MalaysiaPenang Free All Year Indoor/Outdoor
Religious

Kek Lok Si Temple

One of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia and the center of Chinese New Year celebrations in Penang, Kek Lok Si temple is an important pilgrimage for Buddhists. The complex contains several buildings and courtyards worth exploring, the most significant being a 36.5-metre (120 feet) high statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin, and a 7-story pagoda housing 10,000 Buddha statues.

The compound has 3 main sections, the Temple Ground with a turtle liberation pond and several market stalls selling souvenirs and religious items like incense; the Mid-Section with flowering gardens, statues, and prayer halls; and the Hilltop, accessible via a slanted elevator, home to the towering Kuan Yin statue, terraced gardens, and temples. Other notable features include, dragon-shaped pillars, bell towers, red circular gateways, and terraced rooftops. Several designs symbolize harmony between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.

During a 30-day period leading to and during Chinese New Year, Kek Lok Si's open hours extend until 11:30pm allowing more time to explore the exquisite temple adorned with over 200,000 fairy lights and 20,000 Chinese lanterns.

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Price

Free

Time Spent

45-120minutes

Fitness level: Some effort

Hours

8:30am-5:30pm7 days

Look Around

View of main pagodaView of main pagoda
WalkwaysWalkways
View from upper gardenView from upper garden
Car park entranceCar park entrance
Red archwaysRed archways
Religious stauesReligious staues
Main courtyardMain courtyard
Kek Lok Si at Chinese New Year

Who Will Like Kek Lok Si Temple

Culture Buff

Wander through the peaceful religious complex and admire the harmony between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist styles.

Bucketlist Bandit

Visit during Chinese New Year to witness the massive complex illuminated in a colorful sea of fairy lights and Chinese lanterns.

Photography Whiz

Marvel at the many interesting angles of the temple's unique architecture. Make use of the colorful archways that create interesting frames. The upper levels also provide a vantage point for a uninterrupted panorama of the island during the day.

Insider Tips For Kek Lok Si Temple

  • Other than during Chinese New Year, the best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid midday crowds.
  • The Hilltop can be reached via an inclined elevator that costs RM2 (USD$0.46) each way.
  • Entrance to the Pagoda costs RM2 (USD$0.46).
  • Red archways on the mid-level make an artistic frame for portraits.
  • The temple complex gets extremely crowded during Chinese New Year, especially at night, but visiting at sunset to watch the lights turn on is worth it.
  • Allow extra time during Chinese New Year as traffic jams in streets surrounding the temple are very common. Parking is also hard to find during this time, so rideshare and scooters are the preferred transport options.
  • Chinese New Year lanterns and light decorations are slightly different each year, so it's something you can enjoy more than once.

Video

Where Is It

11500 Air Itam, Penang

Open map...

How To Get There

Rideshare

Drivers pick up and drop off at the main car park, off Jalan Balik Pulau.

Walking directions from rideshare...

Motorbike

Plenty of parking for scooters and motorbikes within main carpark for RM1 (USD$0.23) per bike.

Walking directions from motorbike...

Car

RM2 (USD$0.46) • Large car park with plenty of spots except during Chinese New Year.

Driving directions... Walking directions from car...

BusPekan Air Hitam, Jalan Balik Pulau

201, 203, 204, 206, 306, U502 502, CAT 1A

12-minute walk southwest, up the hill.

Walking directions from bus...

What To Bring

Do:
  • Drinking water. Uphill walking in humid weather is thirsty work.
  • Comfortable shoes easy to slip on and off.
  • Cash for parking, souvenirs, and elevator.
  • Modest clothing or sarong.
  • Camera.

Tech & Photography

Wifi

Public wifi access: None

Photography

Photography allowed: Yesflash is ok

Tripod allowed: Yes

Selfie sticks allowed: Yes

Best time to shoot: Early Morning & Late Afternoon

Tips: When shooting at night during Chinese New Year, use a tripod and set your ISO low (100 is recommended) and use manual focus for tack-sharp images. During the day, the temple looks gorgeous from the perspective of a drone, especially when you fly northeast of the complex and face west-southwest.

Drones

Drones allowed: Yes (subject to national/regional rules)

Bags

Backpacks allowed: Yes

Secured bag lockers available: No

Food & Drink

A small vegetarian restaurant is located on the basement level of the temple. The nearest cluster of restaurants, including popular street food stalls Sister's Curry Mee and iconic Air Itam Asam Laksa, are located on Jalan Paya Terubung, a 15-minute walk from the temple.

Don't underestimate this humble laksa joint - it received rave reviews from celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain who declared the dish was "the breakfast of Gods" and stated "I almost said 'yummy' there. What the f*** is happening to me?" on series No Reservations (season 8, episode 10).

Backstory

It all began in 1885, when Buddhist priest, Venerable Beow Lean, visited Penang on a mission to collect donations for the renovation of a monastery in China. Struck by locals' deep devotion to Chinese Buddhism, Beow Lean decided to stay and build a temple doubling as a retreat center for Buddhists. He chose to build the temple on a 12-hactare plot of land on Ayer Itam, called Crane Hill because of its shape resembling a crane spreading its wings. The hill provided ideal feng shui for a prominent temple.

Construction of the Kek Lok Si complex began in 1890 and reached completion in 1930. The main pagoda is especially significant because of its blend of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. It's Chinese octagonal base and Thai-style middle tier are topped with a Burmese crown.

Kek Lok Si is considered one of the most important Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia and has received gifts from multiple Chinese emperors over the years. Childless Buddhist women traditionally visit the Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy statue to pray for fertility.

Etiquette

Do:
  • Make a donation to the temple.
  • Cover your knees and shoulders.
  • Take off your shoes before entering temples and prayer halls.
  • Be quiet, especially in places of prayer.
Don't:
  • Climb structures or fences.
  • Shout. Try to keep voices hushed.

Scorecard

Best Parts:
  • Architectural beauty with stone statues, pagodas, and landscaped gardens.
  • Religious significance for Chinese Buddhists.
  • Views over the island of Penang.
  • Fairy light and Chinese lantern decorations during Chinese New Year.
Could Be Better:
  • Steep stairs to climb and large area to walk around in Penang's muggy weather.
  • Vendors and beggars can hassle tourists to buy unwanted souvenirs or donate money.
  • Extremely crowded during Chinese New Year resulting in traffic gridlocks in the surrounding area.
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