Back in Penang – How I packed in my two weeks in Penang, Part 2….temple, culture and more food.
On day 7 of my Penang trip, I caught up with my Sydney friends again. We went to “Kek Lok Si Temple” at Air Itam, which is an old Chinese township outside of George Town. Air Itam is well known for its Penang Asam Laksa by the roadside across from the wet market. The road leading to Air Itam is always busy and congested. There is only one road leading to the market and Kek Lok Si temple, which runs in a loop around one section of the wet market. We went there in the early afternoon, after the busiest time of the wet market. The road was still busy with tourists and tour buses going to the temple.
Kek Lok Si is a Buddhist temple, translated as the “Temple of Supreme Bliss”. It is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Construction of the temple began in 1890. The main attraction of the temple is the seven tiers pagoda completed in 1930, which housed 10,000 Buddhas. The pagoda is unique from other temple pagodas. It has an octagonal Chinese design base, with a Thai design middle section and a Burmese crown.
The temple is very colourful. In the old days, it was impossible to drive a car to the top and park near the temple. There is now a proper road to the top. Commercialism of the temple site is making it easier for people to access. Walking up the narrow concrete footpath surrounded on both sides by souvenior stalls, in my opinion, is more interesting.
On reaching the base section of the temple ground, there is a turtle sanctuary pond with hundreds of turtle in the round pond and two small concrete bridges leading to a pagoda like middle island for people to watch and feed the turtles. This part of the temple has been there ever since I was a little boy. One can purchase a bunch of “kangkong” for MYR$1 to feed the turtles. I believe it is cruel to have all these turtles in captivity. They should be released to their natural habitat. The pond water is filled with algae and look unhealthy.
The temple has many different sections, prayer halls, a vegetarian restaurants and souvenior shops. The latest addition was a 30.2 m bronze “Kuan Yin” statue (Goddess of Mercy) located on the hillside behind the main pagoda temple. An octagonal roof shelter was built over the statue, which was completed in 2009. There is a short funicular train ride, access from a souvenior shop, to the statue.
Unfortunately, I did not make it to the top to see the statue. I realised that I have left my mobile phone sitting on the driver seat of my sister’s car, parked in a quiet street from a busy crowd. Like any other big city, it is risky to leave anything sitting on the car seat. It can only attracts trouble. I didn’t want anything to happen to my sister’s car. I rushed back to the car and asked my friends to take their time and meet me later.
I was glad nothing happened to her car. I got my mobile phone, which was clearly visible from the car window. Phew.
Slowly I walked back to meet my friends, taking in the sight, sound and smell of Air Itam’s busy street with rows of Chinese shophouses, the different smells in the air from the wet market and street stalls, and a gentle backdrop of the the green hills.
Caught up with my friends again. Tired and hungry. It was time for an afternoon snack. We were thinking of the famous asam laksa, but I was not gamed enough to eat it after having so much curries the night before. Instead, I suggested we tried “Beng Chin Garden”, a corner kopitiam which I walked past earlier and could smell the char koay teow wafting through the air into my nose.
We ordered 2 plates of char koay teow, and a plate of roast duck and roast pork rice. The char koay teow was very good. Had enough “wok hay” and it was not too greasy. I have tried three different places of char koay teow on this trip. This is the best among the three. Now I think about it, this stall is probably the best I have ever tried for the quality and value for money. Most other char koay teow stalls are either overrated, overpriced or both. Some char koay teow are overly greasy as well. But, this stall is reasonable priced at MYR$3.20 with enough fresh and good size prawns. It was cooked to perfection and not greasy, which made it easy to eat. But, every Penangite has their own favourite stalls. If I live in the Air Itam area, I will make this CKT stall my frequent weekly stop.
The roast duck and roast pork was not bad. But, I had better one in George Town, at Carnavon Street and Chulia Street.
Air Itam is a must place to visit for tourists visiting Penang. It has the market, famous hawker stalls, Kek Lok Si temple and not far away, Penang Hill. It is almost a day trip to take in all the sights and savour the local delicacies.