I just got back from this temple a few hours ago and I still can’t get over how amazing the entire place is. From the 100 foot tall statue at the top to the gorgeous pagodas and extravagant interiors, Kek Lok Si deserves to be on everyone’s travel list. The sad part is, I almost convinced myself to skip out on it. After melting in Penang for the last couple of days, I finally booked a hostel room with good air conditioning. I didn’t want to leave. Yes, I am that easily swayed.
Thankfully, I pushed myself to go, and even though it was an ordeal getting there and back, my time at the temple was unforgettable. While I was there, I caught myself wondering how places like the Cristo Redentor or Chichen-Itza were classified as world wonders but Kek Lok Si failed to make it. That’s not a diss to any of the current world wonders, but this Malaysian wonder deserves some recognition.
Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist religious site in South East Asia. The whole place can feel a bit like a maze.
How To Get There
For travelers staying in Georgetown, the biggest task is probably getting to Kek Lok Si in the first place. The cheapest way is to catch a bus at the Komtar bus terminal. It will literally cost you 2 ringgit (about .50 USD) for the entire 45-minute ride. Take any bus going towards the village of Air Itam and let the driver know you want to go to Kek Lok Si. I took bus 204 but I believe that bus 201, 502 and a few others also head in that direction.
An Uber or Grab doesn’t cost much either and will save you about 15-30 minutes compared to a bus ride. When I checked Uber prices, it was about 13 ringgit (3 USD) for a 30-minute ride from Georgetown. If you don’t have Wi-Fi to order an Uber or Grab, a taxi should cost about 25 ringgit one-way.
Best Time To Go
Penang gets hot. Really hot. And it stays hot for most of the day. If you are a morning person, then try to get there around the opening time of 7 AM. There will be much fewer people and the weather will be mostly bearable. The higher you go, the cooler it gets. It’ll never be as hot as it is in Georgetown, but with the sun beaming down on you as you hike up the hills and staircases, you will be drenched in sweat during the journey.
If you can’t make it in the early morning, then try to opt for the late afternoon. The temple closes at 5:30 PM. If you get there around 4 PM, you’ll have sufficient time to catch the best spots. You will definitely feel a bit rushed.
During the Chinese New Year festivities, the temple remains open much later. During the peak of Chinese New Year, it will be open until 11 PM. Once it slows down a bit, it will only be open until 10 PM before returning to normal hours shortly afterward. During Chinese New Year, you will definitely want to stay until after sunset. It feels like a completely different area at night, and I’ll tell you why a bit later.
How Long To Spend There
Like I mentioned earlier, an hour and a half should be sufficient time to see the main attractions if you rush through the rest of the temple. The entire temple complex is amazing, though, and it can easily become an all-day affair. If you want to explore at a more relaxed pace, then 3-4 hours would be ideal.
The details in the temples is among the most intricate I have ever seen. Some of the interiors are among the most extravagant in all of Asia. The big things will capture most tourists’ attention, but I recommend paying extra attention to the little details that most people might overlook. The paintings, carvings, and statues all work together perfectly to make this temple one of the world’s best.
There’s no way this attraction should be free, but it (basically) is. The most you’ll spend is 8 ringgit ($2 USD) but the bare minimum you have to spend is 2 ringgit ( $.50 USD). You don’t have to pay to enter the temple complex itself, but you do have to pay 2 ringgit to enter the pagoda and the grounds surrounding it. It’s well worth it. The pagoda is one of the most iconic sites in all of Penang.
An optional fee is to take the gondola up to the top of the hill where the massive Kuan Yin statue is. That costs 3 ringgit each way and it is well worth it on a sizzling day. You don’t want to miss the Kuan Yin statue. After seeing Singapore’s iconic Merlion statue, I was left wondering why some cities prided themselves on such underwhelming attractions. Looking at you guys, too, Little Mermaid and Manneken-Pis. The Kuan Yin Statue is DOPE. The two epic golden guys overlooking the city are also up there and also DOPE.
Aside from the Kuan Yin statue, there are a couple of cool spots. I don’t know what most of them are called, so I’ll just share a few of my favorite pictures from Kek Lok Si.
On the same hill where Kuan Yin is situated are two other smaller but also epic statues. They overlook the city of Penang and makes for a stunning view, especially around sunset.
Behind the main Kuan Yin statue are probably a hundred (much) smaller replicas of the gigantic statue and a big stone tablet with writing on it. Make sure you don’t miss this while you’re too distracted by the giant statue.
Like I said, pay attention to the small things as well as the big things. The giant pillars surrounding Kuan Yin are etched with some incredible scenes. The ceiling of the pagoda housing Kuan Yin is also beautiful.
Kek Lok Si’s main pagoda is an iconic spot. It features prominently on the Kek Lok Si “skyline.”
Before the pagoda, there is a large, open building with some of the best art I have ever seen in a Buddhist temple. It is colorful, beautiful, and extremely detailed. Take off your shoes and have a walk around.
Before you get to this point, there’s a cute little circle doorway leading to a temple in a courtyard. I’ve noticed it’s a really popular photo spot, so I took a picture there. I would post it, but I was literally drenched in sweat and no one needs to see that.
That courtyard just past the circle doorway is surrounded by identical statues all around. It is really cool, and one of my favorite examples of the insane detail and design that went into perfecting this temple complex.
At the very bottom of the hill just before you enter the temple, there is a tortoise pond. You can pay to feed the tortoises but even if you don’t, it’s a gorgeous spot to take in Kek Lok Si in all of its glory.
Bring an external battery if you have one. You are going to want to take a ridiculous amount of pictures and I guarantee you will drain your phone or camera at a much faster rate than you expect.
There are stores in the temple that sell snacks and drinks but it is more expensive there. Buy a big bottle of water beforehand. It costs about 2 ringgit to buy a 1.5L at a 7-Eleven and about 4 ringgit to buy a 500 ml one at Kek Lok Si. No big deal for most people, but just in case.
Be respectful of the temple. Although it is the largest Buddhist temple complexes in South East Asia, it isn’t a particularly sacred or hallowed spot for Buddhists. It does feel a lot more like a Disneyworld than a Buddhist temple, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise the same respect that you would in any other Buddhist temple.
Lastly, if you get a chance to go during Chinese New Year, you should definitely take it. Seeing the lanterns light up at night and illuminate the entire temple complex was a magical moment. It felt like a completely different place at night. It was like Christmas on steroids, basically.
Kek Lok Si is easily one of the most incredible places I have ever been to. It far exceeded every expectation I had. I know it sounds like I’m hyping this up because that’s what travel bloggers do, but if you’ve read any of my other posts, you’d know that I’ll be blunt as hell about disappointing and underwhelming places. Kek Lok Si is the real deal. Don’t miss out on it.