The Hubs and I recently paid a visit to Think Thailand — Malaysia’s Largest Thai Festival — which was held from 26 May to 6 June 2022 at Tropicana Gardens Mall in Petaling Jaya. Organized by the Thai embassy in collaboration with several major Thai companies as well as SMEs, the festival featured over 50 booths showcasing the best Thailand has to offer, from food and drinks, to products and services. There were also scheduled performances and cooking demonstrations throughout the 12-day event.
Here’s what went down during our visit!
Thailand is known for its abundance of snacks. We saw a few that looked familiar, but also many new ones.
Sweet basil seed drinks are popular in Thailand, with purported benefits such as helping to cool the body. They come in a variety of flavours, including pomegranate, honey, grape, orange, and more. We got a few bottles to try. Maybe it’s because our taste buds are spoiled by sugary drinks, but these tasted very mild. They were refreshing though!
There was an outdoor area as well with an open-air dining area, with booths selling street food such as som tam (salad), grilled meats, and beer. The stalls were divided into halal and non-halal sections. Food was a bit pricey, but I liked the atmosphere as it reminded me of the street food vibe you get in Thailand — the smells of food from the grill, smoke from the cooking, animated conversations wafting across the warm tropical air.
We had a great time checking out the stalls, and returned with a few packets of snacks in tow: a crispy baked rice cracker snack with salted egg and chilli squid flavour, as well as a crispy enoki mushroom snack that featured very fine, deep fried strands of mushroom that served as an excellent condiment with rice.
I’m happy to see that events are being held again after two years. Hopefully this is a sign of a better economy to come!
Buddhism is a major religion in Malaysia, with around 20% of the population subscribing to the belief. As most devotees here are of Malaysian Chinese descent, many Buddhist temples in the country incorporate Chinese elements in their design and architecture, and tend to also include Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese folklore influences.
Thai-Buddhist temples are much rarer, especially in the south of Peninsula Malaysia (there are more up north, due to their close proximity with Thailand). In Selangor, as far as I know, there is only one major Thai-Buddhist temple : Wat Chetawan in Section 10, Petaling Jaya. Tucked in a quiet suburban area, the temple is located just next to a church, and has over 60 years of history.
The idea to have a Thai Buddhist temple was first conceived in 1956 by a group of Thai sanghas (monks). The proposal was well received by the Selangor government, who awarded the group two acres of land to build the temple. The project was also backed by the local community and sponsors. As a mark of the friendship between our young nation (Malaya gained independence in 1957) and Thailand, the late King of Thailand himself, Bhumibol Adulyadej, donated to the temple and officiated its opening when it was completed in 1962.
Over the years, the temple has undergone a few expansions, and today includes several shrines, monks quarters, a columbarium, and even a ‘herbal sauna’ where you can go to relieve aches and pains (the concept reminds me of the Thai massages you can get at Wat Pho in Bangkok).
The main shrine is located up a short flight of stairs flanked by two multi-headed nagas, known as Phaya Naga (lord of the nagas). Nagas are mythical serpents in Buddhist, Hinduism and Jainism, but they hold special reverence in Thai culture as patrons of water and medicine, so you will often see nagas ‘guarding’ the entrances to many Thai Buddhist temples. A popular myth is that nagas dwell in the Mekong, and were even involved in the creation of the mighty river itself.
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Before coming to the main shrine, you’ll pass by a pavilion housing a Phra Phrom (Four-Faced Buddha). Phra Phrom is a unique deity that is often associated with Thailand, and whose origins are believed to be Hindu (it is believed to be a representation of the Hindu god, Brahma). Thailand was once part of the mighty Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms in the region, and it is not at all surprising to see a blend of different cultures.
The Phra Phrom shrine here is decorated with colourful glass and mirrors, with offerings laid out in front of each altar. There are also small elephant statues surrounding it, as elephants are seen as symbols of good luck and fortune, as well as being the national animal of Thailand.
The main shrine looks resplendent in shades of yellow and gold, with gilded windows and a curving roof topped with chofas (a decorative ornament at the corners, made to look like a tall, thin bird, or a horn).
