If in Malaysia during Chinese New Year, we were told, you have to visit Kek Lok Si Temple.
This ancient Buddhist temple is the largest of its kind in Malaysia, sitting at the foot of the Air Itam mountain overlooking Georgetown, Penang.
Usually a peaceful place of worship and pilgrimage; for 30 days on the Chinese New year it stays open late into the night to display the thousands of lights and lanterns that adorn it’s ceilings, roofs, walls floors – in fact it’s hard to find a spot they had missed.
During the festival the temple draws huge crowds, and the night we went was no exception.
The queueing started a few miles down the road, with our grab making pain staking slow progress, in the end we ditched the car to walk the rest of the way.
But before doing so we stopped off at a little Chinese bakery to get some walking snacks, which actually led to us doubling back for more – we’ve never eaten Chinese “pies” before but these were amazing!
So after our second stop for supplies we were on our way, marching along side the droves of other temple goers under the canopied walkway at first, where souvenirs are pedalled and then into the first station.
The Temple, being on a mountain side, is set across three levels, with a funicular train to take you to each port (or you can walk but there’s no “fun” in that!)
At this point the Temple itself still looked well in the distance, with the light show looking impressive; but none so much more than any Christmas decorations.
On our slow approach up the hill however, the scale of the lights, in there number, became clear.
It was like being in Wonderland!
The ultra luminescent glow of hundreds of different colours and shapes lit up every corner of the temple, in some places accentuating the ancient architecture and in other ways distorting it and creating new shapes.
Amongst the lights the ornate figures of God’s and warriors standing, sometime over 10 feet tall, were both awe inspiring and intimidating.
We joined the thousands of worshipers in the prayers rooms to make donations and pay our respects, we were in the good minority as tourists among hoards of genuine pilgrims and we followed their lead; the kids themselves asking to pray just like the other children they saw.
After a good few hours we still had only explored the second level with the third station still to go. By this point the crowd had thickened and moving around was becoming a slow process.
It was then that we noticed the queue of at least a hundred people waiting for the lift. After hitting a dead end, attempting to walk up we called it a night.
My advice if visiting this time of year would be get up there in the day light and descend once it’s dark.
Our bad timing also led to an hour’s walk down the road before we could get a taxi home with 2 sleeping children in arms and further hours wait.
We’ll get it right next year!