Snake temples, Hindu statues and a hippie invasion

Ganesha statue in Penang
A statue of Ganesha in Penang that made some people smile

Snake temple, a worthy site in Penang

“It’s the only one of its kind in the world!”

I looked up at the Austrian as she read quotes from her guidebook. Florian was an over-excited-about-everything type. Still, she was also not the pushy type and I’d been meaning to visit the snake temple for a while.

After a breakfast of roti canai at Mustafa’s, it was onto a bus to the Snake temple at Sungai Kluang.

Snakes in the Temple

More quote’s from the guidebook by Florian.

It’s a tiny temple, made famous by a statue brought from China of Char Soo Kong, a healer. And, a nest of snakes that have taken up residence in a makeshift hat stand.

Viper from the Snake temple in Penang
It’s not advisable to touch the vipers!

The temple was built in 1850. Legend has it that the monk building it gave shelter to snakes from the surrounding jungle; then when the temple was completed, the snakes moved in.

Not so poisonous snakes, according to “the book”

“Can I touch?”

Austrians have no fear of snakes it seemed.

“I probably wouldn’t,” was my reply.

Disappointed, Florian read some more from the book. Then, quoted something about it not being advisable to touch the snakes. Happy with the books word, she moved on to the “photo with a snake room” for an obligatory photo.

I cringed. Maybe my choice of travel partner today had been a little too hasty.

If it’s not in the book …

Thankfully during the mandatory snake photos Florian was paying for I met Eric. A solo Australian traveler who was equally unimpressed with the queues of tourists waiting for compulsory photo’s of giant pythons around their necks.

“You seen the Hindu temple down the road?”

“No, anything special?” I asked.

“Yer, no snakes?”

Sri Vishwanather Sri Visalatchi Temple in Penang
Sri Vishwanather Sri Visalatchi Temple in Penang

Florian didn’t get the humor, and near on refused to go. Apparently the Hindu temple wasn’t in the book, so she’d automatically dismissed it.

A quite beautiful Hindu temple (Sri Vishwanather Sri Visalatchi Temple)

I’m not sure why, but Hindu temples when freshly painted always look so new to me. As we had no information about it, I had no idea when it had been built. (edit – thanks to Blake for leaving a comment which identifies this as the Sri Vishwanather Sri Visalatchi Temple)

Inside the main temple were pillars that on each face had a statue of Hindu god. I’ve seen plenty of Hindu gods, but these looked very new, freshly painted, and very well displayed.

Florian rushed by, and was now sitting on the steps reading from her guidebook. Eric was in no rush, chatting to some Indian men nearby.

The small things make the unknown beautiful

I was standing in an unknown temple with some beautiful statues happily photographing each one without a care in the world. Then, nearly stepping on his toes, I bounced back to see that an Indian man in white robes standing beside me.

He smiled.

I frowned, then nodded.

He did the Indian head waggle thing.

I did my semi head waggle to the side.

Then he moved on to a very elaborate statue of Ganesha and pointed to it for a photo.

I obliged.

The man broke into larger smile. He didn’t want to see the photo, he was just happy I’d taken a photograph of it.

Simple things like that make me happy

One moody Austrian

Eric had by now eaten a full meal of rice and dhal with some local workers at the temple.

Hindu statues in Penang, Malaysia
Hindu statues in Penang, Malaysia

While Florian was red-faced, sweating on the temple steps, and no longer talking to us it seemed.

I guess her book had run out of interesting things to read. We suggested she write to the book’s publisher and tell them about this Hindu temple, but it was to no avail.

It looked like Florian had marked out a series of new must see places from her book.

Eric winced as I made an excuse to head back to my guesthouse, alone.

The quite life in Penang comes to an end

Life in Penang had been good for a while. There was me, Georgetown’s beautiful colonial streets, some great food and the odd day trip like todays.

True, my guest house had walls made from what looked like cardboard. And yes, sometimes I really got too much of an earful of what my neighbors were up to. But, I had headphones and loud music, so was never too pushed.

All this was about to change.

Fresh from an afternoon shower I noticed giant dirty footprints running along the corridor. It’s a “keep your shoes on” guesthouse, why or what could possibly be running around barefoot?

Invasion of the hippies in Penang

My answer came downstairs at the cafe. A table of barefooted, deadlocked and thoroughly unwashed backpacking hippies had taken up residence here.

I stood there in mild shock. Though I’d seen the odd hippie in Georgetown, most stayed near the pubs and bar hostel type places.

Living true to their new age lifestyle … from a few decades ago.

I should have guessed one of them would stumble upon my cheaper than cheap refuge.

