Tourism Malaysia

Divine Diversions

Malaysia is known for its freedom of religion as enshrined in its constitution. And this right is evident in the many religious symbols and buildings seen throughout the country. Mosques, temples, churches, gurdwaras and others…they cater not only for the believers, but with the popularity of “religious tourism” more people are interested to visit, see and learn about the religious, cultural and aesthetic significance of such places of worship.

With Chinese New Year just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to visit some of the temples in Malaysia.

If you are in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, there is just no shortage of temples to visit. Among the notable ones is Thean Hou Temple that sits along Jalan Klang Lama or Old Klang Road. Built in 1894, it is believed to be one of the oldest and largest Chinese temples in Southeast Asia. The name is derived from Goddess Tian Hou who protects the fishermen.

This magnificent Chinese temple has golden roofed pagodas and strings of lanterns. Located inside are three majestic statues of deities, including the main deity Thean Hou. Within its grounds are statues of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac

The Temple is also known as the Temple of Goddess of Heaven, and reflecting this is its beautiful 6-tiered structure that houses a zen turtle pond, the sacred Bodhi tree and many prayer halls. A visit here is to escape the chaotic traffic jam that Jalan Klang Lama is famous for, and a balm for the stressful mind.

Tourists heading north along the PLUS highway will find temples of a different kind, partly a reflection of the unique geological contours of Perak known for its splendid limestone hills and caves.

Perak, once famous as a tin mining haven, attracted many Chinese workers to the area in search of riches. Naturally, there are many temples in the area to serve the burgeoning community.

As a capital city of Perak, Ipoh is dotted with various temples, mostly nestled among the hills and hidden away in caves. One such temple is the Sam Poh Tong Temple. It is said to be one of the oldest temples, even as old as Ipoh itself.


The temple gained popularity for its unique landscape and the caves which were carved and made into chamber halls and altars. Practically built into the limestone

inside a mountain, the temple’s unique ambience and peaceful nature adds to the sanctity of the place.

Apart from that, the temple is also popular for its collection of tortoise ponds. According to Chinese beliefs, turtles and tortoises are much associated with longevity and wealth.

Traveling east to Muslim-majority Kelantan, known as “Serambi Mekah” or  Verandah of Mecca,” one might not expect to see any temples. Surprise, surprise, one of the popular tours in Kelantan is to visit all the Buddhist temples in the state!

Whether they are Chinese or Siamese temples, the existence of such places of worship only drive home the fact that religion is freely practised throughout the state.

Tok Mek Temple in Kampung Cina, Kelantan, stands out among all other temples for its historic significance and origins. Officially known as Tin Hin Kong temple, it is reputedly the most famous Taoist temple in the state.


Known to the locals as Tokong Mek, it welcomes visitors with a bright red arch into an inner courtyard designed with colourful murals and wall relief. What is so special about the place is that therein lies within the temple a drum that was a royal gift from the Sultan of Kelantan.

While these three temples stand out among Malaysia’s landscape as unique, there are hundreds of other temples scattered all over Malaysia that deserve a visit. Some examples are the Centipede Temple in Seremban and the Snake Temple in Penang. It’s just a matter of choosing whichever temple is nearest to you, and don’t forget your photography gear to capture that viral-worthy shot!


Temple:   Thean Hou
Address:  65, Persiaran Indah, off Jalan Syed Putra, Kuala Lumpur
Telephone:  +603-2274 7088

Temple:   Sam Poh Tong
Address:  Gunung Rapat, Ipoh, Perak
Telephone:  +605-255 2772

Temple:   Tok Mek
Address:  Jalan Kampung Cina off Jalan Pantai Cinta Berahi, 15300 Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Telephone:  +609-748 4477


*number may be updated/changed without prior notice


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Tourism Malaysia

The Mooncake Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival in Malaysia

The Mooncake Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival in Malaysia

The Mooncake Festival in Kuala Lumpur is held in September, the eighth month of the year. Now before you think I’ve been eating too much mooncake or drinking too much moonshine, let me tell you why.

It’s simple. The Chinese New Year begins in February so September is not actually the ninth month on the Malaysian timetable. But whatever your calendar is, it’s a dazzling spectacle, especially at night when the city lights are complemented by the colourful paper lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours displayed outside homes and shops or in street parades.

Incense coils are a common sight around Malaysia particularly in districts such as Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Pic: Joanne Lane

Incense coils are a common sight around Malaysia particularly in districts such as Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Pic: Joanne Lane

The festival is celebrated to signify the end of the harvesting season but it also celebrates the overthrow of the Mongol warlords in ancient China. Here we’ll have to take back in time to 1280 AD to explain. This is when the Mongols overthrew the Soong dynasty in China and imposed the Yuan dynasty in China.

Why is this important in Malaysia you may well ask? Well there are a lot of Chinese in Malaysia and until quite recently they were the largest ethnic group. Even though they aren’t any more, that honour belongs to the Malays themselves, Chinese festivals are celebrated with gusto. In fact in multi-ethnic Malaysia festivals of all traditions are celebrated including those of Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and Christian origins.

Today lanterns form a big part of the celebration, as they are to remind the people of the time they used lanterns as their only source of light. Kids in particular love this aspect of the festival and are often seen roaming around with lanterns in the shape of animals. In Malaysia this particular event is often called the Lantern Parade. There are also lantern parades during the Chinese New Year celebrations, so if you see any such parade advertised just consider what time of year it is. If it’s around February it’s Chinese New Year, if not it could well be part of the Mooncake or Mid-Autumn Festival.

One of the best displays of Mooncake Festival lanterns is the Thean Hou Temple on Robson Hill. In 2011 a lantern parade was held at Central Market in Chinatown.

The best bit about the festival is of course what you get to eat. The round mooncakes are sweet or savoury and often given by younger Chinese to their seniors as an attempt to gain favour. Eating mooncakes in the market place is a delight; biting through crunchy pastry into red beans, ham or creamy egg yolk. Some are also sweet with chocolate and cinnamon flavours. Others have a distinctly Malaysian twist with pandan leaves and durian inside – eek some of you will no doubt say!

Mooncakes. Pic: misbehave (Moon Cakes  Uploaded by Atlaslin)

Mooncakes. Pic: misbehave (Moon Cakes Uploaded by Atlaslin)

The best place to eat them in Kuala Lumpar is Jalan Petaling in Chinatown where eateries display them in brightly coloured boxes.

While you may not be surprised that mooncakes are round, their shape represents the unity of the family to the Chinese. So in Malaysia the Chinese celebrate the festival with family gatherings and prayers.

There’s some tradition to this. In Chinese Halika and Foochow families the oldest women lead the prayers at the moment when the full moon appears. Before you eat a mooncake they are first offered on altars to deities with the customary lighting of joss sticks, red candles and the burning of golden joss paper. Thirty minutes later the eating begins.

Another Chinese festival that is very popular around Malaysia is the Festival of the Hungry Ghost.

If you miss the Mooncake Festival this year, Malaysia has a wealth of public holidays and special holidays. There are 44 public holidays each year largely based on the Muslim calendar or the Hindu and Chinese calendars.

Guandi Temple in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. Pic: Joanne Lane.

Guandi Temple in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. Pic: Joanne Lane.