Two apsonsi flank the stairs leading up to the prayer hall. Apsonsi are mythical beings from Thai mythology, depicted as half woman on top, and half lion on the bottom. They are said to guard Himavanta, a legendary forest in the Himalayas that is full of magical creatures. Apsonsi aren’t the only chimeras in Thai mythology: there are also kinnaras – half-bird and half human celestials that are believed to be excellent singers, dancers and poets.
After removing my shoes, I stepped into the spacious prayer hall. There was a row of golden Buddhas on one side, each holding a pot. Devotees can drop their donations to the temple into the pots.
The Buddha statue in the main prayer hall was clad in bright saffron robes and seated tranquilly on a golden, intricately-carved dias studded with shiny pieces of glass and stones. The workmanship is a marvel to look at. Offered up a donation and prayer for good health for the fam and I – and an end to this pandemic.
Coincidentally, a monk was offering blessings, so I joined the session. While chanting prayers, he sprinkled devotees with holy water. You can get bottled holy water as well to take home.
Aside from the main prayer hall, there is also the Bhrama Pavilion, which houses a few other Buddhas and statues of former temple abbots.
You can grab some free books on Buddhism in this area. The books are usually printed by religious organisations, and even devotees with their own money, as the spread of dharma (Buddha’s teachings) is believed to help gain good karma.
As I mentioned earlier, the Buddhism in Malaysia usually has a Chinese influence, and this is no exception at Wat Chetawan. So amidst the elephants, roof spires and Thai-centric architecture, you’ll also find traditional Chinese influences: like this shrine to Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy) which is distinctively Chinese – think tiled orange roof, topped by a pagoda and dragons. Next to it is another shrine housing the Matreiya Buddha (commonly known as the Laughing Buddha – a Chinese semi-historical figure-turned deity).
You can light a pineapple-shaped or lotus-shaped prayer candle. Why pineapples? Well, I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s because in Chinese culture, pineapples are seen as symbols of good luck and fortune, because they are called ‘ong lai’, which is a homonym for ‘wealth/prosperity comes’. As for lotuses, lotus flowers are a common motif in Buddhism – since they grow and bloom in mud, they represent purity, rising from murky waters.
You can also find statues of characters like Son Wukong from Journey to the West – a classic 16th century Chinese novel based on the pilgrimage of Tang Xuanzang (he’s a real life monk who spent 20 years travelling from China to India to get sacred Buddhist texts).
Even if you’re not a devotee, Wat Chetawan is a good place to visit for its beautiful architecture and rich culture. If you come on a weekday, when it’s less crowded, the surroundings are actually quite tranquil and conducive for meditation – or just to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Entry is free, and there are some parking spaces within the compound.
WAT CHETAWAN THAI BUDDHIST TEMPLE
No.24, Jalan Pantai 9/7, Seksyen 10 Petaling Jaya, 46000 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Open daily from 9AM to 5PM
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You need to understand Cantonese to get the cheeky wit behind Thai Hou Sek‘s name. Tai is a homonym for ‘very/too much’, and hou sek means delicious. It can therefore be translated as ‘too delicious’, or simply, ‘Thai food is delicious’.
Ignoring the semantics, Thai Hou Sek prides itself in Thai food with a Chinese twist, served in a distinctive setting reminiscent of Bangkok’s colourful Yaowarat Road. Speakeasy vibes abound, accentuated by cosy lighting, a neon-lit elephant and a wall papered with newspaper clippings and vintage posters of Thai ads. Across the room is a mural of King Bhumibol Adjulyadej – in shades. It’s a perfect representation of Thailand, a modernizing country that still holds dear to its roots and traditions. Meanwhile, a bar at the back dishes out both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, from creative signatures such as Thai Hou Yum (jasmine tea, assamboi, lime) and Sparkling Ribena Lychee, to cocktails like Lemongrass Mojito and Cucumber Sake Madness.
