The many and absolutely magnificent Penang temples are all gathered on a tiny piece of land, northwest coast of Malaysia. These famous temples of Penang are remarkable examples of an extremely diverse religious legacy, and are magically surrounded by lush gardens, colourful heritage houses and white-sand beaches.
The main settlement on the island is the UNESCO-listed George Town.
For me. Penang was unknown before going to Malaysia. Never heard of Georgetown before either. But a visit to MinNature, a miniature model museum in Kuala Lumpur showcasing tiny buildings of Penang, raised questions. And there I was taking a plane to see EVERYTHING (at least, on the island side) in one weekend. Which was obviously impossible.
Therefore, I had to choose the best of the best things to do and see in Penang. In a place where the Malay go for fun and beaches, I found the temples to be most fascinating.
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Where did the many Penang Temples came from?
Penang is one of the most beautiful and diverse cultural pots around South East Asia, result of historical trade, migration and colonial influence.
Throughout its history, Penang has been a strategic trading hub in Southeast Asia, being located on the shores of Malacca Strait. Strait of Malacca is a narrow waterway connecting the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea, and one of the most important shipping routes of all times. It has been crossed by traders, explorers, and colonial powers, from all over the world, some of which settled here.
This included Malays and Arab traders, as well as European colonizers. The Portuguese, Dutch, and, eventually, the British, both before and after the Japanese occupation during World War II had a strong impact in shaping the island of Penang. Penang was a British colony from the late 18th century until Malaysia’s independence. During the colonial era, the British brought in workers from India and China to support economic activities such as plantations and commerce. This further contributed to the multicultural variety of the region.
This influx of different cultures resulted in a vibrant mix of traditions, languages, cuisines, religions and architectural styles. The last two materialized through the construction of many temples that were unique to each ethnic group.
Kek Lok Si Temple | Temple of the Supreme Bliss
Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang, Access Level, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The Kek Lok Si Temple of Penang is one of the largest Buddhist temples not only in Malaysia, but in the whole region of Southeast Asia. People come in pilgrimage from all over the neighbouring countries: Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Philippines and others. The temple complex is massive as it spreads on an entire hillside overlooking the neighbouring Air Itam Village.
It is split on 3 levels, out of which the first one is for the parking, souvenir shops and a pond with turtles, the second one is the main part of the temple with prayer halls and the famous Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas, while the third level hosts the giant statue of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva.
Kek Lok Si Temple Access Area Walls & Souvenir Shops, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
In terms of architectural details, Kek Lok Si is a magical mixture of Chinese, Thai, and Burmese architecture, while on the religious side it brings together Mahayana Buddhism, Taoist beliefs and other Chinese rituals.
The entrance is done through an open-air corridor on the square perimeter of a garden with a fountain, surrounded by walls and big blocks of black stones with red Chinese inscriptions. The interior, starting behind a round, portal-like gate, is a labyrinthic series of impressive colourful gardens, prayer halls and pavilions guarded by thousands and thousands of Buddha statues.
Kek Lok Si Temple Gardens & Buddha Statues, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
🏯 Worth Seeing
The most striking parts inside the temple are the 36-metre-tall statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin, and the seven-story Pagoda of Rama VI, a time capsule for diverse histories and cultures.
View towards & from Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The Pagoda is a fusion of three distinct cultural styles, clearly split in horizontal registers on the façade: the base is Chinese, the centre, Thai, and at the top, stands a Burmese crown. Inside, vibrant ceramic elements adorn the space, while the outer terraces on each level feature wall niches that house seating Buddha statues.
Also known as the “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas,” this place has an impressive collection of 10,000 Buddha statues crafted from alabaster and bronze.
Buddhist Monk writing in Chinese on roof tiles, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Just a few years ago, a major structure inside the complex caught fire. When I visited, there was an opportunity to contribute to the rebuilding process by “adopting” a lovely Chinese terracotta tile for just 2RM. It was such a lovely moment. A Buddhist monk wrote my name on the tiniest part of this gigantic temple, a piece that will endure time passage, silently greeting the countless visitors who will follow.
