24 January 2017

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) - Limablas Peranakan Restaurant @ 25 Jalan Mesui

Date of Exploration : 16 Jan 2017

Peranakan cuisine has always been one of my weaknesses and any mention of udang petai (prawns stir-fried with stink beans) would instantly start a wild saliva party between my teeth. So when I saw a friend's Facebook photos of his nyonya lunch at Limablas, my keyboard got drenched.

But more than just serving up mouthwatering Peranakan food, Limablas' contempo-retro decor is a photographer's dream come true and would turn even the most camera-shy into an instant camwhore.

Here. I must come!

Tucked along the eclectic Jalan Mesui lined with quirky shopfronts, the entrance of Limablas is an invitation to travel back in time. It felt like I was walking into a 70s hipster's home.
 The good thing about Limablas is that it is located within the popular Bukit Bintang tourist district so it doesn't need a spaceship to get to. We stayed at Rae Hotel (which is on a street parallel to KL's famous Jalan Alor food street) and took us under 5 minutes to walk here.

We had initially wanted to come by for lunch on Sunday but the restaurant was closed so we came back on a Monday expecting a large lunch crowd but it was comfortably patronised. Unfortunately, they were out of petai (stink beans) that day and I'll have to find equal pleasure in Limablas' other menu offerings to make up for the disappointment.

Limablas means fifteen / 15 in Malay and is the unit number where the restaurant was originally located on Jalan Mesui. It's current unit number is 25 that's why there's a "@25" at the end.  To match the retro decor theme, I decided to channel Fei Yu Qing (费玉清) so that my poses will fit the setting...

... but of course, I can't emulate my evergreen idol so it's free-styling with the patchwork of vintage furnishings.

Limablas has an open bar at the patio but it was too early to sample their interesting sounding cocktails.

Hello there! This uncle chio or not? Hahaha...

Interior of Limablas... Yesterday didn't happen once more, it never went away.

Limablas offers a set lunch menu as well as ala carte selections. Most of the Perankan signature dishes are in it except Ayam Buah Keluak. At RM13.90 for the set lunches, they are a pretty good deal. Otherwise, eating here would rank on the high side. I find eating in KL generally quite expensive by local standards.

Retro-hip... a place to feed the stomach and the camera!

This flower fan looks like it fell out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland.

One of the fun things to do was to take a closer look at the display items... sometimes recovering a memory, and sometimes discovering a good laugh.

Old things given a new purpose at Limablas... me not included.
The period setting very got 'feel'. We stayed till past 2pm when all the customers had left and practically had the restaurant all to ourselves to shoot.

Put me in a vase and I'll bloom for you :)

We were so caught up with capturing nostalgia and putting ourselves in the photos that we almost missed the arrival of our orders. The charms of Limablas' movie-set grade interior could almost steal the limelight from the food.

Now that I've fed my Olympus Tough TG-4, it is time to feed the tummy...

We ordered the Bendil Kukus (literally translated as "bundle steamed", which is the okra dish), Nyonya Laksa, Ayam Ponteh (stewed chicken) and Gerang Asam Fish. The servings are rather huge so for the two of us, this is an over-order. Usually, waiters would warn us that we've ordered too much but maybe the waiter at Limablas thought I looked yao gui so he didn't stop us. Thankfully we didn't waste food. *Burp!*

Our bill totaled RM106.95.

The steamed okra (Bendil Kukus) was easily my favourite. The lady's fingers were cook just right and really tender and fresh but the belachan dip it came with was a stranger. Usually when I order this Peranakan dish, the vegetable comes with a coating of stir-fried minced garlic, onion and chilli in lime sauce layered on top with crispy hae bee (deep-fried tiny shrimps).

Maybe that's another dish altogether and not Bendil Kukus. For this, I much enjoyed the okra on its own without the sauce.
As for the Nyonya Laksa, I think it has an identity crisis. It looked like Penang Laksa (cucumber strips and lime) fell into a bowl of Curry Mee yet resembled neither in taste. The broth was thick and hearty but it didn't taste like the Nyonya Laksa I know. The taste wasn't bad, but somehow the flavours didn't quite work together and left me baffled. Perhaps some Laksa leaves could turn things around or it should be called Nyonya Curry Mee... LOL

The Ayam Ponteh won us over. Although the gravy was a tad too watery (nothing that a little tapioca flour solution mixed into the sauce can't fix), the dish hit all the right notes in taste and aftertaste. The chicken was stewed till the meat divorces the bone readily and the potato and mushroom had all soaked up the robust flavours.

