Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam, Penang tops the list of things to do in Penang! The hilltop temple complex sees hundreds of visitors regularly!
The most striking features of Kek Lok Si are the Kek Lok Si Pagoda and the large statue of the Goddess of Mercy! Although the prayer halls and gardens are lovely too.
What else is there to see at these expansive temple grounds? Find out below in this post!
Table of Contents:
- Opening Hours
- Entrance Fee
- Inclined Lift Stations
- Kek Lok Si Temple Parking
- Dress Code
- Main Attractions
- Kek Lok Si Temple At Night
- Kek Lok Si Asam Laksa
- How To Get To Kek Lok Si
History Of Kek Lok Si Temple
There’s 130+ years of history behind this temple:
- Kek Lok Si is one of the biggest temples complexes in Southeast Asia.
- Many images of Buddha, carvings, murals and sculptures decorate the interior and exterior of the temple buildings!
- The temple is a center for Chinese culture and Buddhism
- A monk from Foochow, China (also the first abbot at this temple) proposed the location at Air Itam on the hill he named Huock-san (Crane Hill)
- Construction began in 1891 after getting sponsorship from Hakka tycoons
- The Hall of Bodhisattvas (main hall) with a shrine to Guan Yin and other goddesses, was completed in that same year (1891)
- Next to be completed were the Hall of Devas in 1895, the Hall of Devawira in 1896 and the Tower of Sacred Books in 1899.
- Royalty from the Ching Dynasty gifted valuable scripts to the temple in 1904. Made into plaques and on display at the Hall of Devawira and at the Kek Lok Si Pagoda
- It took the continuing service of 6 different abbots to finally complete the temple’s marvels. Including Kek Lok Si Pagoda and large Guan Yin statue!
- The 30-meter tall, seven-storey Kek Lok Si Pagoda was completed in 1930. With Thai, Burmese and Chinese influence to symbolize unity among diverse religious groups
- The original white plaster Guan Yin statue that was damaged from a fire, was replaced by a 30.2-meter tall bronze statue of the goddess in 2002.
- This is the tallest Guan Yin statue in the world! The condition for the maximum allowable height was not to cast a shadow over the Penang State Mosque.
Location Of Kek Lok Si Temple
To enter the main temple hall within the sprawling temple grounds, there are almost 200 steps!
If you’re not up for the climb:
There is an inclined lift. And buggy cars that visitors can take from the temple base car park to the top of the temple complex.
Opening Hours For Kek Lok Si Temple
Visitors can come to see Kek Lok Si Temple every day from around 8.30 am to 5.30 pm.
Once inside the temple complex, you can stay here latest until 6 pm!
What is the peak time to visit Kek Lok Si?
The tourists begin to pour in around 10am. So, arrive before then if you wish to bask in the tranquil environment of the temple!
It can take you up to 2 hours to explore the temple complex at a leisurely pace! And if you’re travelling in a group. You will definitely want to stop to take photos.
While you explore, there are many souvenir, food and beverage stalls hoping to benefit from the crowds.
Entrance Fees For Kek Lok Si Temple
There is no entrance fee or admission fee. However, do expect to pay to access certain areas and for the inclined lift.
Pricing For The Inclined lift (Pagoda – Guan Yin Statue):
- Adults – RM3 (one way), RM6 (two-way)
- Kids (7 to 12 years old) – RM1.50 (one way), RM3 (two-way)
Pricing For The Pagoda:
- RM2 entrance fee for the pagoda (or RM1 for children under 13 years old)
In addition, there will be the occasional donation runs that the temple may be holding to fund future construction projects or to upkeep the maintenance of the temple.
Inclined Lift Stations At Kek Lok Si
There is a lift (inclined lift) at the temple base car park that you can ride up to the Guan Yin statue.
The lifts fit around 10 adults so you will likely have to wait for your turn. The rides are short and not as steep as the funicular train up to Penang Hill.
- Lower Station – Foot Hill Car Park
- Middle Station – Main Prayer Hall, Pagoda
- Upper Station – Guan Yin Statue
Price Range (inclined lift): ~RM16 return trip
Parking At Kek Lok Si Temple
Several car parks inside and outside the temple complex are available for public use (for a fee):
- Kek Lok Si Basement Car Park (Foot Hill Car Park near to tortoise pond and the lowest inclined lift)
- Kek Lok Si Middle Car Park (Near to The Hall of Bodhisattvas)
- Upper Section Car Park Near Kuan Yin Pavillion (RM3)
- New Car Park Opposite RHB Bank (~200 Slots)
There’s less climbing if you get to the higher car parks, which is a good thing if you have elderly or prams with you!
