Located on a hill in Air Itam, Kek Lok Si Temple (极乐寺) is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. The temple construction began in 1893 and till today, this sprawling temple complex is still being expanded.
I took the opportunity to revisit this temple during my last trip to Penang. As I stayed in Armenian Street Heritage Hotel, I took the public bus from Komtar to Air Itam. Bus numbers 201, 203 or 204 will take you to the base of the temple.
After a satisfying breakfast at Sister Curry Mee (姐妹咖哩面), I proceeded towards one of Penang’s most well known attractions. The main walkway is a set of stairs located just next to the Sungai Air Itam. Shops lined both sides of the ascending pathway selling a variety of merchandise from souvenirs, trinkets, T-shirts and locally produced food. The pathway was a little run down compared to what I remembered from my previous visits. Broken furniture abandoned on the side and faded tarpaulin that have seen better days are still being used to keep out the sun.
At the top of the stairs is an algae filled Liberation Pond or better known as the Tortoise Pond as it houses hundreds of tortoises. I pity the tortoises having to live in the murky pond.
Passing the Tortoise Pond, one will come to the Central Court. The main attractions here are the Seven Tier Pagoda and Circular Pavilion. From here, a covered walkway will take visitors to the iconic seven storey white pagoda, The Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Completed in 1927, the pagoda is a combination of Chinese style at the octagonal base, Thai design at the middle and a Burmese temple style crown. The inner wall of the pagoda is decorated with 10,000 alabaster and bronze Buddha images.
We climbed to the top of the pagoda via a narrow flight of stairs to enjoy a panoramic view of Penang while cooling down from the gentle breeze. It was serene and peaceful at the top since we were the only ones there. These days, an entrance fee of RM2 is charged to enter the pagoda.
We passed by the Grand Hall of Kek Lok Si on our way to the Goddess of Mercy statue (观音圣像). This large hall is used for seminars and ordination ceremonies.
We had to take the inclined lift to reach the bronze statue as we didn’t drive. The return trip fare is RM6. Visitors can also drive all the way to the hilltop to see the 30.2 metre tall statue. Completed in 2002, the bronze statue is now housed in an octagonal pavilion. As the Goddess of Mercy is a popular deity, this is the busiest part of the temple with devotees praying to the goddess and some are just enjoying the view from the top.
After a short stay at the top and with the rain clouds closing in, we hastily made our descent to Air Itam for lunch.
It has been great to revisit this famous landmark of Penang after so many years to see the new developments at the temple. In my opinion, the best time to visit Kek Lok Si Temple is during the Chinese New Year season. For 15 days, the temple complex is lit up with thousands of lanterns and the view is especially impressive when the lanterns are lit up at night.