No room for dessert... We were thinking of some Peranakan sweets to end off the saliva party but we were too stuffed!

Okay, I must qualify ah... I'm no expert in Perankan cuisine except for being good at eating so what my tastebuds dance to may be different from yours. Overall, although vintage-themed cafes and restaurants aren't exactly a rarity nowadays, I feel that Limablas has a character of its own and makes for an interesting dining (and photography) experience in the heart of KL's downtown tourist district.

Address : 25, Jalan Mesui, Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur
Opening Hours : 11am - 3pm, 6pm - 10:30pm (Mon - Sat)

19 January 2017

Chiang Rai (Thailand) - Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

Date of Exploration : 30 Dec 2016

There's a saying that if you've never been to Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), you've never been to Chiang Rai. So...

... the best way to 'prove' a visit is to selfie with the temple. As if I needed an excuse to have a selfie. LOL

Planning a Visit to Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

The famous attraction is located about a 30-minute drive from Chiang Rai city centre (where the Night Bazaar and Bus Station are) and it's easy to find a day tour package that includes a visit to this temple as every one of them have it in their packaged itinerary.

If you don't want to follow a packaged tour and want to come on your own, I read online that you can hire a tuk-tuk (local motorised tricycle) for about 300-400bht for a return trip. The driver will wait an hour or two for you. A tuk-tuk will comfortably sit about 2-3 persons.

Roadside view of Wat Rong Khun. The temple is not hidden in some secluded spot but is highly visible by the side of the road it sits along. These photos were taken on a pavement next to the road before even entering the temple.

A water demon guards the shallow canal that runs next to Wat Rong Khun, offering a prelude to the bizarre and macabre sculptures within the temple grounds.
As I wanted more time to explore this icon of Chiang Rai at my own pace instead of following a tour, I decided to hire a car for a day and customise my own tour itinerary.

There are 3 of us (my parents and I) and it costs 750bht per person to go 4 places - Wat Rong Khun, Singha Park, Khun Korn Waterfall, and Wat Huay Pla Kang. It is good to group these 4 attractions together as they are within the southern cluster of attractions (using Chiang Rai city centre as a point of reference) so travelling time from one to the other can be cut down.

To me, the northern cluster of attractions would be Baan Dam (Black House), 5 Tribes Villages, Mae Sai, and Golden Triangle, which are offered by most tour packages and they usually include Wat Rong Khun as well so you can imagine how rushed the day tour would be. If you join a tour, you'll get about 45 minutes at Wat Rong Khun. I prefer to take my time to take photos and take in the ambience of the place. My visit lasted slightly over 2 hours here.

With my folks at Wat Rong Khun. They were wearing matchy-matchy t-shirts. How cute!

We booked our tour through an agency (called "So Good") near the Night Bazaar. We've asked a few agencies and So Good offered the best rate. So good indeed!

Our driver picked us up at our hotel (Wangcome Hotel) at 8:30am and our tour ended at almost 7:00pm. We tipped the driver who didn't speak much English 200bht. So our total cost for the day's tour was 2,450bht, not inclusive of meals and entrance fees.

Beauty and Her Necessary Beasts

From far, Wat Rong Khun looks like an immaculately pristine embodiment of purity. But on closer look, you will find frightening and grotesque sculptures that seem out of place in this vision of great divine beauty.

This coexistence of gods and demons, heaven and hell, is deeply rooted in the Hinduism percept of duality where good and evil are complementary. One cannot exist without the other. Without darkness, we wouldn't understand light. The ying goes hand-in-hand with the yang. As Buddhism has profound connections to Hinduism, Wat Rong Khun expresses this fundamentally Hindu philosophical principle in the context of Thai Buddhist architecture.

Personally, whenever I encounter a skull or 'ugly blemish' to the overall beauty of Wat Rong Khun during my visit, it is a reminder that nobody is perfect. We all have skeletons in our closets. Me included :)

I can't read Thai but it looks like this is a health warning for alcoholics against the golden gate of spiritual nirvana. Wouldn't this send a message to booze more so as to get there faster? Hmm...

What is Predator doing at Wat Rong Khun? Is it a nod to the ancient alien theory of life on earth?
Hanging heads of folklores and superheroes greeted us.

Hellraiser, Ironman and Hellboy... Hollywood comes to Chiang Rai.

My pre-cious...
Before even entering Wat Rong Khun, my curiousity was piqued by the assortment of loathsome looking heads dangling from branches. Entrance to Wat Rong Khun is free for Thais while foreigners pay a 50bht entrance fee, which is rather nominal.

