Travel & Places Asia Pacific

Kek Lok Si Temple

While its claim as the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia is disputed, Kek Lok Si inarguably remains the most impressive Buddhist temple in Malaysia. The sprawling temple is perched conspicuously on a hillside and provides amazing views of Georgetown. Kek Lok Si holds the record in Malaysia for tallest temple pavilion, the tallest granite pillars, and the tallest statue of Kuan Yin - the Goddess of Mercy.

More than just a tourist attraction, Kek Lok Si Temple is an important place of worship for both Taoists and Mahayana Buddhists. The temple becomes an impressive site during Chinese New Year when thousands of lanterns and candles provide an atmosphere that forces visitors into a whisper.

The History of Ke Lok Si

Construction of Kek Lok Si began in 1890 and finished with a grand opening in 1905. The temple opening was blessed with a stone tablet and 70,000 copies of the Imperial Edition of the Buddhist Sutras by Manchu Emperor Guangxu, who died three years after.

The most iconic part of the temple - the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas - was not constructed until 1930. The 100-foot-tall statue of Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, was added to the temple in 2002. Construction of an elaborate shelter around the statue continues even today, funded by the Malaysian Chinese community.

Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas

Aside from the bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas is the biggest draw to Kek Lok Si.

Also known as Ban Po That, the official name of the pagoda is "Pagoda of Rama VI" because a king of Thailand laid the first stone. With a Chinese-inspired base, Thai design, and Burmese ceiling, the pagoda represents a blend of Buddhist beliefs rarely seen in Southeast Asian temples. At 291 feet, the pagoda has become an iconic image in Penang.

Visiting Kek Lok Si Temple

  • Entrance: free
  • Open Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Food: An excellent vegetarian restaurant can be found beneath the temple, or you can purchase food in the Air Itam market.
  • The cost to enter the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas is 66 cents.
  • A return ticket for the cable car to the Kuan Yin statue is $1.33. Although one-way tickets can be purchased, there is no easy way to walk down from the statue.
  • Check for free books of Buddhist quotes, bookmarks, and other freebies often given out.

Read more about etiquette in Buddhist temples before you visit Kek Lok Si.

Getting to the Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si is located around 40 minutes outside of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia. Take bus #201, #203, #204, or any bus signed for Air Itam from the Komtar shopping complex in Georgetown. The one-way fare should be around 66 cents; a taxi costs around $10 one-way depending on your negotiation skills.

Once in the village of Air Itam, ask directions to Kek Lok Si or make your way through the market toward the temple situated conspicuously on the hillside.

Many travelers opt to tack on a visit to the strange Snake Temple - or even a two-hour hike to Balik Pulau - when visiting Kek Lok Si.

When to Visit Kek Lok Si

Chinese New Year is celebrated with extreme enthusiasm at Kek Lok Si - record crowds attended the 2010 year of the Tiger celebration to see the 10,000 lanterns on display. If you can't time your visit with Chinese New Year, try visiting the temple at sunset for incredible photo opportunities.

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