Your visit to Penang is never complete unless you have visited Kek Lok Si Temple which is the largest and most popular temple in the island. Overlooking the town Ayer Itam and George Town on top of Crane Hill, Kek Lok Si is one of the first Buddhist temples built in the South East Asia region. The name Kek Lok Si Temple meant “Temple of Supreme Bliss” or “Pure Land Temple” in Penang Hokkien and holds a harmoniously blend Mahayana Buddhism as well as other traditional Chinese rituals. It all started off in 1890 by the inspiration of the chief monk of Kuan Yin Teng or the Goddess of Mercy Temple at Pitt Street and the construction of this temple lasted over a period of three decades (between 1893 and 1905). However, the temple is still undergoing additional construction up till now and is largely funded by donations from the Penang Straits Chinese community.
The two star attractions of Kek Lok Si Temple are the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas or Ban Po That and the 30.2 meter bronze statue of Kuan Yin standing on the hillside above the pagoda. The pagoda was completed in 1930 while the giant bronze statue of Kuan Yin in 2002. The design of the pagoda is a combination of a Chinese octagonal base with a middle tier of Thai design finished with a Burmese crown. From this pagoda architecture and artwork, you can sense the harmonious unity between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. The giant bronze statue of Kuan Yin on the other way was suppose to be 120 meters tall but was scaled down due to the height limit impose by the state government under Koh Tsu Koon. This majestic statue was actually built to replace the previous white plaster Kuan Yin statue which was damaged due to a fire earlier before. Even though it had been replaced, the head of the previous statue which miraculously survived the fire can still be seen on the right hand corner of the new statue.
As you are climbing the stairs up towards Kek Lok Si temple, you will be welcomed by several friendly shopkeepers on both sides of the pathway. These stalls sell various kinds of souvenirs and tourist items which you can bargain for the right price if any item catches your eye. As you continue on the stairs, you will eventually reach the tortoise pond or the Liberation Pond where you can buy kangkung from the vendors around and feed it to the tortoise. According to Buddhist tradition, the act of freeing a turtle (which symbolize longevity, strength and endurance in Chinese culture) is a symbol of spiritual liberation. Thus you will find hundreds of tortoise, most of them over fifty of age, in the pond. Another few minutes up and you will find a big air-conditioned souvenir shop which belongs to the temple as well as a parking lot. Those who chose to drive up to the temple entrance, bypassing the maze of souvenir kiosks would start their journey from here.
When you enter the temple grounds, you will notice that the temple consists of several large halls, which is still used by the monks for assemble and prayers, each filled with different statues of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and Chinese deities. Aside from the statues, the intricate woodwork found in these halls are definitely something to be marvel at as well. Also, you will find large boulders that bear inscriptions of Chinese verses as well as beautiful sculptures placed around the temple’s compound. The temple is usually busier when a religious Buddhist festival in near. This would include the Thai’s festival of Songkran and Loy Krathong as well. However, the best season to visit Kek Lok Si Temple would most probably be the Chinese New Year celebration which is the most celebrated festivals among the Chinese community in Penang. During that month, the temple remains open until late at night whilst thousands of lanterns as well as lights, illuminating every inch of the temple, creating an ocean of light against the night sky.
It is actually advisable to use local transportation to get to the temple as there are several buses available in Penang to help you reach your desired destination. By doing so, you are actually contributing to the local economy and ecotourism, as well as minimizing your carbon emission. Furthermore, while you are shopping for souvenirs on the way up to Kek Lok Si Temple, ask your local hotel regarding your limits in bargaining beforehand. Even though it is alright to haggle, do refrain from going overboard. In addition, do buy local produce products in preference to imported goods. By doing so, you can actually make a direct impact on the vendor’s livelihood. Therefore, it is important to take note that by being aware of responsible travel, you are gaining a little bit more out of your travels as well as giving a little bit more back to the destinations and local people.
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