I thought I've left the scary stuff behind but I'm greeted by entrance gates topped with 4-faced skulls upon entering Wat Rong Khun. Is this a temple or horror house?!

Not a Typical Thai Temple

Wat Rong Khun is not actually a temple but a privately owned art-chitecture gallery conceived by Chiang Rai's resident artist, Chalermchai Kosipipat.

Wat Rong Khun was a temple that degenerated into disrepair and restoration works had to be stopped due to insufficient funds. A deeply devout Buddhist, Chalermchai decided to fund and rebuild the temple with a vision to blend tradition with contemporary art. Wat Rong Khun would serve as a centre for Buddhist teachings and meditation in Chiang Rai and is the artist's way of contributing merit to gain immortality.

The reconstruction of Wat Rong Khun began in 1997 with new buildings and extensions added. The entire architectural project is expected to be completed in 2070. This is kinda like the Asian answer to the Spanish Sagrada Familia.

The must-get shot with the White Temple in the background. Still can't get over my parents' matchy-matchy t-shirts. LOL... And I thought romance was dead.

Money-maker shot of Wat Rong Khun (I'll use Wat Rong Khun and White Temple interchangeably). While there are many tourists around, it is not difficult to get a clear shot of the temple as this angle is by the water's edge so no one will be in front of the camera.

Pass the surrounding pond with white kois (yes, even the fish is white!) we arrived at the entrance to the ubosot, which is the main prayer hall.

To get to the ubosot, we must first cross hell, be judged by the guardian deities before crossing the bridge of the cycle of rebirth to heaven represented by the ubosot building.

A beautifully ugly face... No matter how good we looked, it will one day decay away.

So very Pan's Labyrinth-y.

Outstretched hands fill the pits that the bridge crosses.

The outstretched hands in a pit represents incessant needs, where human aspirations and desires are unending and never satisfied.

When you cross the bridge, there's no turning back. Literally. If you turn back for a quick photo with the pit of hands as foreground and ubosot as background, a staff will chide you over a loud speaker for stopping, even if just for a split second, and hurry you to move quickly along.

Guardians 'judge' those who cross the heavenly bridge at the entrance.

Approaching the very busily decorated gable of Wat Rong Khun's ubosot (main prayer hall). No photography allowed inside the ubosot which has paintings on its interior wall depicting the four stages of life - birth, vigour, illness and death.

White represents the purity of Buddha while silver embellishments represent his wisdom.
An aspara making a floral offering.

No inch left undecorated.

Entrance of the ubosot. Shoes must be removed before entering and no photography allowed inside.

Corridor next to the ubosot.

Looking back towards the gate from a corridor surrounding the ubosot.

An vision of calmness and serenity... the simplicity of the monk is a visual pause button.
The 'clean' white pagodas in the back garden provide a stark contrast to the highly ornate decorations all around Wat Rong Khun.

Exit gate of Wat Rong Khun's ubosot area.

While I've seen many photos of the White Temple, nothing beats the thrill of finding a personal angle to frame the temple, an angle that I have not seen before.

Close to the exit from the ubosot area is a pavilion guarded by what looks like twin cone-shaped Christmas tree.
The 'trees' are adorned with countless bells with hanging medallions in the shape of stylised bodhi leaves.

The 12 Chinese zodiac animals rim the cap of the pavilion which houses a wishing well.

You can try to toss a coin and land it within the lotus sculpture at the bottom of the well or just anywhere in it and make a wish... Hope your wishes will come true :)

Another ornately decorated pavilion I came across within the compounds of Wat Rong Khun.

At the base of the pavilion, look out for grotesque faces that would hopefully not cause a nightmare.
Face your demons... The artist's controversial depiction of Buddhism with popular culture and the unholy has provoked ire and attempts were even made to have him banned from the Buddhist community.

Gold Where No One has Gone Before

White isn't the only colour to be found at Wat Rong Khun as a grand building in gold commands an equal measure of admiration. But the building is not a temple, prayer hall, or any religious structure. It is in fact, the toilet!

Gold at such massive scale is quite a sight to behold!
Gold at such massive scale is quite a sight to behold!
Exterior of the gold toilet at the White Temple.

Interior of the male toilet... Makes pooping here a glam dunk. A good release feels even more heavenly in this gold lavatory fit for royalty!

Pano view of Wat Rong Khun's site. As I took my leave at about 11:30am, more crowd streamed in. So come earlier, best by 8am when the temple opens.

Address : San Sai, Mueang Chiang Rai District, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand
Opening Hours : 8:00am - 6:00pm
Entrance Fee : 50bht (for foreigners), Free for Thai

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