- ⏰ Opening hours: 8:30 AM–5:30 PM;
- 📌 Location: Kek Lok Si Temple, Jln Balik Pulau, 11500 Air Itam, Google Maps;
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit. If you prefer cable car rides instead of walking that costs around 16RM.
Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Hindu Temple | Penang Waterfall Hill Temple
New Waterfall Hilltop Temple in Penang, Malaysia, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
I remember, Dragos and I were at the feet of the Waterfall Hill when our tour guide said he hadn’t met yet a pair of tourists like us, willing to see temple after temple and never get bored. And capable of climbing hundreds of stairs instead of lying on one of the beautiful Penang beaches.
The thing is that the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple sits near the sky, being accessible only to those with strong will and good legs. A challenging ascent of 500 stairs from the main gate takes you to what is thought to be the largest Lord Murugan temple outside India, an impressive creamy-yellow Hindu building, with detailed crafted sculptures.
Interestingly, this temple stands on higher grounds than its counterpart in Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, which gives a breathtaking view over Penang.
Waterfall Temple Guardian Statue & View over Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Above the main entrance, flanked by two statues in a subtle gray shade, rises a magnificent seven-storey gopuram, reaching a towering height of 21.6 meters.
The temple’s architectural features drew inspiration from the illustrious Chola and Pallava kingdoms of India, and the intricate craftsmanship was meticulously executed by skilled artisans from South India, who were specially brought to Penang for this purpose. Inside the temple, six pillars symbolize the six main Murugan temples.
Try to go to Penang during the Thaipusam celebration. It will be colourful and lively! The Hindu celebration has been held on these grounds since the first temple structure in the 19th century. More precisely, the shrine at the feet of the hill, located right next to an 8-meter tall Shiva statue.
First Gate at Waterfall Temple & Gardens, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
- ⏰ Opening hours: 6 AM–12 PM; 4:30–9 PM;
- 📌 Location: 25, Jalan Kebun Bunga, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town, Google Maps;
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit.
Masjid Daerah Timur Laut | Penang Floating Mosque
Penang Floating Mosque as seen from the connecting bridge, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque is indeed one of the most beautiful worship places in Penang. A balanced blend of Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern architectural styles is set against the backdrop of the modern cityscape and embraced by the Adaman Sea Bay.
Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque platform – city view, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The Mosque was built in 2004 to accommodate the growing Muslim community and it recently underwent renovations for a dazzling white exterior with elegant blue accents. Obviously, the building does not simply lie on the water, but it was built on top of a star-shaped platform on stilts and appears as though it is magically floating during high tide.
As you approach the mosque, crossing the bridge that connects the beach to its platform, it will be hard not to notice the magnificent seven-storey tower calling people to prayer. The mosque itself is surrounded by multiple charming pavilions or viewpoints, placed in corners. Even when it rains, this image can easily remind in a peculiar way of the whitewashed villages of Greek Islands.
Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque Viewpoint Pavilion, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The day I visited the weather was actually bad, but I had a few minutes to walk around the platform, take a few pictures and watch the nearby fishing village. Must be an amazing feeling during the prayer time to hear the waves crashing into the shores.
Insider Tip: Not far from the mosque, there is the Tsunami Village, a seafood restaurant. I have no idea about the quality of the food, but it sure has an amazing view over the white mosque and its charming blue dome, nestled over the sea and amidst lush greenery.
- ⏰ Opening hours: 5 AM–10 PM;
- 📌 Location: Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, Google Maps;
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit.
Wat Chaiya Mangalaram | Thai Temple
Giant feet of the Sleeping Buddha, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
When trying to find their way to the Thai Temple called Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, people always search for: “the sleeping buddha Penang”. This is how the temple is known around the Malaysian island. And we had no idea it even existed.
This temple, a gorgeous example of traditional Thai architecture, with its golden, pointed roofs and wooden decorations, is home to the third-longest reclining Buddha statue in the world. Measuring 33 meters long, this Buddha is chilling on a couch as enormous as himself!
Inside & outside of Wat Chaiya Mangalaram Thai Temple, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
His head gently rests on one end of the couch, while his feet are all crossed up at the other end, just begging for a tickle. With a hand under his chin and his eyes half open, he lies in a state of dreaming, surrounded by colourful candles, a fortune oracle and lots of other smaller statues.
