Chinese temple honouring Cheng Ho
Published/Last edited or updated: 2nd June, 2017
Sam Poo Kong Temple is Semarang’s largest Chinese temple complex encompassing a handful of large colourful tiered pagodas facing an open courtyard harbouring a towering statue of Chinese Ming Dynasty Muslim Admiral, Cheng Ho (Zeng He).
Cheng Ho famously led several expeditions to Southeast Asia in the early 15th century, stopping by Semarang on his travels (some even claim he’s buried nearby). It’s believed he spent a night here meditating in a cave that forms part of the complex, also know as “Gedung Batu” literally “stone building” but probably better translated as simply “cave”. His legendary achievements led him to be honoured as the folk god, Sam Poo Kong.
The modern-looking complex was extensively renovated in 2005-6 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Cheng Ho’s voyage. The temple is divided into two sections with separate ticket options: You can choose to enter the courtyard only, where it’s possible to view the open stage that offers lion dances and musical performances on weekends, the Chen Ho statue and see the temple shrines from a distance, or for a higher ticket price, also enter the shrine area where you may visit the cave, various pagodas, see a “chain tree” (a ficus with twisted chain-like vines), some relief carvings of Cheng Ho’s travels and an old anchor said to have come from Cheng Ho’s ship hidden at the back of the complex (it’s actually from a VOC ship, but its a good story).
The main central triple-tiered shrine conceals the entrance to the cave behind. Remove your footwear to enter the temple and the cave. Inside the pavilion look up at the bright red and green interior to see hanging lanterns and gilt carved dragons. Photography is not permitted inside the cave, but here you’ll find a small statue of Cheng Ho and some beautiful old paintings, a contrast to the somewhat gaudy style of the rest of the complex.
Inhale the delightful fragrance of jasmine, and sip (filtered) holy water from a well that’s believed to have existed from the time of Cheng Ho and is said to have curative properties. Various shrines to the left and right of the main pagoda are dedicated to the God of the Earth where farmers pray for fertile soils, and a mausoleum for one of Cheng Ho’s helmsmen.
Cheng Ho is credited with helping to spread Islam in Indonesia, and here alongside Chinese worshippers, you will see many Muslim Javanese come to pay their respects.
Outside of the sacred area, souvenir shops sell batik, cold drinks and snacks and offer the opportunity to dress up in Chinese costumes for photos. Foreign entry fees are 10,000 rupiah weekdays, 15,000 rupiah weekends to enter the compound, and 40,000 rupiah weekdays, 45,000 rupiah weekends including the temples. Note that menstruating women are asked not to enter the temple.
Sam Poo Kong Temple is about two-and-a-half kilometres southwest of the Tugu Muda monument. Also visit the smaller, but exquisite Tay Kak Sie Temple in Gang Lombok in Semarang’s Chinatown area.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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