When you visit Malaysia, Penang is a destination that you shouldn’t miss out. A location colourfully painted by culture and traditions that are unique and hard to find.
One of the must-see places in Penang is the Kek Lok Si temple, even more so if you are interested in Chinese culture. Kek Lok Si, translated to “Ultimate Happiness” temple, is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Malaysia, built at the foot of a mountain in Ayer Itam. Comprising a 10-acre land area, this temple is divided into 3 sections: the entrance that is lined with stalls selling souvenirs, food and drinks next to a pond; the second part consists of a garden and a seven-storey pagoda; and the third is the top of the hill where a large Kuan Yin statue is situated.
The pond in the first section is known as the “Liberation Pond” as visitors were once allowed to release tortoises into the pond as a sign of spiritual liberation, complemented by what the tortoises resemble: longevity and strength.
The middle section contains the main attraction of Kek Lok Si – the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas. Its history began when a Thai king, King Rama, laid the first foundation of this temple in the 1890’s. The construction of the temple began in that period and ended in 1930, taking around 20 years to complete. However, this pagoda is also unique because the pagoda’s structure is an amalgamation of 3 different styles of architecture. The base of the pagoda that is octagonal is derived from a Chinese design; the middle tier is of Thai design and the upper part which consists of the golden dome is of Burmese design, resembling a spiral crown. These features signify a combination of both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism in the architecture and design of the pagoda. Visitors can opt to take the stairs up to the pagoda as it provides excellent views of Ayer Itam. You can even observe the sea at a distance from the where you will be standing.
In order to reach the third section, which is positioned at higher grounds, visitors will have to take the tram to the top, which will cost a few Ringgit Malaysia. At the highest point of the temple, there is a giant bronze Kuan Yin statue, also known as the Goddess of Mercy, standing tall at more than 30 metres high. When the statue was completed in 2002, there was no pavilion until 2009, when 16 bronze columns were completed to support a 60.9-metre roof pavilion.
It would be a good time to visit the temple during the month of the Chinese New Year. Kek Lok Si will be opened until late at night, and the temple is lit up by thousands of lights, creating a wonderful sight when seen from afar. This goes on for 30 days following Chinese New Year celebrations, and on specific days there are even fireworks on display, giving off a vibrant festival spirit in Ayer Itam.
This culturally beautiful temple is definitely a place to visit when you come to Penang. Don’t forget to try out famous Penang food as well while you’re here!