Photo: Man-eater.

Snake Temple (Hock Kin Keong)

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The concept of a “snake temple” may conjure up all sorts of Raiders of the Lost Ark type scenarios with pits of writhing serpents, and if that’s your idea of fun, prepare for disappointment at Penang’s heritage Snake Temple.

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We’re not saying it’s devoid of the oft-feared reptiles, it just takes a moment before you will spot your first pit viper, its skin a zesty lime green with yellow striped undertones, wrapped snugly around a rattan frame on the altar, prostrate beneath a Chinese vase or slunk over the plump dragonfruit, offerings to the gods.

Do not disturb. Photo taken in or around Snake Temple (Hock Kin Keong), Penang, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Do not disturb. Photo: Sally Arnold

Until recently it was believed that a heady dose of incense smoke kept the snakes in a hypnotic stupor, but in fact is not only false, it’s harmful and shortens their life. For the welfare of the animals, the burning of joss sticks is banned within the prayer hall. Regardless, they (thankfully) seem entirely soporific, but even so, strategically placed signs remind would-be Cleopatras that the snakes are indeed poisonous, poke them at ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 600 words.)

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