The menu is extensive. Choose from mains to share if you’re in a group, or single rice and noodle dishes. The restaurant also offers lunch sets to cater to the weekday office crowd. While you can opt for chicken and seafood, it is clear that pork takes center stage. Expect classic flavours with a modern touch when you tuck into dishes such as Pad Thai with Seafood and Bacon, Pad Kra Pao Pasta, Papaya Salad with Luncheon Meat, and Siu Yuk Tom Yum.
Despite the full house, service was fast and efficient during our visit. C had the classic Pad Kra Pao; stir fried minced pork with basil and chilli padi, served with steaming white rice, fried egg, and a side of crackers. Portion was generous.
Also ordered one of their bestsellers: Siu Yuk Tom Yum. The dish is good enough for 2-3 people, and comes loaded with chunks of roast pork and juicy mushrooms. The soup is everything a good tom yum should be: sour and appetising, great with rice, and spicy with a kick.
I got one of their lunch set options: Tom Yum Mama Noodles with Siew Yuk (RM16.90). The pork is served on a platter with a side of crackers, while the noodles are served in a bowl, topped with egg (look at that beautiful yolk!). Mama Noodles are the Thai equivalent of what Maggi is to Malaysians, and I like the springy, al dente texture. While the soup is not as thick as the Siew Yuk Tom Yum dish, it still packs a punch. Pork skin is crispy and crunchy, and the meat has layers of lean and fat that literally melts in your mouth. If you eat it on its own it might feel a bit greasy, but you can set this off by dunking it into the sour tom yum soup.
You can get a drink with your set lunch for a few extra ringgit. Can’t have a Thai meal without iced Thai milk tea: sweet, cold and refreshing!
For dessert lovers, Thai Hou Sek offers a selection of classics like Mango Sticky Rice, Tab Tim Krop (water chestnut rubies, jackfruit, mango slices, served with vanilla ice cream and coconut milk) as well as Pumpkin Custard and Coconut Ice Cream Surprise.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my first time at Thai Hou Sek – service is fast, warm and friendly, food’s great, and the ambience is cosy. It can get pretty crowded over lunch time though, so either come earlier or expect a wait. Prices are above average.
THAI HOU SEK
S132, 2nd Floor, Old Wing, 1 Utama, Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, Wat Pho is a must visit if you love architecture. Built in the 16th century, this vast royal temple complex boasts a splendid design, with towering spires, colourful glazed-tile roofs and grand halls. The temple is home to the largest collection of Buddha’s images in Thailand (over 1,000), the most famous being a 46-metre-long giant reclining Buddha. It is also the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, which is offered to visitors as a communal experience at an open-air pavilion.
The temple complex covers over 80,000 square metres, so it’s best to allocate several hours if you wish to fully explore the place. There are numerous pavilions, hallways, shrines and prayer halls to within, so tourist maps (located at various points throughout the temple) come in handy !
The ordination hall, or Phra Ubosot, is where monks perform rituals. The hall looked absolutely stunning, with maroon and gold floor to ceiling motifs and a glittering gold and crystal dais, upon which was seated a gilded Buddha dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The statue was ‘shaded’ by a golden, tasseled nine-tiered umbrella, a symbol of Thailand. The ashes of the ruler Rama I can also be found under the pedestal.
Making our way around the temple complex, we could see influences from various cultures, such as these Chinese-style stone pagodas. There were figures and statues of Chinese deities as well. The colour of the tiles on the roof differed from building to building, but most had orange/gold as the primary shade, accentuated by blue, red, white and green.
Chedis are an alternative to stupas in Thailand, and there are hundreds of these within the temple grounds. The smaller ones rise up about five metres, and are decorated with floral or geometric motifs from the base to the top.
Beyond being just a religious place, Wat Pho was also intended as an education centre, so visitors will find murals and engravings on granite slabs throughout the complex with texts and illustrations depicting subjects such as history, medicine, health, custom, literature and religion.
Marble towers called Phra Prang, which are found at the corners of one of the main courtyards.
