July 12, 2008

Malaysia: July 4th - Kek Lok Si

Managed to make breakfast this morning and the buffet here was a marked improvement on what was offered at the KL hotel. Then it was another walk down towards Komtar and the bus terminal to catch a bus bound for the village of Air Itam.

The journey was a 40 minute ride out through the suburbs of George Town, passing lots of brightly coloured high-rise flats with bars over the windows, giving them a somewhat prison-like feel, and also rows of almost identical-looking detached houses that obviously housed richer tenants. Air Itam itself is a run-down looking place with a large number of eateries near the bus stop, indicating that a lot of the local economy benefits from the presence of the Kek Lok Si temple complex.

To get to the temple from the village involves a walk which takes approximately 15 minutes up a series of steps lined on both sides with stalls selling cheap T-shirts and other tat, and you're greeted with the same lines all the way up ~ "Hello, sir. You wan' buy somet'ing? One T-shir' three ringgit. Very goo' price."

When you arrive at the top of the steps, still surrounded by stalls, you can see a pond full of turtles (or terrapins? ~ that question again), hundreds upon hundreds of the things, and although these creatures had no way out, it was called Liberation Pond.
From there it is a short walk to the pagoda, which although fairly tall, is a lot smaller in scale than I was expecting. Up a few more steps and you reach the lavishly decorated man prayer hall and some other buildings, with more souvenir shops in between.

To see that main distinctive feature of the temple, however, you have to go through yet another souvenir shop and pay a couple of ringgit for a return ticket on a diagonal lift that takes you to the upper level. On top of the hill there is the enormous Guan Yin statue, which at the moment is partially obscured by scaffolding as they are in the process of building some columns and a roof to protect it from the elements.

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