‘An explosion of colour’ is the only way we can describe our most recent trip to Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We were fortunate as our ‘pilgrimage’ to Batu Caves coincided with Thaipusam Festival (a Hindu Festival) in 2019, which lasts for three days and is celebrated worldwide by the Tamil speaking community, to seek blessings and fulfill vows.
The Thaipusam festival honours Subramaniam, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Legend states this is the birthday of Subramaniam and the day he defeated the evil demon Soorapadman. Although slightly different in every city, the three day festival in Kuala Lumpur starts with a procession from the Mahamariamman Temple in Chinatown, led by a statue of Subramanian on a golden carriage. Devotees then walk bare foot with the procession to Batu Caves 10 miles out of town.
Thaipusam Festival at Batu Caves
Batu Caves is a popular tourist attraction and is normally quite busy any way – but as you’d expect, it really comes to life during the days of the festival. There were a few crowds but to be honest, it wasn’t nearly as hectic or as busy as we expected. We visited Batu Caves on the third and final day of the Thaipusam Festival, and the only time we felt a little claustrophobic was the train journey in, as the carriage was packed full of people.
As we arrived at Batu Caves for the Thaipusam festival, the walk to the main steps up to the temple and Murugan statue were awash with street vendors and stalls selling food, drinks and religious offerings. Numerous sound systems also played loud music and prayers – none of this deterred the resident monkeys, who still scavenged for scraps amongst the bins and patrolled the steep walkway up to the main temple.
Travelling around Malaysia?
The only time we felt a little overwhelmed was the queuing system to walk the 272 steps up to the main cave. The walkways up would be closed for a few moments at a time to stop overcrowding, but when they reopened, there would be a surge of people clamouring to get to the top.
For the festival, the central walkway was reserved for those devotees carrying large costumes on their back (with accompanying drummers) plus stewards and emergency services. Given the 30 degree + heat on the day, many people were collapsing so the medical staff were kept very busy.
The Batu Caves at the top of the steps are formed in limestone that is said to be around 400 million years old. Inside, there are several shrines (although during Thaipusam, several of them are roped off for worshippers only). The main Temple Cave and the Sri Murugan Swami statue inside were consecrated in 1890 and the Thaipusam festival was celebrated here shortly afterwards (1892) and then ever since.
We hadn’t been to a Hindu festival before so we were fascinated by the proceedings and amazed by the strength and determination of the worshippers with the heavy costumes on their backs, climbing up all 272 steep steps laden with their heavy outfits in such heat.
The only words of caution we have are watch out for the monkeys (do not eat near them or entice them with food) and just be observant for any sections that look like they are starting to overcrowd. Also take and drink plenty of water (especially for the staircase section) as we saw a couple of people collapse from either dehydration and / or overheating.
We take the train to Batu Caves every time we visit Kuala Lumpur and the initial amazement of seeing the large golden Murugan statue and climbing up the steps to the caves never fades, no matter how many times you visit. Even if your trip doesn’t coincide with a Hindu festival, make sure you see it for yourself (and try not to accidentally take a monkey home in your backpack, as they get everywhere).
Thaipusam Festival 2020 takes place between Saturday 8th February – Monday 10th February 2020.
Download the Grab app
Grab taxis are widely used by both tourists and locals, and the fares are really cheap! Download the Grab app here and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.
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.
Check out our other Malaysia blog posts
- Exploring Kuala Lumpur from above – KL Tower and Eco Forest Park
- Tasting Malaysian cuisine on a Kuala Lumpur food tour
- Top things to do in Melaka, Malaysia
- The River of Life, Kuala Lumpur
- Top things to do in Langkawi, Malaysia
- A guide to Georgetown’s street art in Penang, Malaysia
- A cheap day tour in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
- Exploring Langkawi’s Mangrove flora and fauna
- Eating like a local on a Penang food tour
Kuala Lumpur accommodation
Here are some highly rated Kuala Lumpur accommodation options for all types of budget:
Some other hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:
Sunshine Bedz KL
Small and friendly hostel with with free breakfast, bar, pub quizzes and organised pub crawls. Check out prices and availability for Sunshine Bedz KL
Mingle Hostel KL
Chinatown hostel located in a renovated 1920s clubhouse with with up-cycled furniture, free breakfast, rooftop bar and on-site café. Check out prices and availability for Mingle Hostel KL
Step-Inn Too Guesthouse
Social hostel located in the Golden Triangle neighbourhood with high-speed Wi-Fi. Check out prices and availability for Step-Inn Too Guesthouse
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are comfy and have great reviews:
THE FACE Suites
Spacious and modern apartments with infinity pool, fitness centre, bars and restaurants. Check out prices and availability for The FACE Suites
Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral
Stylish hotel connected to Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station via a link bridge with a gym, 4 dining options and a spacious outdoor pool. Check out prices and availability for Aloft Kuala Lumpur Sentral
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Kuala Lumpur:
Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
Luxurious 5-star hotel with outdoor swimming pool, 3 on-site restaurants and bar overlooking the Petronas Twin Towers. Check out prices and availability for Grand Hyatt
Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur
Stylish suites and serviced apartments overlooking the city skyline and KLCC Park with infinity outdoor pool, 10 award-winning restaurants and spa. Check out prices and availability for Mandarin Oriental
Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur
Stylish hotel connected to Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station via a link bridge with a gym, 4 dining options and a spacious outdoor pool. Check out prices and availability for Shangri-La Hotel
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Photography equipment for Thaipusam festival in Batu Caves
We used the below kit for the photography featured in this post.
Prime lense – Sigma 30mm F1.4 Sony E-mount
iPhone Xr (128gb)
DSLR camera – Canon 100D
Wide angle lense – Canon EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6