2 fresh limes
  • 3 Tbsp roasted peanuts (see note)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp palm sugar, finely chopped, packed
  • 1 Tbsp small dried shrimp (optional)

*Potential side dishes include long beans, cabbages, carrot, sticky rice or pork rind

Instructions: Peel off the green papaya skin and wash. Chop the papaya lengthwise and not too deep, repeatedly in an area about 2 inches wide. Slice right underneath the lengthwise cuts about 1/4-inch thick. The papaya should come out in strands, julienne, and unequally pieces about 2 cups of green papaya shredded. Alternatively, use a cheese shredder (with big holes, not the tiny ones), or a julienne peeler, to shred the papaya. Peel the carrot and repeat the process with the carrot to yield about 1/2 cup of shredded carrot.

Put garlic and chillies (if you want it spicy, add chillies at this time but if not keep them for later) in the mortar, and pound them to a coarse mush paste. Add long beans and peanuts, pound until the beans split open and the peanuts break into small pieces. Add fish sauce, squeeze the limes, add the palm sugar, and use a pestle to pound and stir to mix the palm sugar into the juice.

Add shredded papaya, carrot with dried shrimps (If you want some chilli flavor but not too hot, add the chillies at this time and pound them lightly), then lightly pound one hand and use the small spatula to dig and flip the ingredients to the top with the other hand to bruise the papaya and carrot until they pick up all the flavorings and seasoning. Taste and adjust as needed with more seasoning to the desired flavor combination. Ideally, for a Thai, the salad should be very spicy, sour with salty and sweet kick at the back of the tongue. Dish out and serve with fresh vegetables.

Feeling hungry for more? Check out all that you can experience on our Thailand Explorer small group tour!