Nestled in between serene lakes at the base of Gunung Rapat, Kek Look Tong Temple has become a bustling tourist attraction despite its remote location. The imposing caves and the stunning gardens are sure to please any visitor. The history of the temple isn’t sacred or remarkable. It was briefly involved in ore mining, but otherwise, it has always simply been a place of worship.
Getting Here & Parking
Kek Lok Tong Temple looks close to other tourist temples such as Sam Poh Tong and Da Seng Ngan. However, being on the opposite side of Gunung Rapat, it is deceptively far and requires taking a roundabout route as there is obviously no path through the mountain.
First, you have to get to a block of suburban bungalows that begin on Pesiaran Sepakat 3. At the end of Pesiaran Sepakat 8, there is an offshoot road that leads to Kek Lok Tong. A yellow sign with “GUA KEK LOK TONG” is at the junction, but it is quite small and hard to notice. This narrow road to the temple is long and winding, but stay on it and don’t turn off. Eventually, the limestone cliffs will be in full view and you’ll see the temple gates.
Parking at Kek Lok Tong is free, but again, likely not on special holidays. The parking lot is the largest I’ve seen at any temple in Ipoh, so there should always be a spot available on an average day.
Admission Fee & Opening Hours
The entrance fee for Kek Lok Tong is completely free, but donations are always appreciated at the donation booth to help with upkeep costs.
Kek Lok Tong’s opening time is listed as 7 am, but online information varies wildly on the closing time. I can definitively say that all parts of the temple closed at 5 pm on the day we visited. By 4:45, a high metal gate and a guard separated the gardens from the rest of the temple, and a repeating message on a speaker urged those already in the garden to make their way out immediately. Meanwhile, caretakers inside the cave thanked us for visiting and gently pressured us toward the exit.
What To See
The entrance alone inspires a picture. The ivory-coloured cliff face has a distinct line where the vegetation begins, creating a green picture frame around the entrance. Chinese guardian lions stand at the base of the stairs that gently rise up to the wide, gaping mouth of the cave. In between the lions, a manicured patch of lawn has purple flowers arranged into the Buddhist symbol of peace.
Off to the right of the cave is a fountain and pond stocked with koi – both living and two artificial versions spitting an artistic arc of water from their mouths. Hovering in the middle of the pond is the Goddess of Mercy, Kwan Yin.
If you continue on, there is a cluster of white statues semi-hidden in the trees. If I remember correctly, the scene is of a bunch of bearded men playing some sort of board game. For some reason, this was a cut-throat picture-taking spot. Several people were hovering around, impatiently waiting for the spot to clear so that they could take a photo. One girl flagrantly ruined the photo of the people already posing by planting herself there to get her own shot. Prepare to wait, have a quick shutter finger, and potentially to have some random person in your picture. It honestly wasn’t that interesting, so I don’t have my own photo of these board gaming statues.
Kek Lok Tong is all about spaciousness. There are no narrow passages or jumbles of Buddhas crammed into a small room. The statues are placed so that there is a wide space in front in which you can admire them while still social distancing. Also contributing is the simple sense of vastness. Except for one small part of the cave, the ceiling height is very high at Kek Lok Tong, and it’s hard to not strain your neck just looking up in wonderment.
A stone Confucius welcomes you at the threshold of Kek Lok Tong. In this first chamber, a lone white deity sits in the middle. On the right is a short rock waterfall with a miniature Bodhisattva, while the left side of this room has administrative desks. There is a large, obvious set of stairs next to the seated Buddha, but in the back corner next to three smaller bronze gods is a hidden staircase. Both of the stairs lead to the second floor, just different spots.
We took the secret stairs and were led up to a part of the cave with low clearance. Most visitors will have to hunch walk while going through here. The rock ceiling was just barely above my head, with stubby stalactites jutting down even lower. There were no statues or anything to see in this part of the temple, but we were still able to go deep into a snug little corner of the cave.
