This is a guest post written by Mireille of The Schizo Chef:
I am a chef by training and my main reason for visiting Penang is that it is reputed to have the best food in all of Malaysia…but my visit gave me much more than delicious Laksa, Roti Canai, and Mee Goreng.
Today I am going to take you on a spiritual journey to the largest Buddhist temple in all of Southeast Asia. Kek Lok Si Temple on Penang Island, Malaysia is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from China, Vietnam, the Philippines and the entire region. It is located in a suburb of Georgetown, Ayer Itam. Before we get to the visit, let’s first learn a little history.
Kek Lok Si Temple, also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss or the Temple of Paradise, was built over a 40 year period from 1890-1930. It is a complex city of small temples that offer a peaceful respite from the Malay sun. The 7 story pagoda which can be seen from many areas on the island is home to ten thousand alabaster and bronze Buddhas. There is also an impressive 120-foot tall statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin.
The pagoda is a symbol of the diversity of Asian architecture with a Chinese octagonal base, a middle tier of Thai design and the crown is Burmese. This pagoda is a perfect example of how Kek Lok Si Temple marries Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. This diversity of Buddhism is so apt in Penang, with so many diverse cultures represented on the island. There’s the Chinese section, Little India as well as the native Nyonya on Penang.
There are beautiful pagodas and ponds throughout the complex, the most popular being Liberation Turtle Pond with dozens upon dozens of swimming turtles, which have been liberated in dedication to Buddha.
How to Get There
There are a few buses you can take from the main bus depot in Penang. Once you get off the bus, ask anyone and they will direct you to an alley to walk up the hill. So you’re thinking “Ok I’m ready for my zen“, but you’re going to be sorely disappointed. As you are climbing up the stairs to Kek Lok Si, you first have to go through a maze of vendors selling tourist souvenirs like t-shirts, key chains and the like…and some of them a bit pushy too! Once you survive the trail of capitalism, it’s an entirely different story.
While I had been waiting for the bus, I had gotten heat stroke which sometimes happens. I was feeling nauseous and had a migraine. I somehow had managed to climb up to the temple. When I arrived, my ailments disappeared.
I don’t know if it’s the architecture or what, but it suddenly felt about 10 degrees cooler and the quiet, peace and tranquility took away all of my heat stroke symptoms.
No matter what faith you may or may not practice, you feel the presence of whatever you worship. It’s so hard to put into words but I felt God’s presence and when I left, I felt refreshed and every stress had disappeared, leaving just a feeling of peace and stability.
I could have spent the entire day wandering through all the little temples, offering a prayer of thanks and praying for my goals for the coming year. I left feeling every prayer will be answered.
If you visit no other site on Penang, Kek Lok Si Temple is a must!
And if you need a little shade before you leave, take a break inside!
before you leave Ayer Itam
Before you leave the area, make sure you catch the very steep Funicular Train almost 7000 feet up to the top of Penang Hill, for the best aerial sights of the island.
It’s beautiful at the top of Penang Hill!
… and there are some great places to get a snack up there. Make sure you try the Ube (Purple Yam) ice cream!
It was such a spiritually rewarding experience. You will be so glad you made the journey!
Other Reasons to Visit
It’s such an architectural marvel, that architecture and art buffs will also get a kick out of the visit!