No trip to Penang without paying a visit to one of South-East Asia's largest and finest temple complexes, Kek Lok Si, which is located on the scenic Houk-San Hill. I usually take a bus here, since it is very convenient to reach it this way, though traffic can be crawling! I have also taken taxis one way, or two way, but the cost is significantly higher. The taxi usually drops visitors off on the entrance level higher up, while I always find it entertaining to talk up the stone steps through the stalls of souvenir shops. This way I can also pass the turtles at the Liberation Pond, though during my last visit the pond was empty and the area was under construction for what seemed another building. Religious items are sold at the ground level of the temple, where there is also a great vegetarian restaurant.
Kek Lok Si can be traced back to the late 19th century and the earliest building completed was the Hall of Bodhisattvas in 1891. Steadily buildings were added and today the area is covered with halls and pagodas in an awesome arrangement. While walking steadily up the hill one can go from one building to the next. My favourite buildings are the Amitabha Buddha Pagoda, which quietly sits on the side and offers great views onto Penang in the valley below and where some of the most beautiful meditation music or chanting is played.
My favourite view is through the Wisdom Doorway of The Amitabha Buddha Pagoda!
In the following buildings it usually gets more busy with worshippers and tourists - the Hall of Devas and the Hall of the Mahawira! Up to here the temple is free of charge but before heading sideways to the amazing Hall of Buddhas of Five Regions, a small donation fee will be charged. It is absolutely worth it to pay it! The atmosphere in the Hall is breathtaking. Usually quiet and the best place for a prayer or meditation. Sometimes though tourists enter without paying the necessary respect to the temple hall. Some western tourists seem to have a problem with taking their shoes off and some Asian tourists seem to have a problem with keeping their voice down!
My highlight of the temple is usually the climb up to the top of the Pagoda of A Million Buddhas. I have done it regularly since 1996 and loved it every time. The view alone is rewarding enough! The pagoda itself varies with the stage of renovation work being done. I have been lucky and seen it in it's brightest colours as well as in a rather neglected stage.
Back downstairs behind the Main Prayer Hall - Fa Tang is a cable car which brings us to the top of the hill where the huge Kuan Yin Bodhimandala statue is located. This is the area that has changed the most since my first visit back in 1996, when the old white statue of Kwan Yin was still the only large statue up here.
I usually visit every hall and shrine when I am at the temple and really take my time. I have seen tourists rushing through the temple as part of their visiting program, but it does not do the beauty of Kek Lok Si temple proper just. I hope it stays a place of worship and will not turn into a tourist craze. However we are not far from it! I usually visit the temple early in the morning when it is still more quiet!