the coolest temple in Penang: a guide to Kek Lok Si

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Those visiting Penang are often there for the beaches, Malaysian seafood, and the UNESCO Heritage Site of Georgetown with its interactive street art— all worthy reasons for making a trip to the island. However, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia is also located in Penang and many visitors either aren’t sure how to get there, or don’t know it exists. Others may have heard of Kek Lok Si, but they aren’t aware of its vastness or its other attributes that make it worthy of a visit. I’m here to tell you exactly why it’s worth a visit, how to get there, and all the other details you need to know before you go.


READ ON FOR everything YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING KEK LOK SI TEMPLE


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A LITTLE ABOUT KEK LOK SI’S HISTORY

As previously mentioned, Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Because of its size, it is a place of pilgrimage for many Monks and Novices from across Southeast Asia. The construction of the temple reflects the diversity of Malaysia, with bits of the top pagoda showcasing Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architectural styles.

The temple is like a complex. It consists of multiple prayer halls, a bell tower, and a giant pagoda with 10,000 statues of Buddha.

The pièce de résistance of the temple is a massive statue of the Goddess of Mercy from most Taoist doctrines, known as Kuan Yin. Although the statue being constructed in 2002 doesn’t get it much historic credit, standing over 30 meters tall makes it inarguably impressive.

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kek lok si temple
kek lok si temple

HOW TO GET THERE

Kek Lok Si Temple is about 9-10 kilometers from the tourist hotspot Georgetown, making its location convenient, but not really walkable. There are three main options for getting to the temple.

RENT A MOTORBIKE //

I’d only ever advise an experienced motorbike driver rent a bike and drive around in Southeast Asia, as rules of the road typically don’t exist and aren’t always followed where they do. Shops around town will have sidewalk advertisements where you can hire a scooter or motorbike. Most hostel or hotel staff can also point you in the right direction if you need help. Prices for hiring will vary. It takes approximately 30-40 minutes to ride from Georgetown to Kek Lok Si. You can park your motorbike at the temple for 1 MYR.

TAKE THE LOCAL BUS //

A local bus will take you to Air Itam, the area where Kek Lok Si Temple is located. The bus costs 2 RM per person {roughly USD $0.54 at time of publishing}. You can get on either bus #203 or #204 from the Komtar Bus Terminal.

GET A TAXI OR GRAB //

By now, we’re all sick of hearing me rave about the controversial Grab app {like the Uber of Southeast Asia}. You simply download the app onto your phone, type in “Kek Lok Si” in as your destination, and the app finds a ride for you. You have options to book either a motorbike or a car Grab ride, and you can also pay either by cash or by card. Depending on city traffic, a taxi ride could take 30-50 minutes. This is the method I chose to get to Kek Lok Si, because it saved me time and was only 22 MYR {roughly USD $5.29 at time of publishing} for the 40-minute ride, which was split between two people.

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WHEN TO VISIT + HOW LONG TO STAY

Kek Lok Si is open to the public from 8:30 AM - 5:30 PM. Arriving at 9:00 AM almost on the dot, I had the temple to myself albeit a couple having a chat on a bench in the garden near the entrance. By 10:00 AM, I heard the foot steps of tourists clambering up the stairs of the top pagoda. I’d suggest arriving early if you want to get photos without people in them or if you want soak up the temple’s peace and quiet.

Like I’ve said, the temple grounds are large. I spent about two hours roaming around, taking photos, exploring every nook and cranny. In my opinion, it takes about that long to fully enjoy the views, the multiple halls, and every level of the grounds.

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tiles in kek lok si temple
kek lok si temple

ADMISSION + PAID ENTRANCE AREAS

Admission to Kek Lok Si in general is free, however, there are specific areas of the temple that require paying to enter. If you’d like to go to the top pagoda {I definitely suggest you do}, you’ll be required to pay 2 MYR {approximately USD $0.54 at time of publishing} per person to climb to the top. This pagoda offers lush island views and an aerial view of the entire temple area, so it’s absolutely worth paying for admittance.

The inclined lift, which is the first of its kind in Malaysia, can give you a ride from the lower entrance point on the road to the temple’s midway section and then can take you up further to the statues at the top of the temple. Each ride on the inclined lift with cost you 3 MYR {approximately USD $0.72}. The only other option for getting to the top statue is to walk alongside the road. This isn’t usually advised because it isn’t always safe walking along the edge of a road, especially where driving laws are…loose at best, but obviously it’s also not advised because the temple is hoping you’ll pay the lift fee and help support their efforts to construct another larger pagoda and maintain the temple grounds.

My suggestion? Pay the money. It’s less than a dollar and keeps you a bit safer. Plus, what’s the harm in helping insure the place stays gorgeous, amirite?

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WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU

Visitors who want to check out the top pagoda or utilize the inclined lift should bring cash to cover those fees. Malaysia gets very hot, like most of Southeast Asia, so bringing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a water bottle never hurts. If you want photos, make sure to bring your camera. I’d also suggest packing a scarf or a conservative outfit just in case rules get put in place and are enforced.

  • cash

  • sunscreen

  • sunglasses

  • reusable water bottle

  • camera

  • extra outfit or scarf

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HOW TO DRESS

Despite Kek Lok Si being a Buddhist temple, it has no enforced dress code. I had brought a change of clothes just in case, even though in all the online research I had done I never found any dress requirements. After checking with the workers at Kek Lok Si upon arrival, it turns out there is no specific dress code at the temple. Having lived in China, I remember that most Chinese temples also do not have a dress code. Honestly, I got to the temple before most crowds, but as we were leaving we saw vans of tourists pulling up wearing just about everything.

What I’d say? Pack something that covers your shoulders and wear something that covers your knees and you’ll be safe if there is a sudden enforcement of unspoken dress code.

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I really loved my morning spent at Kek Lok Si. Despite the heat, the views from the top pagoda were stunning and the expansive temple grounds were covered with vibrant colours and intricate detailing. The temple is a must for those visiting Penang in Malaysia.

 

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