Guide to Kek Lok Si Temple or Temple of Supreme Bliss in Air Itam, Penang Malaysia
This huge buddhist temple in Air Itam, Penang, Malaysia first began construction in 1890, and construction continues today.
That said, this huge hill like compound is very much worth a visit if you are visiting Penang or North West Malaysia.
How to get to Kek Lok Si temple via Air Itam
From the central bus station in Georgetown called Komtar, or the bus station near the Ferry Port take either buses 201, 203, 204, 306 or the 502. There’s an information counter at both bus terminals, and they’ll tell you which bus is next.
The bus driver will understand Air Itam, which is basically the end of the line. Or better yet just say Kek Lok Si Temple, and he’ll tell you where to get off. Not that you can miss it if you are keeping an eye out!
If driving, the road will lead you straight up to the top of the temple area!
Battling the hill of markets and hawkers to get to Kek Lok Si Temple
It’s not really a battle. But as you turn left off the main route where the bus drops you there’s little signage, and some building work going on. Basically keep to the left and there’s a small tunnel like start to a bunch of souvenir stalls. This is where you walk.
Be prepared to walk up several steps leading up the hill. On either-side hawkers will inundate you with “Buy t-shirt” , “Hello Mister/ Miss buy good price”
Ignore all, keep to the left until you get to a giant metal circular window looking down on a mass of imprisoned Turtles in Liberation Pond (irony). If you want to see Turtle cruelty due to over crowding at it’s finest, stop here. Otherwise continue on either left or right around this part, cross a little bridge with the first of many beggars and continue on up to a shop restaurant area.
It’s all a lot easier and more pleasant from now on!
My favorite temple is the first, – the three smiling Buddhas or Chamber of Seated Buddhas
I walked up the ramp surrounded by some beautiful small pagodas, the main Kek Lok Si temple gazing down to the right as a pillar of fresh yellows and white. The main ramp up has a few beggars on either side looking for change, no one really hassles you, and they don’t go any further up.
Surrounding the first temple on either side are walls containing rows of identical standing Buddhas. While, just up ahead is great view overlooking Penang, and worth a sit down and look out. A place I sat for a while looking over Penang.
Behind the temple is a simple shop, selling chanting CD’s, prayer beads and a few camera batteries. It’s actually work going inside as they also have an impressive displaying of pink candles flickering away.
Upstairs the temple itself contains 3 large golden Buddhas, all smiling in slightly different poses.
I do like, good, Buddha statues. As in, well presented and detailed ones. This first temple area, Pavilion of Seated Buddhas, is perhaps my favorite. Sitting inside are three golden Buddhas, all smiling, and all with slightly different hand positions.
It’s their eyes that I like the most. The detail, to me, seemed slightly beyond the normal statue coloring.
Not many people go inside. And if they do, they just go for a quick prayer.
Onwards to the giant Guardians
Behind this, is an inner chamber leading to a prayer area. This chamber contains a buddha and two huge guardians. All covered in giant glass panels. It’s worth taking note of the massive guardians and they have under foot what looks to be like an African slave. I’m probably way off with that (Indian?), but this is what I saw.
Taking a funicular to the Goddess of Mercy Pavilion
Pay a few ringget and take a funicular up to the massive Kuan Yin, or Goddess of Mercy statue (Mahayana Buddhism). The Goddess of Mercy Pavilion is 82.7 meters tall. The pavilion roof is supported by 16 granite pillars embellished with ornate carvings. The pavilion was built at a cost of RM40 million, and this is the second attempt at building it. The first ending in a fire and heavy rain in 1993.
Goddess of Mercy Pavilion impressive or not so impressive?
Yes, it’s impressive, for volume alone. But dig a little deeper and discover that this statue still is not finished. Disputes cover
payments and completion dates mar its finalization. Moreover, if you look closely at the construction, and carvings somethings seem not to be finished well. Already there are some cracks appear, and little sealing.
More disappointing to a tourist is that you can’t get into the pavilion as it’s often sealed off due to said construction. Beside all this, it’s well worth the visit. The surrounding views over Penang and the gardens are very nice.
Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas
A small payment is needed to get a ticket into the (star) attraction that is Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas. A winding staircase leads you up floor after circular floor. On each floor is a small are with a unique buddha statue. The aim of the game is to make it all the way to the top without getting too creeped out by the hight.
At the very top you are rewarded by a stunning view of the Kek Lok Si temple and all of Penang. A word of warning though, if you are not fond of heights, you may not like this climb. At the top, the pagoda feels quite narrow, and on a windy day you may also feel that lurching feeling that often comes with heights.
Overall experience at Kek Lok Si temple
I’ve been here more than once. The first was on a weekend, and it was quite overcrowded. The second was during a weekday, and far more enjoyable.
I’m quite “templed out”, when it comes to Buddhist or Chinese temples. Few hold interest to me these days. But far from being an attraction just because it’s South East Asia’s largest Buddhist temple.
Kek Lok Sis is a very enjoyable experience and well worth a day visit for solo or family travelers alike.
Off the tourist trail?
I met up with a group of travelers a few days later who were taking a very expensive all costs included tour through Malaysia. Their guide, a New Zealander, refused to acknowledge this place existed. I found this very strange. Perhaps I’d caught him off guard and he was trying to protect his reputation.
If you are taking a tour of Malaysia, then make sure this is on your guides to-do-list.
That being said, it’s a very easy independent trip to make!
It’s also a good place to come and simply sit in the gardens (bring your own food). The views are great, it’s peaceful, and you won’t get touts annoying you.
Penang’s allure pulls me in
I’ll come out on a limb, and say Penang is winning me over in terms of places to stay or even live. I can understand why too. Everything is spread out, and there is more to see and do here than you’d first expect.
However, the best thing about Penang, Malaysia that I like, is its ability to hide tourists. They are there, but I rarely see the same ones over and over again.
Penang also seems to offer something for everyone. It’s got that hard to beat feeling of a place with many layers. And, layers are something I enjoy. It keeps me stimulated and interested in a place. It can be an easy here, or you can set a challenge to keep you occupied. I am doing that right now.
Just like Kek Lok Si Temple, it’s hard to get a bad feeling about Penang.
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A morbid sense of the past …
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