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!
Upon entering, visitors will see the turtle pond and souvenir, food and beverage stalls hoping to benefit from the crowds!
And within the expansive temple grounds, are several prayer halls and a garden.
But the most striking features of Kek Lok Si are the Kek Lok Si Pagoda and the large statue of the Goddess of Mercy!
Table of Contents:
- Opening Hours
- Entrance Fee
- 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
Kek Lok Si Temple History
There’s 130+ years of history behind this temple so we’ll try to keep this simple with some condensed facts:
- 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 bulidings!
- The temple serves as a center for Chinese culture and Buddhism
- A monk from Foochow, China who later became the first abbot at this temple first proposed the location at Air Itam on the hill he named Huock-san (Crane Hill)
- Construction began in 1891 after sponsorships from Hakka tycoons were obtained
- The Hall of Bodhisattvas (the 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. These have since being made into plaques and are displayed 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 the Kek Lok Si Pagoda and a large Guan Yin statue!
- The 30-meter tall, seven storey Kek Lok Si Pagoda was completed in 1930 and designed with Thai, Burmese and Chinese influence to symbolize unity amongst religious diversity
- The original white plaster Guan Yin statue that was damaged from a fire, was later 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.
Kek Lok Si Temple Location
To enter the main temple hall within the sprawling temple grounds, there are almost 200 steps!
There is an “inclined lift” that visitors can take to the top of the temple complex from the temple base car park too if you’re not up for the climb!
Kek Lok Si Temple Opening Hours
Visitors can come to see Kek Lok Si Temple every day from around 8.30 am to 5.30 pm. Though once inside the temple complex, you can stay latest until 6 pm!
The tourists do 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!
Kek Lok Si Temple Entrance Fee
There is no entrance fee or admission fee.
However, do expect to pay to access certain areas:
- RM2 entrance fee for the pagoda (or RM1 for children under 13 years old)
- RM16 return trip for the inclined lift
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.
Kek Lok Si Temple Parking
Several car parks inside and outside the temple complex are available for public use for a fee:
- Kek Lok Si Basement Car Park
- Kek Lok Si Middle Car Park
- Upper Section Car Park Near Kuan Yin Pavillion
- New Car Park Opposite RHB Bank (~200 Slots)
Kek Lok Si Temple Dress Code
There may be 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 keep shoulders and knees covered.
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!
Getting around the temple on foot is not too difficult. Just follow the signs!
There is a lift (inclined lift) at the temple base car park that you can ride up to the Guan Yin statue.
Other stations include the Avalokiteshvara Hall and the third stop at the Main Prayer Hall.
1. Kek Lok Si Temple Market
From the 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 hundreds of tortoises) 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. 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.
6. 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), and Tseg Chang (Guardian of the South), Tou Wen (Guardian of the North) and Kwang Mu (Guardian of the West).
Both interconnected halls, Hall Of The Devas and the Hall Of Mahawira see frequent visits from worshippers!
7. 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!
8. 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!
9. 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.
Don’t forget to look out at the scenery outside through the balconies!
Kek Lok Si Temple At Night
There is only one time of the year that the temple remains open after nightfall! Because on most days, the temple will close at 5:30pm.
Hence, this is another reason why the beginning of the year is the best time to visit Penang!
But in Chinese New Year, this closing time is extended to after 10pm!
Kek Lok Si During Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year could quite possibly be 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!
Lanterns will be strung throughout the whole complex, giving it a very dreamy appearance! The lanterns represent donations from temple devotees.
Naturally, there will be scores of people coming to see Kek Lok Si lit up!
Kek Lok Si Temple Opening Hours At Night
During Chinese New Year, the temple will be open to the public until 10pm. On busier days like the weekends, 12am!
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!
Especially if you like a stronger taste of ‘hae ko’ (thick sweet prawn paste) and mackerel in yours!
Read more: Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (The Blue Mansion) – Relive The Peranakan Glory Days
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)
You can take a bus numbers 201, 203, 204, 306 or 502 close to Penang Jetty or at 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!
Bus Return Trip to George Town from Kek Lok Si Temple:
- Head for the temple base car park keeping to the main road with the parking lot on your right
- Follow the road as it turns left where there is a smaller car park
- Cross to Air Itam Market
- Keep walking (~30m) until the 7-Eleven shop (your left).
- Buses 203 and 204 will stop here and continue on to George Town
- You can get off at KOMTAR.
Option 2: A 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!
Option 4: Drive To Kek Lok Si Temple
If 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 Of 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!
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!
We can pick you up straight from your hotel or the airport! Which is very convenient for families or anyone who’d prefer not to rely on public transport!
Our English-speaking and Chinese-speaking guides will show you around Penang. And if you want, we do have private day tour service in Ipoh, Taiping and Cameron Highlands too!
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! So if you can, avoid going on peak seasons like public holiday and weekends!
And plan your visit early in the morning!