A visit to Malaysia would be incomplete without a visit to one of its most well-known buildings: the largest Buddhist temple in South-East Asia. Kek Lok Si Temple, with its Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas (made of alabaster and bronze) and its balance of international architectural styles, is a veritable feast for the eyes. Perhaps it will even inspire supreme bliss, as its name in English suggests.
To reach the temple complex, which is only 8 kilometres from World Heritage-listed George Town, hop in a cab (about $8) or jump on the 204 bus. Get off at the temple’s nearby local marketplace; souvenir stalls crowd the temple entrance, selling trinkets, spicy noodles and crafts. You may even purchase some water convolvulus to feed the many tortoises at the Tortoise Liberation Pond. Then prepare yourself for your step towards the aforementioned supreme bliss.
Kek Lok Si’s construction started in the 1890s when a Chinese Buddhist identified the surrounding Crane Hill as having the correct feng shui for a temple. Meander past temples and restaurants within the complex until you reach the main attraction: the seven-storey pagoda that towers above in a combination of Chinese, Thai and Burmese architecture. For a small fee, you can enter the much-adorned pagoda. Search the main prayer hall for the statues of the four heavenly kings who purportedly control the four directions of the compass.
Once you’ve seen the inside, get some fresh air. Climb the steep stairs to the top of the temple for views over Penang and to meet the goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin. At more than 30 metres tall, this bronze statue is hard to miss. If all this beauty has left you breathless, there’s a cable car that allows you a few moments of relaxation as you descend. If possible, arrange to visit during Chinese New Year, when thousands of hanging lanterns decorate the temple. If the timing’s not right, don’t worry. There’s plenty to see here year-round. The temple is open every day from 7am to 9pm, and admission is free, except for the small charge to enter the pagoda or to ride the cable car.