Kek Lok Si, located on Penang Island in Malaysia, is one of Asia’s largest Buddhist temples. Its construction began in the late 1800s and, as of 2012, still hasn’t been finished. But don’t get the wrong impression: you won’t see scaffolding and paint cans everywhere. Rather, they continue to add to the temple’s grandeur by constructing grandiose additions to what is already there. Take, for example, the temple’s main attraction: the statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The statue itself is about 100 feet (30 meters) high. Yet it has also been encircled with several ornately inscribed pillars and crowned with a layered roof. Together, they create a powerfully stimulating visual experience capable of inducing awe in faithful and non-believing tourists alike.
Of all the Buddhist temples I have seen in Asia, this one is by far the most artistically impressive. It mixes together a number of architectural styles from across Asia. It does so seamlessly and on a grand scale, with bright yet complimentary colors, meticulously detailed statues, and wide open spaces.
I highly recommend Kek Lok Si if you are visiting Penang for a few days, but only after visiting George Town and perhaps Batu Feringgi (Penang’s popular beach resort on the northern tip of the island). The Temple is indeed impressive, but George Town and the rest of Penang are worth spending much time exploring. Penang has its own unique culture and feel that is refreshingly different from the rest of Malaysia, which makes it an attraction in itself that is bigger and more inspiring than any temple, even if that temple is one of Asia’s biggest.
Tip: Know exactly where to get the bus back to George Town (or wherever you are going or staying). I incorrectly assumed I could catch a bus back to George Town by going back to where I stepped off the bus and then crossing over to the other side of the street. I ended up walking for quite some time before finding a bus back (few, if any buses, were stopping at any of the stops I found). So do what I failed to do: ask someone, even if you think you know what you should do.