Mirror-made Dragons at Thai Temple, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Outside, equally impressive are the four dazzling dragons that stand guard over the temple, gardens and turtle pond. They are covered in extra colourful fragments of mirror, throwing sparkles on the concrete alleys.
You should definitely visit this beautiful Penang temple on a sunny day!
- ⏰ Opening hours: 08:00 am – 04:00 pm;
- 📌 Location: 17 Burma Lane, 10250, Georgetown, Penang, Google Maps;
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit.
Dhammikarama Burmese Temple | Buddhist Temple
Stupa & Sime Hall at Dhammikarama Burmese Temple, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Just across the street from the sleeping Buddha of Penang, there is one of the oldest Burmese Buddhist temples outside of Myanmar (formerly Burma). The temple was founded back in 1803, on a land bought from a British settler by a Burmese woman who migrated to Penang. Today, the graceful silhouette of the Buddhist temple, with sharp stupas, drained in happy colours and gold, stands out against a backdrop of modern skyscrapers.
Within the temple grounds, you will find multiple prayer halls, pagodas, ancient stupas, covered corridors, ponds and serene gardens inhabited by statues of beasts or cheeky spirits. The temple’s architecture reflects the traditional Burmese style, with intricate, lacy-style plaster and wooden carvings, extremely colorful decorations and multi-tiered roof, golden roofs.
The entire complex follows the story of the journey of Siddhartha Gautama to enlightenment.
Chinthes & Standing Buddha at Sime Hall, Burmese Temple, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The first hall, just on the right of the entrance, is guarded by two chinthes, a pair of lion-dog mythical creatures.
The structure houses an impressively tall, all-marble Buddha looking down on you as soon as you make your entrance. Just behind him, there is a series of smaller replicas of Buddha representing the way he was imagined in different countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or Vietnam. And if you look towards the ceiling, wherever there is a gap in the lacy decoration, you will see even tinier Buddhas decorating the walls in a strange repetition similar to a fabric.
Worldwide Buddha Replicas, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Further away, there is a corridor taking visitors to the main prayer hall, Arahant Upagutta pavilion surrounded by a pond, a 200-year old well and the amazing Golden Pagoda Bell Tower.
Buddhist Comics Books, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
One interesting detail of the temple were the comic books at the entrance. Not my first time turning the pages of a comic book, but certainly the first time when doing that with a religion-themed one. No Batman or Garfield inside!
- ⏰ Opening hours: 08:00 am – 04:00 pm;
- 📌 Location: 24 Burma Lane, 10250, George Town, Malaysia, Google;
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit.
Goddess of Mercy Temple | Taoist Temple
Kuan Yin Temple, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The Kuan Yin Teng Temple of Penang is a small and charming Chinese temple dedicated to the goddess of compassion, Guan Yin. It has a long and fascinating history, as it was built in 1728 by Hokkien and Cantonese immigrants, making it the oldest Taoist temple in Penang. It is one of those places where you are magically surrounded by the scent of sandalwood incense and the ethereal smoke that fills the air.
The temple’s architecture is absolutely beautiful, showcasing a unique Qing Dynasty style. It is adorned with intricate mosaics, sculptures, and paintings that depict ancient Chinese and Buddhist legends and stories. The scriptures within the temple are written in Mandarin.
The lovely part of the exterior is that if you take a closer look at the images, the sculptures on the rooftop resemble a miniature temple sitting atop Kuan Yin’s Temple.
Goddess of Mercy Temple roof details, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Behind the temple’s main hall, there is a lesser-known, mystical-feel garden, a secret paradise tucked away from the outside world accessible through a round door.
Kuan Yin Temple Stalls, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
From time to time, the temple hosts opera performances or religious rituals in the front courtyard. On the left side of the temple entrance, you’ll find stalls offering religious items and fortune-telling, flowers and birds bringing good luck when released.
- ⏰ Opening hours: 08:00 am – 06:00 pm;
- 📌 Location: 30, Jln Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town, Malaysia, Google Maps;
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit.