Dress Code At Kek Lok Si Temple
There is no signage or enforcement when it comes to the dress code:
But this is still a religious site and all visitors should dress modestly to show their respect. A general rule of thumb is to cover your shoulders and knees.
Do note that you will have to remove your shoes for most of the prayer halls.
Main Places To Visit In Kek Lok Si
This is the likely order that you will see these places of interests within the three different levels of the temple complex!
Exploring the temple on foot from the base is possible but it will be workout due to the many steps you have to climb, the uphill incline, and the afternoon heat!
1. Kek Lok Si Temple Market
From the lowest car park, keep walking to the left until you come to some souvenir stalls. These mark the start of the market!
Brace yourself for some very direct salesmanship as you make your way through the market before the temple!
It’s at uphill walk with stalls selling trinkets, souvenirs and local products on both sides.
2. Tortoise Liberation Pond
Tortoise Liberation Pond is a large pond with many tortoises. It is next to the first inclined lift station at the temple base car park.
The pond is decorated with white Chinese-style bridges and a viewing platform where visitors can feed the tortoises with vegetables sold by a vendor close by!
3. The Hill Gateway – The Hall Of Bodhisattvas
Go past the Tortoise Liberation Pond to find the stairs that will lead up to the main hall, Avalokiteshvara Hall.
The first thing you’ll notice inside this hall are three seated Bodhisattva.
And other smaller Buddhas all around the walls in niches! Visitors can see Kek Lok Si Pagoda from this hall too.
4. The Garden Pavilion Of Lord Buddha
From the main hall is a corridor that ends in a landscaped garden with another statue of Buddha but surrounded by deer.
In the middle of this garden is a building with other prayer halls inside.
And across the garden is a terrace with lovely views of the valley and Penang in the distance!
5. Kek Lok Si Pagoda
Along with the Guan Yin statue:
The 30-meter-high Kek Lok Si’s Pagoda is the main highlight for first-timers to Kek Lok Si. Its other name is Ban Pho Tar.
The octagonal base and structure as a whole, blends different elements of Chinese, Thai and Burmese influence!
Jade Buddhas in Thai and Burmese style occupy each of the 7 floors of the Pagoda.
It takes ~5 minutes to ascend to the highest floor via a winding staircase depending on your fitness level.
The narrow staircase is steep in some places too so we would not recommend taking elders or young children up to the top.
Don’t forget to look out at the scenery outside through the balconies!
6. The Hall Of Buddhas Of Five Regions
You will enter this hall first after paying the RM2 entrance fee to enter the compound of the seven-storey pagoda (Kek Lok Si Pagoda).
Five Dhyani Buddhas sit in this cavernous hall – Amoghasiddhi, Amitabha, Aksobhya, Vairochana, and Ratnasambhava.
Take time to admire the wonderful craftsmanship around this hall. Especially the carved pillars with intricate detailing! And the huge doors.
7. The Amitabha Buddha Pagoda
As you wander through the garden, you’ll come across the striking red and white Amitabha Buddha Pagoda. Or the Hall of Devas, depending which one you find first!
Amitābha or “The Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life” is the main Buddha in a branch of East Asian Buddhism (Pure Land Buddhism).
You will see many statues and murals of Amitābha here.
8. The Hall Of The Devas And The Hall Of Mahawira
In the Hall Of The Devas are statues of the Four Heavenly Kings:
- Ch’i Kuo (Guardian of the East)
- Tseg Chang (Guardian of the South)
- Tou Wen (Guardian of the North)
- Kwang Mu (Guardian of the West)
Both interconnected halls, Hall Of The Devas and the Hall Of Mahawira see frequent visits from worshippers!
9. Kek Lok Si Guan Yin Statue
Afterwards, visitors have a choice of visiting either the stunning Kek Lok Si Pagoda or the imposing statue of the Goddess of Mercy!
Said to be the largest Guan Yin statue in the world:
It stands more than 30 meters high with its own towering pavilion (~80 meters with 16 massive granite pillars) over it at the peak of the temple complex!
On the same level with the Guan Yin Statue is another pond and pavilion (albeit smaller than the Tortoise Liberation Pond).
There is also a beautiful landscaped garden with zodiac animal statues and stone benches.
And next to the car park at this upper level of Kek Lok Si Temple, the spacious open-air terrace has brilliant views of George Town.
Kek Lok Si Temple At Night (During Chinese New Year)
If you want to visit Kek Lok Si Temple at night:
There is only one time of the year that the temple remains open after nightfall! On most days, the temple will close at 5:30pm.
Chinese New Year is the best time to visit Kek Lok Si Temple as the temple is decorated for the whole month a few days before the festival begins!