Aside from the Reclining Buddha statue, I found the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn – a grouping of four large chedis – to be most impressive. Located within a courtyard, their sharp spires towering over their surroundings, these 42-metre-high chedis are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings: Rama I, Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV. The chedis each have a distinctive look and are covered in beautiful tiles, in green, yellow, white and blue.
Inside one of the buildings called Viharn Phranorn, we finally came to the temple’s famed golden reclining Buddha. It was humongous, filling up one entire side of the hall, the statue’s long legs stretching from one end to the other. There were nooks all along the passageway for visitors to stop and take photos, while on the right were bowls where devotees can drop coins as part of a prayer ritual. The walls were decorated from top to bottom with elaborate murals, and there were artists doing touch up on places where they had faded.
The feet are decorated with laksana, Sanskrit symbols and texts, some of which have been inlaid with mother of pearl.
Wat Pho is located right next to the Grand Palace, so you might want to pair your trip with a visit there. The entrance fee for the Grand Palace is quite pricey, which is why we opted not to.
So after years of incredulous looks whenever I tell friends I’ve never been to Bangkok (“but it’s so near!”), I finally got to visit Asia’s City of Angels, The Big Mango; or more notoriously, Sin City. It was a short trip and we barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer – but N and I enjoyed our time here immensely. Now I see why everyone was like “why haven’t you been to Bangkok yet?!”
We didn’t do much research prior to going (a mistake seasoned travellers should avoid!) so I wasn’t sure which area would be a good place to stay. Bangkok is a huge city, divided into many subdivisions, each with its own attractions and experiences. We were on a budget so I picked the cheapest accommodation I could find that wasn’t a hostel. I found one near Khao San Road, a backpacker’s paradise. The only problem? We aren’t exactly party people, so I wasn’t sure what we could do around the place. Turns out, plenty.
Bangkok, like Kuala Lumpur, has two major airports: Don Mueang, which services low-cost airlines, and Suvarnabhumi, which is about 20 km away. Traffic can get pretty bad in the city so always allocate plenty of time going to and from the airport.
HOW TO GET TO KHAO SAN ROAD from DON MUEANG AIRPORT
The night before we were due to depart for Bangkok, I scoured various websites for info, but there seemed to be no easy way to get to Khao San from Don Mueang. If you’re landing at Suvarnabhumi, things are much easier as there is an airport rail that goes directly to the city centre. The worst case scenario (for our budget, anyway) was to take a taxi (900 baht (!!!) (RM 121) from the official taxi stand inside the airport).
I wasn’t about to spend a good chunk of the money I brought for one taxi ride, so I stubbornly went to the tourist information counter to ask if there was any other way to get there. Lo and behold – the airport runs shuttle buses to various tourist-centric areas within the city ! The A4 bus would take us directly to Khaosan Road and it only costs …. 50 baht! (RM6.77). That’s like a 95% cheaper alternative!
The A4 bus runs every 30 minutes. You need to wait for it at the airport’s Exit 6, which is just after arrivals. If you have a lot of luggage, this might not be the best mode of transport since you’ll have to lug it on and off the bus, then up to wherever your hotel is.
The coach was air conditioned, clean and cosy. We got on around 2-ish, and it was quite empty so we had a lot of space to ourselves. From the airport, it took us about an hour to reach Khao San Road.
We hopped off near Banglamphu, because our hotel/hostel was actually on Soi Rambuttri, just off Khao San Road. Rambuttri is a good place for people on a budget who want to be close to the action, but not at the centre of it. The place is much quieter, with a quaint hipster vibe. The streets are well paved, there is very little traffic except for the occasional bike or trike or two, and there are loads of shops that mirror the ones you find at Khao San, but with less crowd.
Rambuttri is known for its chill cafes, bars and restos, with large and shady trees and greenery.
There are street stalls as well, peddling souvenirs, cheap clothing, bags, shoes, and more.
Street massages are a thing. No one bats an eyelid if you’re reclined in full double-chin glory with your feet exposed by the side of the road. An hour-long foot massage will set you back around 250 – 300 baht.
