While searching for things to do while staying in Georgetown, we read about the Kek Lok Si temple, located about 10 km southwest of the city in the village of Air Itam. Situated near the base of the hills that make up the center of the island of Penang, this Buddhist temple is reputed to be the largest in Southeast Asia. We had already decided to check it out when we further discovered that for the month surrounding Chinese New Year, Kek Lok Si is decorated with thousands of lights and illuminated at night. That month was now, and we got much more excited to visit!
After arriving in Air Itam, we were treated to a view of the temple on the hillside, overlooking the village. We got a bit nervous after following the “To Kek Lok Si” signs up a deserted walkway boarded by closed shopped, and ending in a locked gate. Not quite that easily defeated, we looked around, and it seemed there was another entrance ’round the other side. Off we went.
After a bit of an uphill hike, we arrived on the temple ground, about 10 minutes before sunset and the switching on of the lights. This was actually pretty nice, as we got to experience the temple as it normally appears, which was still quite magnificent.
A few minutes later, as the sky darkened, we heard the sudden hum of electricity, and lights blossomed from the top of the Pagoda of the 10,000 Buddhas, all the way down to the smaller shrines below. The lighting was a multiple step process, as first one section and then the next lit up with multicolored bulbs.
Honestly, it’s not quite what I expected. I was thinking more traditional yellows and reds, but here every possible color was used, and lights were flashing on and off as well. It was definitely a spectacle, though.
Here’s a short video of a 360 degree view from the central courtyard. If you listen closely, you can even hear the monks chanting in the background.
After the temple was fully lit, we continued on our tour, checking out some of the interior shrines. Here we saw many Chinese placing good luck tokens for the new year and leaving offerings for the Buddhas.
After thoroughly exploring the temple (the free parts at least), we headed back down the hill into town to wait for our bus back to Georgetown. Looking back, we saw the full temple lit up against the night sky, including the massive gazebo sheltering the huge statue of the Goddess of Mercy, dominating the scene.
Kek Lok Si was a great side trip from Georgetown, even though it was heavily commercialized. We were really lucky to be on Penang during the Chinese New Year and get to experience the lights, not to mention the other various festivities and general celebrations throughout our stay.