Every Chinese New Year in Penang, the jungle glows with bright red and yellow lanterns, and hundreds of thousands of blinking lights. Like a Chinese Christmas display, Kek Lok Si Temple shines on the hillside of Air Itam in a spectacle visible even from George Town 10km away.
Kek Lok Si, or "Temple of Supreme Bliss", is over 120 years old, but I'm not sure when the lighting tradition began. Does anyone know?
Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, and you will be reminded of that fact when you lose your way through the maze of passageways leading up the hill, past the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas, until you finally reach the top to the 30m bronze statue of Kuan Yin, or the "Goddess of Mercy".
In addition to the lights, we were treated to another display on the first day of Chinese New Year, when at midnight, the island erupted in colorful fireworks from street corners, parks, through house windows, from the rooftops of high-rise apartments, and even a barrage of color from Penang Hill. If you missed the big show, you're not out of luck, since the illegal firework shows continue every night of Chinese New Year, where you'll find the best view from this hillside temple.
It just doesn't feel like Chinese New Year until the lights are turned on.
Find your way up the hill to Kek Lok Si Temple any night this month. Ends March 2nd, 2011.