Visa runs from Thailand

Hippies from Nepal
When the hippies come … I know it’s time to leave

It seemed like the hippies were down from some beach hangout in Southern Thailand to renew their visas.

My theory that India and Thailand had designated hippie breeding centers was looking more real every day.

In Nepal they would come up from India in bus loads. Now in Malaysia, they come down in bus loads from Thailand.

Maybe it’s a trans-migratory hippie breeding season type thing or something?

Penang’s streets now seemed to have a pair of threadbare backpacking hippies on every corner.

Time for my own solo migration

I sat in Mustafa’s watching the odd hippie walk by. I smiled as I wrote to a friend of mine about the “Hippie Invasion”.

Not to worry, soon when they’ve fried their brains with all manner of cheap concoctions. Blackened their lungs with an array of smoking substances.

Run out of thread to patch up their baggy pants.

Gone to the extremes of skeletal diarrhea, or simply caught some sort of communal fungal infection, the inevitable happens:

They shower, they cut their hair, they locate their gap year clothing, they go home to mom’s cooking and become tomorrows bank managers and corporate leaders.

So yes, it is indeed; time for me to leave West Malaysia …

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Coming soon:

Conclusions on what it would be like to live in West Malaysia

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29 Replies to “Snake temples, Hindu statues and a hippie invasion”

  1. Oh Dave, loved this read. I’ve met so many people with guide book blinkers over the years. It’s quite funny actually trying to convince them to leave the realms of the book, just for a minute. The hippie invasion and subsequent return home is 100% on the money. The designer hippie era, has been around for many years now. Loved the bit about tomorrows bank managers.

    1. Glad you enjoyed Jason. I’ll fully admit to carrying “parts” of a guidebook most of the time. Mainly the map sections and highlights. But, it’s getting less frequent. I don’t get people that follow everything they say, word by word.

      As for designer hippies … yea, I honestly don’t have much time for them. Though I’m sure if I photographed a few now, I might make some money when they become rich and famous!

  2. Dave,

    I’ve been reading your blog for several months now, and one of the things that strikes me as interesting is that you write a lot about food, historical sites, general religious and political atmospheres, and climate. But as a general rule, you do not say much about actual people. For me, more than any other single factor, the human beings I interact with and befriend are the highlight of my travels–in fact are the most important reason that I travel. This article stands out as unique in that regard. The diversity of human worldviews and lifestyles, and our ability to create meaningful friendships across such diversity, represents the richest lesson of travel and the source of its vitality for me. If you are genuinely looking for “home” it is not in any place, but in the connections and communications you establish with the people around you. If this article (and the general absence of people-related news in previous articles) is any indication of your typical travel experience, I would offer that perhaps you make an honest evaluation of the quality of your ability to travel well–in other words, to meet people at face value and communicate in a non-condescending manner in a way that enriches the human community. Articles such as this one only show that your personal and cultural prejudices are getting in the way of living life as it is (complete with guidebooks and hippies) and enjoying all of its elements to the fullest. In what ways did you refuse to let go of your own internal “guidebook” of expectations for other people in the interactions you describe? How did your attachment to those expectations, and the resentments that arose when those expectations were not met, influence your ability to respond creatively and compassionately in those moments? What I am suggesting is that the frustration you vent in this article has as much to do with yourself as with other people, and that you thus have the ability to make different and more creative choices in the future as you continue your travels and your travel writings.

    I write this with sincerity, in the hopes that if you were to encounter identical situations in the future you could navigate your interpersonal adventures with a greater degree of enjoyment. I also would like to point out that the quality of your abilities in this department reflect outwards to all of your readers, who otherwise may be tempted to reinforce in their own lives the short-sighted resentments and prejudices espoused in this article.


    1. Nico,

      You certainly raise some very honest, intelligent, and interesting points in you comment. I enjoyed reading it. I would like to address a few things you bring up.

      In regards to not writing much about the people I meet. You are correct. And, there are a few reasons for that. Firstly, at the bottom of this blog page I have some quick FAQ’s about my journal. I do mention that I don’t write people’s real names, or nationalities. I say this, as I’ve seen many people take offence from others in the past. Also, I don’t like to single out individual people that I meet. Also, with a popular site like this, I have many people from all walks of life. One example being the people following me on Twitter often read me complaining about hippies in sarcastic humorous ways (I hope). Such people may read my hippie thoughts a little differently from passersby. And so it goes. Believe me when I say the first draft of this was a lot more … how can I say … “hostile” towards the modern hippie. As such, I don’t want to single any one person I meet out, and say this person is bad in my view.

