Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Malaysia: Khoo Kongsi, Kek Lok Si Temple, Masjid Kapitan Keling & other Penang heritage sites

Khoo Kongsi, Penang, Malaysia
I've been a frequent visitor to Penang, Malaysia. A few years before its inscription in the World Heritage List, I had heard much about the city, made my first visit and saw its transformation through the years, both good and bad. Much of the major heritage buildings have been beautifully restored. Fantastic job indeed! But due to the influx of tourists and the eventual increase in economic activity, ordinary heritage, such as shophouses, have been marred by intrusive signage that now cover the fascinating details of these charming buildings.

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang, Malaysia
Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang, Malaysia
Recently, I made another visit. And yet Penang never fails to amaze. We started the day at the Kek Lok Si Temple (Temple of Supreme Bliss) in the town of Air Itam. Construction of the temple began in 1890 and still continues today as more structures are added to the complex. The main landmark of the temple is a seven-story pagoda completed in 1930 with a Chinese octagonal base, Thai middle tier design and Burmese crown.

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang, Malaysia
A 30 meter bronze statue of Kuan Yin was added in 2002, and an ornate shelter built over it in 2009. So yes, the temple continues to expand.

St. George's Church, Penang, Malaysia
From Kek Lok Si, we proceeded to historic George Town, which was inscribed in the World Heritage List together with Melaka in 2008. I remember walking down Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, smelling the incense from the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy Temple and flowers from the Hindu garland makers right beside it. A small shrine to Lord Ganesha was just a few meters away. As I walked down the street, I could hear calls to prayer echoing from the minarets of mosques. Further down the street is the Anglican St. George's Church and the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption just meters away. Indeed, the racial harmony in Penang was evident.

Masjid Kapitan Keling, Penang, Malaysia
At one end of the street is the Kapitan Keling Mosque, built by Indian Muslim traders in the 19th century. Just a stone's throw away was the Mahamariamman Temple

Mahamariamman Temple, Penang, Malaysia
Khoo Kongsi, Penang, Malaysia
Penang's prominent families also have their own temples and clan houses. The grandest and most elaborate of these clan associations is the highly-ornamented Khoo Khongsi built in 1906. Also in the area are the Cheah Kongsi and Yap Kongsi

Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh, Penang, Malaysia
Amid all this Chinese architecture is the Masjid Melayu Lebuh Acheh.

Being a British colonial city, one would expect monumental colonial architecture as well, which includes the City Hall, Town Hall, the War Memorial, Fort Cornwallis and the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clocktower among others.

Penang, Malaysia
There's so much heritage in Penang, a day around will never do justice. And don't ever forget that Penang is a foodie's paradise as well! Here are some Penang dishes you should not miss and traditional trades you might find interesting. Here's more information and notes on how to reach Penang by bus from Kuala Lumpur.
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