Towering over the suburb of Air Itam in George Town, Penang, Malaysia is the magnificent Kek Lok Si Temple. It is located on a high hill and is known as one of the most beautiful and largest temple complexes in entire Southeast Asia. It is a Buddhist temple that was constructed in 1891 and contains many treasures of Mahayana Buddhism. The vast temple complex is not just a place of worship but also a Buddhist monastery, a centre for learning and a very popular tourist destination. There are many stunning features of the temple, like a seven-storey pagoda, a towering statue of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, brilliant murals and carvings, and millions of Buddha images and statues. In terms of architecture, the temple seamlessly blends Thai, Chinese and Burmese architecture that is evident in its exquisite pillars, exotic rooflines, archways and pagodas. Visitors can enjoy roaming the grounds or take in scenic views of the hills from the top. To know more about this crown jewel of Malaysian heritage temples, scroll down to take a look at our guide to Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang.
Things to do / Highlights
Go up Kek Lok Si Pagoda
Though a later addition to the temple complex, the almost 100-feet-high (30-metre) pagoda, nicknamed Kek Lok Si Pagoda, is the prime attraction at this temple complex and an icon of Penang. Visitors can admire the beautiful Thai, Burmese and Chinese architectural influences of the pagoda from outside or pay a small fee to go up seven levels - all the way to the top - for breathtaking views of the hills. Another interesting thing to see here is the impressive collection of Buddhas made from bronze and alabaster.
Feed the tortoise at the Tortoise Pond
One of the must-see and must-do things at the temple complex is feeding the tortoises at the Tortoise Liberation Pond, commonly known as the Tortoise Pond. There are probably hundreds of little tortoises in the pond, and nearby vendors will sell you kangkong (Asian water spinach) to feed them. The Tortoise Pond is said to be one of the earliest attractions of the temple.
Marvel at the towering statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.
Take the inclined lift up the hill and pay your respects to Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The bronze statue of the goddess stands tall at 120 feet (36.57 metres) and is one of the most visited spots in the temple. The statue of Kuan Yin (also known as Guanyin) stands elevated inside a beautiful, octagonal pavilion and is surrounded by a fish pond, pagodas and shrines. Visitors can also take in panoramic views of Penang from a viewing deck.
The temple is a very popular place of worship as well as a major tourist destination in Penang. In order to avoid crowds and get great people-free shots of the various temple areas, it is best to arrive at the opening times between 8:30 am and 9 am. Plus, it is very peaceful and not very hot that early in the morning. You can have the temple almost all to yourself before the crowds start rolling in by 10 am.
Avoid holidays and weekends, if possible
If you dislike crowds and heat, it is best to avoid visiting the temple on holidays (especially school holidays) and weekends. This place is full of tourists and locals during these times and it will be quite difficult to get a good look at the beautiful aspects of the temple, take in the tranquillity or even get a good shot of any of its majestic features.
Restrictions on attire
Even though it is a Buddhist temple, there are no restrictions on attire at Kek Lok Si Temple. Visitors are free to wear anything, but it is advisable to dress modestly since it is a place of worship and a place visited by families. Women can opt to carry a shawl or a wrap that will cover their shoulders and knees, just in case it is needed.
Temple areas that require entrance fees
There is no fee to enter the temple premises and almost all areas of the temple are free. The only places where you might have to pay money, but a very small amount, is for the inclined lift to go to the top of the temple complex, to view the towering Kuan Yin statue. The inclined lift ticket costs about USD 0.73.
Another place where you will have to pay for entrance is to enter the grand Kek Lok Si Pagoda. The entrance fee is just USD 0.49 - a very small amount, and it gives you access to the entire pagoda section, which includes several temple shrines and seven levels of the pagoda all the way to the top.
How to get there
Public transport, particularly bus, is the best way to reach the temple. From the main George Town bus terminal, Komtar Bus Terminal, you can reach the Air Itam suburb, the location of the temple, by means of two buses: bus numbers 203 or 204. The bus fare will be approximately USD 0.54 and you should get off at the last stop, Jalan Pasar, located at the foothills of the temple. Follow signs from there leading up to the temple. If you are coming from somewhere else in Penang, you can take another Rapid Penang Bus that also stops at Air Itam.
Taxi or ride-hailing apps
Taking a taxi is another convenient method to get to the temple, depending on your starting point and traffic, it will cost you about USD 5-6. From George Town, the ride will be at least half an hour long.
Alternatively, you could also order a Grab car or motorbike (Southeast Asia’s Uber counterpart) from the Grab app on your phone, and it should cost you less or same as a taxi, depending on your starting location and traffic.
Private car or motorbike
Driving is yet another option to reach the temple, though not the most popular one for tourists, given the unorthodox driving methods. From George Town, the temple is about a 30 to 40-minute drive away. Driving directions are easily available and signs are posted almost everywhere once you reach Air Itam. Follow the signs and the road will take you right up to the top of the temple area.
Parking is available for your car or motorbike at the temple for a small fee.
Kek Lok Si Temple information
Kek Lok Si Temple
Address: 11500 Ayer Itam, Penang, Malaysia
Opening hours: 8:30am - 5:30pm (daily)
Official website: Kek Lok Si Temple
Department of tourism: Malaysia.Travel
Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes
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