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The literal translation of Kek Lok Si is ‘Temple of Paradise’, so you can immediately see why this should feature on your ‘Malaysia Must Do’ list. The largest Buddhist temple in the whole of Malaysia, we joined the thousands of tourists and worshippers from other South East Asian countries who visit here each year to make the pilgrimage and see this incredible temple.
Situated at the foot of Air Itam mountain in Georgetown (Malaysia) and completed in 1905, we visited Kek Lok Si Temple for a second time in January 2019 (we’ve been to Penang several times previously).
How to get to Kek Lok Si temple
Using the GRAB taxi app, we took a GRAB from our Georgetown hotel straight to the temple. It cost only 12 MYR (£2.30) and was a heck of a lot easier than getting the local bus.
Bus from Georgetown
If you would rather get the bus though, you can get either bus #203 or #204 from Komtar Central Bus Terminal, with the journey to Air Itam market taking approximately 30 minutes, depending on traffic (allow an extra 15 minutes to walk to the temple entrance from the market) – the fare is RM 2 each way.
Arriving at Kek Lok Si
As this was our second visit, we have entered Kek Lok Si from both the front elevation when we walked from the bus stop (our first visit), plus from the main car park when we were dropped off by a GRAB taxi this time around.
We preferred the second option as the only bits you miss if you come via the carpark are a massive array of dark and damp underground shops, plus a rather gruesome looking terrapin pool (ironically called the ‘Liberation Pond’. It was constructed as according to Chinese legend, turtles symbolize endurance and longevity and the act of capturing and freeing a turtle is a symbol of spiritual liberation.
To be honest, if you are an animal lover, you will definitely want to avert your eyes when you pass the turtle pool as the conditions are squalid and overcrowded at best – not a pleasant sight.
The best way to explore Kek Lok Si (in our opinion) is to wander around and just see what you find – as you’d expect of the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, there are so many halls, corridors and rooms to explore, that we just can’t detail them all in a succinct blog.
Kek Lok Si / Rama VI Pagoda
Likely most visitor’s main reason for coming to Kek Lok Si is the amazing seven storeys high pagoda of Rama VI (you can see this pagoda from miles around – it dominates the skyline at the Air Itam and acts as a handy homing beacon if you are walking there).
Home to 10,000 bronze and alabaster Buddha statues, it’s design has three main architectural styles, representing the cultural and religious mix of the area – a Chinese style octagonal section at the base, Thai design flourishes in the middle sections, with a Burmese crown on the top.
There is a small admission fee to access this part of the Kek Lok Si – once you’ve climbed all the steps to the top (due to the likely hot weather, it is best to take a breather half way up), you’ll be rewarded with postcard perfect views of Penang from the top.
The Kuan Yin / Goddess of Mercy statue
Another of the most visited attractions here is the 35m high bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. This striking statue stands at the very top of the complex, and is the highest point on the Air Itam mountain – as such, you need to get a funicular lift (a bit like a cable car) to the top, costing 3 MYR admission each way.
The lift is quite small so you may need to queue during busy periods – with an eye towards literal good fortune for the temple, you are also forced to go through several gift shops as you enter and exit the lift section (35 metre high bronze statues don’t pay for themselves, you know!)
At the top, as well as the Kuan Yin statue, you’ll find lots of smaller shrines and pagodas, including a delightful fishpond. There is also another wonderful view of Penang from an observation deck.
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Other Kek Lok Si Highlights
There are heaps of other halls and shrines to explore over the 30 acre site, including the Hall of the Devas (containing statues of the Four Heavenly Kings) and a three storey shrine with a large Buddha that was donated by Thailand’s King Bhumibol of Thailand – there is also a vast supply of small stalls selling everything from cuddly toy monkeys through to religious artefacts (although the prices are a little more expensive than some of the gift-shops back in the city).
One of our particular photographic highlights is what we’d describe as an ornate circular gate, so incredibly intricate and pretty that it wouldn’t seem out of place in Hobbiton.
We’ve been to a lot of temples in Malaysia and South East Asia and Kek Lok Si particularly stands out, due to its prominent hillside position plus its majestic and epic scale. Kek Lok Si is truly the ‘temple of paradise’ and a great addition to your Penang itinerary.
Hungry after visiting Kek Lok Si?
What better to relax and recuperate after your temple trek than exploring the numerous food stalls in and around Air Itam market. We recommend visiting Sister’s Curry Mee – a very old and famous street food joint run by two elderly sisters selling curry mee and fried bee hoon. Open everyday 7.30am- 1pm, except Tuesday.
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Sim cards and pocket WIFI
Having data on your phone whilst travelling is almost essential these days – from planning your route around the city, booking a Grab taxi or for staying connected with friends and family back home. SIM cards are pretty cheap in Malaysia with generous data allowances and are available to purchase from airports, malls and convenience stores (bring your passport along for identification purposes).
You can also prepay online and collect a SIM from KLIA2 airport. Just remember to make sure your phone is not locked to your local network provider before purchasing one.
Alternatively if you do not want to change your sim card then renting a pocket WIFI device might be for you. We’ve used them multiple times and love that we can both connect our devices to it, however the downside to the Malaysian ones is that there is a data allowance of 1GB per day. Pre-order one online with Klook for collection when you arrive at either KLIA or KLIA2 airport in Kuala Lumpur.
Some hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:
House of Journey hostel
Family owned hostel is located in the heart of Georgetown. Check out prices and availability for House of Journey hostel
Old Penang Guesthouse hostel
Charming heritage guesthouse a stone’s throw from Penang’s major historical landmarks and tourist attractions. Check out prices and availability for Old Penang Guesthouse
Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel
Highly rated hostel located in the heart of the UNESCO Heritage zone. Check out prices and availability for Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:
Located in the UNESCO World Heritage Site with rooftop bar. Check out prices and availability for Chulia Mansion
Le Dream Boutique Hotel
modern accommodation featuring a rooftop spa tub, restaurant and rooftop bar. Check out prices and availability for Le Dream Boutique Hotel
Nam Keng Hotel
Comfortable rooms with traditional decoration in a great location. Check out prices and availability for Nam Keng Hotel
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Georgetown:
Stylish hotel with swimming pool and rooms with balconys. Check out prices and availability for Seven Terraces
Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion
Boutique accommodation with individually designed rooms housed in a Chinese courtyard-style mansion. Check out prices and availability for Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion
Eastern & Oriental Hotel
19th century heritage accommodation with spacious colonial-style suites and an outdoor swimming pool with ocean views. Check out prices and availability for Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Other Malaysia blog posts you might like
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- What to eat in Penang – Best food in Penang guide
- The perfect 2 week Malaysia itinerary and travel guide
- Top things to do in Langkawi, Malaysia
- The ultimate guide to the Cameron Highlands
- Eating like a local on a Penang food tour
- Island hopping in Langkawi, Malaysia
- Top things to do in Melaka, Malaysia
- A cheap day tour in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
- Tasting Malaysian cuisine on a Kuala Lumpur food tour
- Exploring Kuala Lumpur from Above – KL Tower and Eco Forest Park
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