Hainan Thean Hou Temple | Hainan Clan
Hainan Thean Hou Chinese Temple Entrance, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
Hainan Island of the southernmost part of China holds a special place in the hearts of Hainanese immigrants who journeyed to Malaysia in the mid-19th century. Originally, Hainan was a beautiful and prosperous island. But during Qing dynasty, turmoil from the Opium Wars and internal conflicts forced many to seek opportunities overseas.
Grateful for surviving the dangerous sea crossing to Penang, they decided to fund a temple dedicated to the deities safeguarding travelers at sea, fishermen and sailors. Thean Hou Temple was built in honor of Goddess Mazu, the Taoist Deity also known as Ma Chor Po. But the temple holds also a shrine dedicated to Shui Wei. Goddess of Water Margin and one to Guan Gong, a historical figure of the Three Kingdom period.
Still, Mazu had long been revered by fishermen and sailors. Legend has it that the renowned Ming dynasty admiral Cheng Ho prayed to Mazu before embarking on his sea voyages, and she was even enshrined on his fleets.
Hainan Thean Hou Chinese Temple Interior, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The temple’s construction began in 1866, but the structure we see today was completed in 1895 and underwent renovations in 1995. It is surrounded by old pre-war houses, adding to its charm.
Chinese Temple roof details, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The temple’s entrance and main façade are truly remarkable. The pillars and walls are dressed up in delicate, intricate carvings of dragons, birds and lions, depicting Chinese folk tales. The stonework was entirely made in the Sung dynasty style by Chinese craftsmen, brought over to Penang in 1995, to celebrate 100 years since the temple was built.
While the exterior has been entirely remodeled, the interior decorations, relics, and calligraphic writings trace their origins back to the Qing dynasty.
- 📌 Location: 93, Muntri St, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia, Google Maps;
- 🎟️ Admission fee: free to visit.
Other Chinese Clan/Taoist Temples
The Chinese temples in Penang are mostly Taoist like Kuan Yin Temple or belonging to different clans, dedicated to the veneration of deceased ancestors of a family lineage such as Hainan Thean Hou Temple.
Most of the Chinese temples found in Penang were built between the late 19th century and mid-20th century. And some of them adopted a Taoist practice that incorporated aspects of Mahayana Buddhism. Therefore, in many Chinese temples of this area is quite common to see Buddha statues sharing the space with Taoist deities. Such an example is Kek Lok Si Temple, mentioned earlier.
The interesting fact is that Chinese migrants in Southeast Asia not only brought popular deities and native-place gods from China but also created their own deities within the migrant community.
🏯 Snake Temple of Azure Cloud
This is one of the most unique Taoist temples in Penang, as it is inhabited by venomous snakes, including Wagler’s pit vipers, Southeast Asia natives.. They are hiding in the trees and even wrapping themselves around the candles inside the prayer hall.
The temple was built in 1850 to honour Chor Soo Kong, a deified Buddhist monk from Fujian, China. According to a legend, the monk was also a healer and used to give shelter to the snakes of the jungle. After the temple in Penang was finished, the snakes started coming inside by themselves. Since then, people started calling it the Snakes Temple.
🏯 Hean Boo Thean Kuan Yin Temple
Hean Boo Thean Kuan Yin Taoist temple is a floating complex, with open-air shrines, colorful decor and sea view. It’s located within the Yeoh Jetty area and it’s dedicated to South Sea Bodhisattva Kuan Yin.
🏯 Ong Kongsi Clan Temple
The Ong Kongsi is a clan association bearing the Ong or Wang (王) surname. And the lovely temple is located just in the heart of George Town, across the street from the huge, modern and busy KOMTAR tower. This is in fact how I discovered it, on my way to the tower.
If you want to see a clan temple that is not so touristy, this is it. Hardly marked on Google maps and hidden behind a bus in the Street View, you would not even think it’s there. Directions.
🏯 Meng Eng Soo Clan Temple
Meng Eng Soo Temple Clan Temple, Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
This charming yet unpretentious temple is the clan house for the Ghee Hins, a previously secret Chinese society that played a prominent role in the Penang Riots of 1867. The society was based on oath taking and ceremonies involving Chinese cosmology and philosophy. Nowadays, the temple is a memorial for the ancestors.
