Travellers are spoilt for choice in terms of sacred temples in Malaysia & Indonesia, and with 140ft gold statues, misty sunrises, cliff-edge sunsets, and limestone caves, the choice can feel somewhat overwhelming for Europeans who are used to bog-standard churches and the odd cathedral. Hence this blog post…
I’ve sifted through the masses of temples we visited during our 2 month trip to Southeast Asia and chosen my top 4 ‘must-see’ temples for each country that cannot be missed. Captioned, are some helpful points that we wish we had been told, and some of the experiences we encountered, but I’ll let the photographs do most of the talking.
1. Batu Caves, GombakSituated only a 26 minute train journey from KL Sentral railway station, the Batu Caves shares the same region as Kuala Lumpur: Sengalor. A fare on the KTM Commuter Train costs only RM2, and runs every 20 minutes on average. Therefore, a visit to the limestone cave temples from the capital only needs to take up half a day.
It is respectful for women to cover their legs, and shawls are available at the entrance to the caves at a cost of RM5. Unfortunately, after a 272 step climb, humidity in the caves often reaches an unbearable 90%.
There are numerous souvenir shops that also sell refreshments, but I recommend you wait until after visiting the caves to buy anything, as the caves are infested with cheeky macaques (with very sharp teeth) who are not afraid to pinch sunglasses, food, drinks, anything from tourists. Not so cute after 2 months of dealing with their mischief.
2. Sam Poh Tong Temple, IpohIpoh is the main stop on the journey from Kuala Lumpur to Tanah Rata, more commonly known as the Cameron Highlands, in the region of Perak. It is well worth jumping off at this stop and continuing the journey a few hours later to see this Chinese Buddhist temple that is built within limestone rocks.
A taxi driver is likely to drop you out outside the grand entrance of Ling Sen Tong Temple which, although impressive, doesn’t possess the same eery atmosphere as Sam Poh Tong, which is hidden next to Ling Sen Tong.
3. Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur
Although a much longer walk than the Lonely Planet lets on, Thean Hou Temple is the most authentic Chinese temple that I have ever seen. Hundreds of red lanterns form a ceiling, and along with the fantastic roof art, they shelter a spectacularly detailed courtyard full of dragons designs and mosaic tiles.
The temple is a 50 minute walk (up hill) from the nearest metro stop, therefore I recommend organising a taxi, and asking the driver to wait while you visit the temple. This is usual practice for travellers in Southeast Asia and shouldn’t cost much more.
4. Kek Lok Si Temple, PenangPerched on the cliff of a hill giving a panoramic view of Georgetown, Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple is surrounded by beautifully-kept gardens and countless statues. Public transport in Penang, and Georgetown more specifically, is very easy to use, and so catching the bus to the entrance of Kek Lok Si was simple enough for us. Alternatively, taxi services are reasonably priced and very safe as Penang welcomes increasing levels of tourism each year.
There is a funicular inside the souvenir shop that takes you up to another part of the temple worth seeing. It is worth noting that this service stops at 18:30, so plan your journey accordingly to get the most out of the experience.
1. Borobudur, Java
Borobudur was constructed in the 9th Century, and not only is it the oldest Buddhist temple that still remains in Indonesia, but it is also by far the most spectacular. Recognised as a UNESCO World Herritage Site, this is the largest Buddhist temple in the world.
Most tour companies from Yogyakarta will offer the same package: 03:30 pick up from your accommodation, half an hour drive to a hill where you watch the sunrise over Borobudur from a distance. DON’T OPT FOR THIS TOUR. If you persist, any company will agree to drop you off at Borobudur temple and you can pay to enter (IDR400,000) and watch the sunrise in amongst the Buddhist statues. After comparing photos with the rest of our tour group, who followed the company to the hill, they completely regretted blindly following the company and missing out on feeling like part of the sunrise. The jungle mist that surrounds the temple each morning is unmissable.
Breakfast is usually included in this tour (as with most tours in Indonesia) and then it is possible to be back in Yogya by lunchtime.
2. Uluwatu, Bali
The landscape for this temple couldn’t be more dreamy if it tried. As you can see from the photos, sunset is by far the best time to visit Uluwatu as the temple leans off the west coast of southern Bali. The temple is an easy (simple roads and sign posts) 40 minute drive from Kuta and can cost less than £2 to reach if you are willing to rent a scooter like everyone else in Indonesia (locals and tourists).
A minimum entrance fee of IDR20,000 can increase with admission to any of the shows that are hosted at Uluwatu each evening, including fire dancing and cultural performances. Again, beware of macaques!
3. Prambanan, Java
An easy 25 minute taxi journey from Yogyakarta makes Prambanan an unavoidable option. The grounds that this temple is set in make you feel as though you are walking through the grounds of a beautiful mansion in Yorkshire (I really didn’t feel as though I was in Indonesia to begin with). The admission includes multiple attractions, but obviously the main one is this spectacular temple.
Often populated with school trips, visiting this temple was a memorable experience for more reasons than just the obvious. When we visited this temple in April 2016, the grounds were flooded with inquisitive Indonesian children, who were never shy to stop and ask us questions or take photographs. The attitude of Indonesian children in general is so inspiring, but once we returned from the temple we found that other travellers had experienced a similar situation to us, so I thought it was worth mentioning.
I recall that admission with a student card was around quarter of the price (unusual in Indonesia, I know), so if you have one, don’t leave it in the hostel!
After noticing this image pop-up on so many of the computer “landscape screensaver” images, when we arrived on Bali, we headed north in pursuit of Danau Beratan (the lake on which the temple sits). Tours can easily be booked last-minute from Ubud, and often include other stops to make the journey worth while. (and the company a little more money!)
The gardens that surround the lake are beautiful and extremely well-kept, again making me feel as though I’ve been teleported to an English landscape. Aiming to visit this temple on a weekday, as is recommended with most temples, will ensure you can get a good shot without someone’s selfie stick protruding the bottom corner of each photo.