And during Chinese New Year, the temple will be open to the public until 10pm. On busier days like the weekends, it will close later at 12am.
2023 Chinese New Year Lighting Schedule For Kek Lok Si:
- 17 Jan, 2023 – Opening ceremony
- 21 to 30 Jan, 2023 – Open to the public from 8:30am to 12am
- 31 Jan to 5 Feb, 2023 – Open to the public from 8:30am to 11pm
- 6 to 18 Feb, 2023 – Open to the public from 8:30am to 10pm
Lanterns will be strung throughout the whole complex, giving it a very dreamy appearance! The lanterns represent donations from temple devotees.
You can expect that there will be scores of people coming to see Kek Lok Si lit up!
Hence, this is another reason why the beginning of the year is the best time to visit Penang!
Read more: Penang Nightlife – 23 Best Things To Do In Penang At Night
Kek Lok Si Asam Laksa – Ayer Itam Assam Laksa
If you have not found your best asam laksa in Penang:
There happens to be a very reputable one close to Kek Lok Si! The 66-year old business is now only open on weekends from 11am to 5pm.
Especially if you like a stronger taste of ‘hae ko’ (thick sweet prawn paste) and mackerel in yours!
- Location: Jalan Pasar, Paya Terubong, 11500 George Town, Penang Island
- Opening Hours: Daily from 10:30am to 7pm
- This is a road-side stall with limited seating and car park spaces.
- Portions of the dish run small
- Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (The Blue Mansion) – Relive The Peranakan Glory Days
- Penang Peranakan Mansion – Make A Trip To This Worthy Historical Museum
How To Get To Kek Lok Si Temple
Walking is not a recommended option to reach Kek Lok Si Temple. As it is almost 10km away from George Town!
Option 1: Bus From George Town To Kek Lok Si Temple (Via Air Itam)
If you stay at George Town, you can take bus numbers 201, 203, 204 or 502 from the central bus station (KOMTAR).
The stop you want to look out for is along Jalan Pasar! Which is at the foot of the hill!
When you board the bus, let the driver know that you plan to get off at Air Itam or Kek Lok Si Temple!
It is usually the last stop on the line and you will have to do a bit of walking to reach the temple since this is not a direct route.
- Duration: 30 minutes depending on traffic
- Price Range: RM2 per person one-way
Option 2: Motorbike To Kek Lok Si Temple
For safety reasons, this shouldn’t be your first option:
Unless you’re really confident with driving a motorbike and the driving culture in Malaysia!
Hostels will know where to rent one if you ask. And there are applicable parking fees for motorbikes at Kek Lok Si (RM1).
Read more: Khoo Kongsi Temple Penang: See Exquisite Architecture At This Heritage Gem
Option 3: Take A Taxi Or Grab To Kek Lok Si Temple
With the Grab app, you can arrange for a driver to pick you up from pretty much anywhere in George Town. Or you can have your hotel call up a taxi for you!
Price Range: >RM20 per car
Option 4: Drive To Kek Lok Si Temple
If you are driving, take the road that goes to Paya Terubong which meets the market junction.
At that point, turn in!
Parking At The Base Of Kek Lok Si Temple:
- Parking fee is RM3 for the first 3 hours and RM1 per hour after the first 3 hours
- Large parking lot
Parking At Kek Lok Si Temple (up the hill):
- Limited slots
- Below the main hall of Kek Lok Si
- Parking fee is RM3 per entry
When driving back, use the Air Itam road and turn into Datuk Keramat Aveneue. This will take you back to George Town!
Read more: 21 Fun Things To Do In Penang With Kids (Ultimate Guide) + Food & Hotels
Option 5: Tour Service
It’s possible to fit Kek Lok Si as a half-day activity. Combine it with a visit to Penang Hill or a tour around George Town with private tour service, RayTheTour!
Pick up can be straight from your hotel or the airport! Which is very convenient for families or anyone who’d prefer not to rely on public transport!
English-speaking and Chinese-speaking guides will show you around Penang. And if you want, there are private day tours for Ipoh, Taiping and Cameron Highlands too!
Book a tour with RayTheTour WhatsApp!
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Kek Lok Si Temple’s undeniable grandeur and deep cultural roots makes it an agreeable item to add to your list of must-see Penang attractions!
But remember that this is the same thought other Penang visitors have too! If you can, avoid going on peak seasons like public holiday and weekends. And plan your visit early in the morning to have a head start on the crowds!
Allocate half a day to fully explore this temple too. If you’re going on non-peak days, you may be able to combine a visit to Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple on the same day since they are both at Ayer Itam.