Nov 18 2011

A temple tour of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown

Published by at 4:13 am under Sightseeing & activties


The early story of Kuala Lumpur is essentially the history of the area now known as Chinatown. It was here that a rough-and-ready tin mining settlement gradually became a proper town. Even today, Chinatown retains probably the strongest sense of living history of any district in KL. A great way to get an idea of Chinatown’s past — in addition to staying there (you can see our picks for doing that here) — is through its many historic temples.

Pretty in pink (and yellow).

Pretty in pink (and yellow).

Right next door to Maharajalela Monorail station is one of KL’s hidden gems, an attractive little temple dedicated to the (Chinese) Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin (Kuan Yin). Little visited, the Wei Zhen Gong Guan Yin Si (0:700-17:00) was built in the late 19th century, and is particularly associated with the Hokkien community.

Like the green, green temples of home.

Like the green, green temples of home.

Turning right out of the temple, keeping the white KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall to your left, you will see Chan See Shu Yuen (08:00-17:00), the city’s most impressive clan house. When it opened its doors in 1906, its main purpose was to provide help and support for newly arrived immigrants from China, specifically those from the extended Chan (Chen and Tan) clan. It is best known for its intricate carvings, showing stories from Chinese legends, and for its green tiles, from which it gets its informal name, the Green Temple.

Get lost in the intricacy of the carvings.

Get lost in the intricacy of the carvings.

Turn right onto Jalan Petaling, then take the first left (Jalan Bali Polis), and you will see one of KL’s more unusual religious buildings. A temple specifically catering for Sikh police officers was built on this site by the British colonial authorities in the late 19th century. The current structure of the Gurdwara Sahib Polis (05:00-09:30) follows the original design, as well as the blue and white colour scheme associated with the Malaysian police, but these days the temple is open to all.

Five tiers, 228 idols, one epic story.

Five tiers, 228 idols, one epic story.

Continue along Jalan Balai Polis, passing the derelict former post office, turn right onto Jalan Panggong, left onto Jalan Sultan, and then right onto Jalan Tun HS Lee (much less complicated than it sounds), and you will come to KL’s most important Hindu temple, Sri Maha Mariamman (06:00-21:00). A temple of the same name has stood on this site since 1883, but the current structure largely dates from the late 1960s. Its most impressive feature is the five-tier gopuram (tower), carved in the south Indian style, with 228 brightly coloured figures from the Indian epic, the Ramayana.

Overlooked but not overshadowed.

Overlooked but not overshadowed.

Turn left out of Sri Maha Mariamman, and cross to the other side of Jalan Tun HS Lee, and you will soon come to a small, red Taoist temple. The Kuan Ti (Guan Ti) temple (07:00-18:00), which was completed in 1888, is dedicated to the Chinese God of War and Literature. It should be noted that Kuan Ti is worshipped primarily for his heroic, loyal and righteous character, not for being war-like.

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and men.

Continue along Jalan Tun HS Lee, and just after the junction with Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock you should see a covered alleyway leading to one of KL’s oldest and most characterful places of worship, the Sze Ya (Sin Sze Si Ya) temple (08:00-18:00). The Taoist temple was founded in 1864 by Yap Ah Loy, the third Chinese Kapitan (captain) of KL.

Smoke and mirrors.

Smoke and mirrors.

It is unique in Malaysia for being primarily dedicated to two local men who were deified after their deaths, rather than traditional Gods from China. All the temples on this tour are free to get in, but donations are appreciated.

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