      Which leads me to your points about not interacting positively with others I meet when I travel. Please understand that what I write here, is only part of what I really write. A lot of the people I meet are in my offline journal, that I transcribe into my book.

      To go a little further into your points I can also say that in my two years in The Philippines I tried very hard to socialize with local people. And, ultimately failed. This I can generally conclude is due to cultural and societal differences on both sides. Though I will be slightly biased and say I did do above and beyond the call of duty for a long time. Do please check out me social integration posts.

      In relation to socializing with other travelers. I will admit that the longer I travel. The harder this is. I would say these days the greater proportion of fellow travelers I meet hold little interest in me. I liken this to when you’ve been to the sahara, other deserts hold little interest for me. The majority of travelers I meet are eager to see different parts of a place than I do. They are traveling on a limited time, they are motivated to see sights, and skim cultures. Which is great! But I’ve been there, done that, and seen many people do the same thing so many times over.

      Am I jaded by travel? No. Am I jaded by other travelers? No. There simply comes a point that the average traveler has little to say that interests me anymore. As people, yes some can be very interesting. But when they travel, many turn off this side of them and ignite their travelers “Talk” side. Which, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen and heard many a time.

      There are of course exceptions. I recently met up with a great German person who I got on very well with, and we shared similar outlooks on just this subject. Also a fantastic French girl who had a very dark sense of humor which I also enjoyed. And, no I didn’t write much about them. Why? Because I enjoy those memories for myself. And, moreover, if I wrote that this French girl and I laughed ourselves off stools when a young Malaysia kid flipped over is motorbike speeding up and down a lane and landed on top of a old woman’s stall who then proceeded to beat him. Well, I think many more people might not like to read that.

      So yes, ultimately there is also an element of personality one also must take into account. To the new traveler I meet in a guesthouse I often come across as opinionated, brash and rude. But, sorry for them, I know I need to bargain to get a good price. I know when there are too many tourists and not enough taxi’s that it will be expensive.

      I know the girl reading out of the guide book may be a lovely person who’s a newly qualified dentist that can offer me advise. But, she’s traveling and not interested in talking about “work”. And, neither am I. And, I know following a guidebook word for word like this is as good as just watching the “site” on the discovery channel.

      I’ve actually got a draft about what it’s like to meet people after 6.5 years of no-return travel coming up in a few weeks which addresses some of these points. I’ve nearly written a whole post in reply to you in the meantime!

      I hope I’ve answered some of your questions at least. Many thanks for taking the time to write such a comment. Again, I enjoyed it and hope to hear some of your observations again soon.

      1. And they say comments are a waste of time on blogs!.

        I trully enjoyed reading Nico’s comment above and your response Dave. I feel it lends itself to another small peice of the puzzle, that makes up your travelling life and reveals another tiny peice of the man behind the mask.

        1. @Jason Very much agreed! I really enjoy the insightful comments readers of TLWH write here.

          I’d rather one comment like those from you, Nico or from many of the other great regular readers here than standard blog comments of “cool post” “nice photo” etc.

          Yes, it’s always good to get a comment. But I do think comments like the ones left on this site benefit everyone. Not just the curious one’s :) But, also the ones that dig deeper into an article itself. It makes for good reading on all sides!

  3. Wow the Hindu temple shot is gorgeous! I didn’t know the skies in Penang were so blue? :) And funny stories of your travel partner and the hippies. So sad that you’re leaving West Malaysia already but definitely looking forward to read more of your stories in other parts of the world! :)

    1. Lot’s of people have been mentioning about the sky in Penang. There’s a lot of cloud around. But mid morning if often breaks. And, in the late afternoon the light is fabulous. Next week, conclusions on living in “west” Malaysia! :)

  4. Do I sense an underling bevy of sarcasm here? RE “The Book”, personal observations, feelings or just good writing? :)

    I’ll join you with the hippie bashing. Today’s hippies are not what they once used to be. As Jason suggested above, and you in your text, designer hippies are a far cry from hippies of yesterday.

    1. Can I take the “good writing” quote? :) Sarcasm is everywhere their is a person with their nose following word for word a guidebook. Almost like joining the dots!

      Designer hippies … No,I’m not a fan. Hippes from the 60’s et al. So long as they have had a few showers since then, and changed their clothes, I don’t have a problem. But today’s type, yes, stay clear ;)

  5. Right. On. The. Money. Hippies should be stamped out at all costs ;)

    As for guide books, they are just so obsolete! Carrying around a heavy book, reading the brief opinions of one author, who has spent a minimal amount of time in a particular place, just so you can see all the same attractions, eat the same food, and stay in the same beds that everyone else does? No thanks.