Exploring the Banglamphu area
We took a short cut that ran through a covered area, which had more souvenir shops and massage parlours, but also some interesting gems like indie bookstores
Cue N pushing me past this 2nd hand bookstore really quickly lest I stop to look (after which he wouldn’t be able to get me out of there again)
Souvenirs for sale. Many sold the standard stuff like fridge magnets and T-shirts saying “I Love Thailand”, but there were also some interesting pieces like paintings, decorative wall hangings and handmade items.
Finally emerging into the 400-metre-long Khao San Road, we were greeted by dozens, if not hundreds of signages proclaiming various services, from bars and massage parlours to jewellery stores, fashion and retail centres, tattoo studios, restaurants, money changers and supermarkets. Not to mention the many street stalls selling food and clothes on the pedestrian-only main thoroughfare. Loud music blasted from every corner, vendors shouting cheap beer! massage! exotic show! party! fun! It seemed like if you had the money for it, you could find anything along Khao San Road.
Bangkok’s famous tuk-tuk
Khao San felt like a riot on the senses. The swirling colours, the different faces from all walks of life in every shape, colour and size, the smell of barbecued meat and steaming corn wafting into the air, whole barbecued crocodiles and exotic insects on sale, touts shouting “Ping Pong Show!” while holding up placards of sexy women, open air bars where the music was so loud the ground felt like it was shaking slightly.
There were tall blonde Westerners dressed in strappy spaghetti tops laughing boisterously over drinks as they flirted with the tanned, handsome bartenders, petite Thai college girls giggling with their friends as they checked out merchandise, young local women clinging to the arms of older white men, old Japanese tourists, families, students. An essayist once wrote that Khao San was a ‘place to disappear’, and she wasn’t wrong.
Even the McDonalds here has a Thai flavour ! (pun)
It was fun for awhile to observe the goings-on at Khao San, but also draining for introverts like N and I lol. We retreated back to the Rambuttri area for dinner. Popped into one of the nicer restaurants, which was still reasonably priced.
Can’t come to Bangkok and not have a coconut shake
Chicken tom yum for that spicy kick
Gotta pad thai like a basic tourist. It was great though!
Me to waitress: I don’t want beansprouts.
*Waitress does not understand.*
Me: You know, the long white things.. vegetables
Walking back to our hotel we came across this souped up van that was converted into a mobile bar, with seats on the pavement and a TV installed into the boot. If you like your alcohol, I think you’d be very happy at Rambuttri / Khao San.
There was still some time to kill so we had a massage (in the shop rather than on the street). Wasn’t much in terms of privacy as everyone was chatting away, but still relaxing.
Ended the night with a banana nutella pancake!
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Ipoh is known for its gorgeous cave temples, and there are many tucked within the state’s beautiful limestone hills. Some of the more well known ones include Kek Lok Tong and Kwan Yin Tong, which are popular with tourists. There are also many smaller ones that are slightly off the beaten path, like the Miaw Yuan Chan Lin Cave Temple.
We stumbled upon this place entirely by accident while looking for another attraction nearby. I can see why it’s not on the radar of the usual tourist hotspots – it’s a little out of the way, and to get there you have to go through a housing area and a small dirt road. We were actually a little confused as to whether this was the tourist attraction we were looking for (Qin Xin Ling), because there weren’t any signs! With not many visitors, the temple grounds were tranquil, shaded from the sun by a large outcropping of rock. I believe they also have facilities for those looking for a meditation retreat, as there were showers and what looked like rooms for guests.
A shrine with a very realistic, larger-than-life sculpture of a monk. As the temple is dedicated to Thai-Buddhism, there are many Thai elements to its design, such as naga figures and the use of gold.
The main area, tucked within the limestone cave. The inside was extremely cooling, and you can hear the steady dripping of water from the stalactites.
(Right) A sleeping figure of Buddha carved into the limestone; a colourful painting of deity (?) in blue next to it; joss sticks and offerings
Further in was a golden laughing Buddha statue which was surrounded by water, which devotees can use for ablution, as well as a colourful shrine decorated with neon lights, housing seven Buddhas with different postures (one for each day of the week – a common sight in Thai Buddhist temples).
