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Thean Hou Temple

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Thean Hou Temple sits atop Robson Hill and just off Jalan Syed Putra in the southern reaches of downtown Kuala Lumpur and commands stunning views of the KL skyline.

“Thean Hou” means “Empress of heaven” and the six-tiered temple is dedicated to Mazu—a Chinese sea goddess and the deified form of Lin Moniang, a Fujinese woman who was also a shaman who was believed to be of this world from 960 to 987. After her death she was revered by sailors who believed she protected them during their journeys. The temple boasts a large sculpture of Mazu in the prayer hall on the third floor, where she sits between the Goddess of Mercy, Guan Yin, and the Goddess of the Waterfront, Swei Mei. There are over 150 Mazu temples in Malaysia and this one, covering over 1.5 acres, is the largest.

Looking out for sailors. Photo taken in or around Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Looking out for sailors. Photo: Stuart McDonald

In the middle of the prayer hall, you’ll probably see people waving sticks around before dropping them into a cylindrical shaped container. These are Chinese fortune sticks, or kau chim oracles, used to predict what the year ahead holds. If you’d like to participate, try to empty your mind while shuffling the sticks around. Get hold of the bundle, hold them up, then drop them back into the cylinder. Look for the single stick that juts out but if there are a number of sticks protruding, repeat the process again. Once you’ve found that single stick, look for the number on it and find the corresponding drawer, which holds your fortune on a slip of paper.

An interesting aspect of Thean Hou is its architecture, which draws from Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist inspirations. The result is a grandiose temple where red decorative beams are merely the least eye-catching, with symmetrical flared out roofs, ornate murals and domed ceilings as well. We loved the dragons, peacocks and other figurines decorating the rooflines. Red is dominant in the temple’s appearance, as it symbolises prosperity and good fortune. The grounds are mildly interesting, with statues of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac filling the front garden.

Love me a lantern. Photo taken in or around Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by Stuart McDonald.

Love me a lantern. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Since opening in 1989, Thean Hou has not only served as a temple but also as the official site representing the Malaysian Chinese identity, as well as being a major tourist spot. It also plays host to more than 100 traditional events throughout the year, including Chinese New Year, Vesak, dharma prayers, the birthday of the three deities and mid-autumn festivals. The birthday commemoration of Mazu is considered to be one of the largest held outside of China, and the celebration is now recognised by UNESCO as an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”.

Thean Hou is quite out of the way and not within easy walking distance of any train station. We used a Grab taxi to reach here—if you do something similar it can be a good idea to ask them to wait as there is no passing traffic here to flag one down for the return trip.

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Thean Hou Temple
65 Persiaran Endah, Off Jalan Syed Putra
Mo–Su: 08:00–22:00
T: (03) 2274 7077 F: (03) 2273 6505;
Admission: Free

Location map for Thean Hou Temple

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