    Web sites such as this one are the guide books of the future. On the internet, you can get all the info you need, from a wide-range of authors, with no vested interests.

    BUT, and I like big buts (I cannot lie) : in any case, the best travel experiences tend to happen when you just go wandering, walking around, in non-familiar places.

    My advice to travellers – screw the guide book. Walk, talk to locals, and live a little spontaneous.

    Dave, hopefully, I’m just spelling out what is between your lines. Keep doing what you’re doing.


    (another bloody Australian traveller)

    PS, down with hippies!

    PPS, second post, this may get addictive.

    1. Hello again Nathan. I might start a hippie neutering service soon if you’d like to join ;)

      I only carry torn out pages and photocopies of maps, and highlights these days. I think with my next phone upgrade I will do away with paper all together. Wiki travel does the highlights very well. And places to stay are not a problem on the internet.

      And yes, I agree with you. Some of my best experiences have just been from wondering around side streets and everyday conversations. You can end up in all sorts of places that will never end up in a guidebook.

      So yes, I think your read between my lines quite well! Long live the hippie bashers, and welcome to my addiction ;)

  6. Are there still hippies? ;) i’d rather hug a snake than a hippie …

  7. I admit to sometimes using guidebooks. I like to have some idea of what I’m looking at. On the other hand, I’m just as happy (if not more so) checking out something NOT in the guidebook.

    As for the hippies, well yes, they are an interesting group, aren’t they? I always wonder about a group for whom time seems to stop. Who decided that 1968 was the penultimate year for fashion, music, and recreational pleasures?

    When my husband and I did our RTW (a million years ago now it seems) we coined a phrase in Nepal, “been out too long.” To this day, it’s not unusual to turn to each other and say, “that one’s been out too long.” “Gone feral” was another expression we picked up in Australia. And isn’t it true about all these back to nature types? Don’t they all have laptops, ipads, and other expensive toys, and as soon as they really run out of money, end up calling mummy for a ticket home?

    BTW, I have no problem with your posts focusing on people. And a little snark every once in a while is perfectly fine. ;-)

    1. I actually don’t mind guidebooks! I know it might seem that way when I keep bashing them (gotta vent), but I do find parts of them interesting. What I don’t like, is when people follow them word for word. Or follow the “walking tours” exactly as it’s mapped out! One might as well just stay at home and watch it all on Nat Geo.

      As for hippies of yesteryear … hmmm I’ll write privately here and mention that even the “60’s” hippies annoy me :) Mainly it’s the unwashed, clothes and hair thing. The peace to all thing. The whole communal living until the money runs out thing … yea, well, most everything it seems ;) But today’s designer hippies are a different breed that really do my head in. I don’t get the whole make believe lifestyle that only lasts as long as their travels. So yes, you and your husband certainly got some of those names right!

      Thanks for the “snark” backup! One’s gotta vent every now and then! :)

  8. Malaysia is dull tense unfriendly and expensive, that is why you are given a 3 month visa on entry.

    Why don’t you try Isaan region in North East Thailand ? I would love to hear what you think of all the edible insects, raw pork, burning chili salads, sticky rice , isaan language, friendly people and the local Morlam music .

    PS VERY VERY cheap too ! even cheaper than Palawan

    1. I think you might find my article on Sunday/Monday interesting. Malaysia is a large region, with each area offering something different. Expensive? Compared to Thailand recently … hmmm, arguable.

      I’ll certainly check out the Isaan region when I am there. A lot going on at the moment, as you’ll see from my newsletter going out next week. Thanks for the tips as always!

  9. Florian is a male German name ;)
    Wonder what her real name was then …

    Mixed experiences with those people from the mountains as well. Went there with my parents every summer until I was old enough to say “no thanks”…

    Sadly I missed that hindu temple as well. Usually the snakes are made so sleepy that they hardly move. Our guide also said that they had their poisonous tooth removed.
    I have a big snake phobia so I stayed very very far.

    1. Don’t tell that to a French girl I met not so long ago ;) Then again … the French … (Bonjour! they are reading)

      I heard the same thing about the snakes. Not my favorite place, but worth highlighting for the guidebook fixation alone. The Hindu temple is certainly worth a visit, I think it’s quite new.

  10. Hi, the Hindu temple that you visited is known as Sri Vishwanather Sri Visalatchi Temple. Or in simpler term, its a temple of Lord Shiva, the God with the power to destroy (not in a bad way but in a good way). You can google it up:) Nice trip in Penang by the way, and beautiful photos, they make Penang looks really nice:)

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