If you’re looking for a quiet temple away from the crowds, or if you’re on the way to the Qin Xin Ling attraction, the Miaw Yun Chan Lin Cave Temple is worth a visit.
MIAW YUN CHAN LIN TEMPLE
22, Persiaran Pinggir Rapat 5a, Rapat Setia, 31350 Ipoh, Negeri Perak
Next to Malaysian cuisine, Thai food holds a special place in my heart (or should I say, stomach?), thanks to its unique flavours (sweet, salty, sour, savoury and spicy), and liberal use of spices and herbs, which Malaysians love. The city of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand is especially famed for its cuisine, which has influences from neighbouring cultures such as Burmese, Laotian and Chinese.
There’s a Chiang Rai Style Restaurant in Bandar Puchong Jaya that dishes out northern Thai cuisine, so the fam and I went there one weekend to satiate our cravings. The resto is simple and sparsely furnished, but one comes here for the food and not the ambience. Even so, expect to fork out above average prices for their dishes.
Framed photographs of the Thai royal family adorn one side of the wall, alongside faded photographs of the dishes they serve.
Minced chicken/pork with basil is a must-have at any Thai restaurant, so we ordered one (chicken). The version here came served on tomato slices with deep fried century eggs, which was a nice addition. The minced chicken meat was tender and juicy, having fully absorbed the juices from the stir frying process.
Can’t go to a Thai resto and not have tom yum. We opted for a small pot, which came chock full of seafood – clams, shrimp, mushrooms, squid. A rather rare ingredient that they use here is crab; you don’t see that too often in other places. Tastewise, the broth was not too strong but still sour and appetising enough to go with bowls of rice.
I enjoyed their stuffed chicken wings with chilli dip. The wings are deboned then stuffed with rice noodles and pork, so you get crispy chicken skin on the outside, juicy minced meat on the inside, and a springy, crunchy and slightly gelatinous bite from the rice noodles.
All in all, a good spot to satisfy your Thai food cravings in Puchong. 🙂
CHIANG RAI STYLE RESTAURANT
No 12A-01, Jalan Kenari 18A,
Bandar Puchong Jaya,
47100 Puchong, Selangor
Been awhile since I went to Sunway Pyramid! The original plan was to have hotpot with C, but we ended up getting Thai food instead at Thai Thai. Despite being rather pricey, they’ve been consistently good on previous visits, and they did not disappoint this time either.
The interior hasn’t changed much – but they added some colourful murals of plants/flowers and animals on one side of the wall.
Thirst quenchers: Ice blended coconut shake and iced three-layer Thai milk tea. A bit hard to drink because they don’t give straws anymore, but gotta do our part for the environment! The coconut shake was refreshing and sweet – good ice to coconut ratio. Milk tea was milky but not too sweet.
I highly recommend getting the Tom Yum (you can choose from chicken, seafood or shrimp). We ordered the chicken for 2 pax (RM39++). It was hard to get the soup out with the spoon because the pot was kinda narrow – but taste wise, this is one of the better tom yum soups that I’ve had in the Klang Valley. Sour with a spicy kick (but not to the point that you breathe fire; just makes you sweat a little), it’s chock full of flavour from the lemongrass, chilli and other herbs. The chicken meat was also cooked to tender perfection. You can easily polish off bowls of rice with this.
I also suggest getting the fried squid appetiser. Coated in crisp batter, the springy pieces of squid come with a sweet Thai chilli dip.
We only ordered two dishes to go with our rice because the stuff is rather pricey, but they have loads of other dishes as well, such as the popular Thai basil chicken, fried omelette, steamed fish, mango sticky rice, and more.
Prices average from RM20+ up to RM60++ for dishes such as the whole fish.
LOT G1-135.Oasis Boulevard, Sunway Pyramid, No.3, Jalan PJS 11/15, Bandar Sunway,46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Tel: 03-74919428