The cave system at Kek Lok Tong isn’t that extensive. You’ll shortly arrive at stairs leading down into a chamber with a wide opening leading back outside. There are three pretty epic bronze statues facing the natural light: a Bodhisattva riding an elephant, a Buddha on a lotus bed with many smaller Buddhas facing it, with the third Bodhisattva being mounted on an imperial guardian lion.
A big Laughing Buddha gets a prime spot overlooking the gardens outside, while a smaller statue lives in his shadow directly behind him. Before you check out the gardens, there is a set of stairs that lead back up. The area up here is where you can get the best view of the cave’s natural beauty, where the rippling grooves in the rock and the stalactite formations can be seen up close.
The gardens at Kek Lok Tong have an idyllic, paradisal look. A peaceful pond is surrounded by green lawns, while the cliffs enclosing this hidden valley and the perfect sunny sky complete the picture.
A walking path surrounds the lake, but on the far side is the longest reflexology path in Ipoh. Walking barefoot on the smoothed stones is supposed to soothe tired feet and massage acupressure points. It also hurts like hell, so take it easy and don’t rush yourself if you do try it.
While strolling the path, there are lots of things to see aside from the beautiful plants and flowers. First are the eighteen Luohans (Lohans), the original followers of Gautama Buddha who have achieved full enlightenment. All eighteen statues are lined up neatly in a row and with their name etched into their base.
A few steps further are some fascinating miniature scenes on stone and granite slabs. One had small clay Buddhas arranged on porous and mossy rock, while another was carved entirely from stone and might have been one solid piece at one point.
If you do the complete walking path and don’t take the reflexology shortcut, you’ll pass next to a second pond with lily pads scattered across its surface. Once you get back to the reflexology path, it’s worth walking on it – in shoes, if you have to – so that you can get to this spot that has a lovely view back towards the Kek Lok Tong cave.
These gardens were meant to be savoured. On the left side of the lake, gazebos have been erected where you can find peace and serenity. On the opposite side, visitors were freely relaxing on the lawn in the shade of the cliffs. There are many benches around to sit, especially near the reflexology path.
The toilets are located in a long grey building just to the left of the front cave entrance. They were so noteworthy that even our driver recommended that we use them because they were clean and brand newly constructed. I obviously couldn’t pass up such an endorsement. Admittedly, the bar for temple toilets is low. Most times all you get is a squatter and a sink… maybe. While I didn’t have the most luxurious pee break ever at Kek Lok Tong, for temple toilets, these facilities are the best you could get. They had everything you need in a washroom: sitting toilets (I wasn’t able to check if there were any squatters) with paper provided and soap at the sinks.
Next to the washrooms is a lone white vending machine selling drinks. Nothing fancy, just commonplace brand bottled water and juices. I did not see any place to buy food, so you’ll have to wait until you get back to town for a snack.
While Sam Poh Tong is overrated in my opinion, Kek Lok Tong is sorely underrated. Even though Kek Lok Tong has a bunch of positive reviews online (more than Sam Poh Tong), it doesn’t get half the recognition that Sam Poh Tong receives. It is completely omitted from some top Ipoh attraction lists and only makes it on to more broad lists. I didn’t even know about this temple until my mom suggested that I visit it.
Many of the temples in Ipoh are beautiful. A clean temple is a nice bonus. Kek Lok Tong is the only temple that encourages you to stay with drinks, nice toilets, and comfy places in the shade to sit. This isn’t the place if you’re looking to do some caving – the cave network at Kek Lok Tong is too basic for that – but if you like cave temples and want a relaxed time then this is a great place to visit. It is just about a twenty-minute drive from Ipoh central, but considering you could comfortably spend an hour or more here, Kek Lok Tong is worth it. We were rushed out because of closing time and did not get as much time exploring Kek Lok Tong as we would have liked, so a return visit is in the cards for us.
Kek Lok Tong Temple Info
Address: Unnamed Road off Pesiaran Sepakat 8, 31350 Ipoh, Perak
Admission: Free (donations appreciated)
Parking: Free (fee likely applies on special occasions)
Opening Hours: Daily, 7am – 5pm
Washroom On Site: Yes