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Penangites are on the whole a superstitious, god-fearing and religious lot. This tendency, and the multiracial population has given rise to a very cosmopolitan spiritual form. Mosques, Taoist and Buddhist temples, Indian and Sikh temples, Burmese shrines, Thai wats and churches of different denominations dot the streets of Penang.

Kapitan Kling Mosque
Named after the Indian Muslim merchant, the “Kapitan Keling” (headman) Caudeer Mohudeen who built it in the early 19th century. It features an ocher yellow facade and dome-shaped minaret reflecting Moorish Islamic influence. Tourists should be properly attired when entering the mosque.

Kek Lok Si Temple
Perhaps the finest Buddhist temple in South East Asia, the Kek Lok Si temple stands majestically on a hill in Ayer Itam. Construction began in 1893 and was completed in 1905.

Built in tiers, the beautifully crafted “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas” took more than 20 years to build and was only completed in 1930. It combines a Chinese octagonal base, middle tiers of Thai architecture and a Burmese crown, reflecting the temple’s wide embrace of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.

The temple also features gardens, a turtle pond, shrines and beautiful sculptures. This is one of Penang’s most popular attractions.

St. George’s Church
Built with convict labor in 1818, the Anglican Church was named after the patron saint of England, and is one of the region’s oldest.

The Greek temple in the church grounds is a memorial to Francis Light. Today, church goers still flock to the church for service and it remains virtually unchanged.

Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Temple
Known as the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy, this popular Taoist temple is located close to the Kapitan Kling Mosque on Pitt Street. Believed to be the oldest temple in Penang, it was built in the 1800s by early Chinese settlers.

Kuan Yin was a being who had actually attained Nirvana but stayed behind to save those souls who did not escaped the world of suffering.

The temple is also dedicated to Ma Chor Poh, the virgin goddess of mercy and saint to sea voyagers. The high roof of the main hall is supported by dragon-entwined pillars carved from a type of green stone. The statue of Kuan Yin as a serenely composed woman with 18 arms sits on an inner chamber.

Khoo Kongsi
Probably Penang’s most picturesque building, the Khoo Kongsi is made up of two buildings on opposite sides to each other. One building serves as the ancestral temple while the other is used for staging plays and operas.

The Khoo Kongsi is meant only for members of the Leong San Tong (Dragon Mountain Hall) clan, whose forefathers came from Sin Kang village in Hokkien province, China. Construction of the Khoo Kongsi started in 1894 and took eight years to complete.

Its original design was very elaborate meant to capture the splendour of the Chinese imperial palace. Its seven-tiered pavilion, dragon pillars and hand-painted walls engraved with the Khoo emblem was thought to have even outshone the imperial palace itself.

On the first night of its completion, the Khoo Kongsi caught fire and many said it was because the gods were unhappy with the scale of its grandeur. It was then rebuilt on a smaller scale but it still retains the distinctive architecture of the master craftsmen from China.

Snake Temple
The Snake Temple was built in 1850 in memory of the Buddhist priest, Choo Sor Kong, who is said to have healing powers. Legend, however, has it that the place used to be the home of a religious man who gave shelter to poisonous snakes when they sought refuge there. After his death, the snakes remained and it became a place of worship.

Also known as Temple of Azure Cloud, the serpents’ shrine is an extraordinary one: poisonous pit vipers busk on altars, incense burners, candlesticks, vases and tables, underfoot and overhead. Recommended for the intrepid visitors.

Sri Mariamman Temple
Penang’s oldest Hindu temple which was built in 1883, is filled with colourful statues of Hindu deities. Among the priceless possessions of this ornate building is a statue of Lord Subramaniam richly decorated with gold, silver, diamonds and emeralds. During Thaipusam festival, the statue is taken on a chariot procession by Hindu devotees.

Wat Chayamankalaram
The world’s third largest reclining Buddha which measures 33 metres in length, is draped in gold-leafed saffron and reclines on a large crematorium.

This Buddhist temple is reminiscent of Bangkok’s many wats. The intricate finish of the interior in vibrant colours and designs is a sample of Thai architecture. Behind the temple is a small Thai village as well as a Thai cemetery.

At this temple, the local Thais celebrate the traditional Buddhist festivals, the Sonkran and the Loy Krathong.

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SNAPSHOTS

Kek Lok Si Temple

Built in tiers, the beautifully crafted “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas” took more than 20 years to build.

Legend has it that this place used to be the home of a religious man who gave shelter to poisonous snakes when they sought refuge there.

This is Penang's oldest Hindu temple which was built in 1883.

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