🏯 Tow Boo Kong Temple
Last, but not least, this is a gorgeous temple on the mainland side of Penang. Butterworth is just on the other side of the canal from George Town. And one beautiful attraction in this region is this stunningly decorated Taoist temple with a grand gate, tall pavilions, lanterns hanging everywhere, koi ponds, Chinese traditional dragon sculptures, a place dating back to 1971.
Buddhist Temples in Penang
In Penang, the majority of Buddhist temples can be traced back to Thai or Burmese origins. And if the Chinese Buddhist temples typically adhere to the principles of Mahayana Buddhism, the Thai and Burmese temples follow Theravada Buddhism. A significant concentration of Buddhist temples can be found in the vicinity of Air Itam.
Along with Buddhist temples already mentioned such as Kek Lok Si Temple, Dhammikarama Burmese Temple and Wat Chaiyamangkalaram, there are a few others such as pretty as these ones that you could visit.
🏯 Bodhi Heart Sanctuary
The Buddhist Sanctuary outside George Town is an incredible holistic place with dreamy gardens, scattered deity statues, all immersed in incense. It seems o be pretty well known for the herbal sauna whish is not expensive at all. They offer accommodation if you want to stop by for a night, and the chance to do yoga and meditation, find yourself and reconnect with nature.
🏯 Jinggangshan Penang Hill Temple
Image Courtesy of 金刚山槟城禅林 “Jgs” Jinggangshan Penang Hill Temple
Dedicated to Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, the temple has a series of stupas at the entrance, imposing doors, huge chandeliers and a statue of Earth Bodhisattva standing in the main shrine hall. Behind the temple, after a bit of a challenging hike up on the Penang Hill, you have the chance to see other multple golden stupas built on giant black rocks.
Penang Hindu Temple List
Including the Waterfall Temple, already mentioned above, there are more than 50 Hindu temples in Penang only. All beautiful and unique. They were built in the beginning by the Indian workers brought by the British, and later, by other Indian merchants that arrived by themselves and settled here, such as Chettiars or Gujaratis.
🏯 Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Indian Temple, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple, a vibrant Hindu temple on Queen Street, George Town, is believed to have served as a place of worship since 1801 and officially became a temple in 1833. It is recognized as the oldest Hindu temple in the area.
🏯 Penang Nagarathar Sivan Temple
Almost as old as the previous one, this temple was built during colonial times following the Karaikudi architectural style and being dedicated to Shiva. Unlike in other Hindu temples, the entrance is done through a corridor like structure, with grey pillars and colourful deity statues. Plus, it has a beautiful garden with a sacred Rudraksha tree.
🏯 Nattukkottai Chettiar Temple, Penang
The temple, dedicated to Lord Murugan, is inside an ancient building, not far from the Waterfall Hill Temple. It usually serves as an Indian wedding hall and as the center for the yearly Thaipusam festival in Penang. The famous Silver Chariot stops here during the parade. The temple has some rare and lovely white peacocks in the backyard.
🏯 Sri Kamatchi Amman Temple
Sri Kamatchi Amman Hindu Temple, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
The vibrant temple belongs to the Patthar Indian community, a caste primarily known for their goldsmithing trade. The Patthars have dedicated this temple to their goddess, Sri Kamatchi Amman. Originally starting as a humble shrine, the temple expanded over time by merging a few shophouses and eventually transforming itself into this beauty with intricate Gods sculptures.
🏯 Persatuan Penganut Dewi Sri Thayemangalam Temple
Lorong Lumut Hindu Temple Penang, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com
I actually don’t know if this is the exact name, because I took a very bad quality picture. But this little cute Hindu Temple is just across the street from Spices Hotel, in a protected area, among old colonial-style houses. It’s less crowded with statues, less colorful, but shiny, and I completely love the combination with ceramic tiles on the stairs. Can be found here, on Lorong Lumut.
An entire list of Indian temples in Penang is available here.
Hoping you will enjoy visiting Penang temples as much as we did!! See you in the next post.
Kek Lok Si Temple, Copyright © Cooltourismical.com