While it doesn’t look too interesting from the outside, Nam Thean Tong hides deep and dark passages for curious cavers to explore.
This cluster of temples is an ideal place to experience the Taoist religion. Not only are they within walking distance of each other, but these cave temples each have their distinct style so you don’t get bored of seeing the exact same thing three times. Since these are functional temples, admission is completely free for all three.
Nam Thean Tong (also sometimes spelled Nam Tian Tong) looks much less grandiose compared to its neighbours. Built so that it appears almost flush with the cliff-face, the colours of the exteriors are more muted than Ling Sen Tong. However, Nam Thean Tong’s décor is focused more on eye-catching murals that have been painted directly onto the cave rock.
Getting Here & Parking
Nam Thean Tong is the middle temple located down the narrow unnamed road. This temple has a dedicated parking lot that is within their walls. The parking lot is usually empty and free to use, however, the gods can sense an auspicious opportunity better than anyone. If you visit during the busiest periods at Chinese New Year and perhaps during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a parking fee of around RM10 will apply.
What To See
After passing under the main arch, there are no flamboyant statues or gardens out front. There are only a couple of outside ornaments, which are to the left of the temple building. There is a large golden deity ringed by shrubs and a colourful pagoda that floats over a murky fish pond. A zigzagging bridge connects the pagoda to a separate little shrine close to the base of the cliff.
Before entering the temple, take a moment to admire the masterly carvings of dragons, deities and fish on the temple roofs. There are some pretty paintings on the left half of the building, and I think I saw a washroom up a short flight of stairs over here. I didn’t need to use the facilities at this time, so I didn’t pay much attention to the toilets, but I’m certain one exists at Nam Thean Tong with all the caretakers hanging around.
Just inside the main temple entrance is a desk that will probably have some people sitting around. This is just temple management and the caretakers, not an admission fee desk, so leave them be and continue deeper into the temple.
Of the three, Nam Thean Tong is where you’ll get to truly admire cave temple architecture. The main sanctum is carved deep into the cliff and is well-lit so you can observe all the natural crags and gouges in the rock.
The main sanctum is marked by this table stocked with incense before five seated deities. The statues are of modest size, but the gods are better honoured in the form of wall paintings here. Off to the side is a short tunnel that leads to another cave room. This secondary room has a large window with a grate on it, a small altar in front of a lovely mural, and the first set of stairs leading upwards.
What sets Nam Thean Tong Temple apart from the others is the ability to venture deep into the heart of the cave. Normally, you can climb up to what is technically the fourth floor. There are a couple of balcony viewpoints along the way, but the real fun for first-timers to this temple is seeing how far the passageway goes. As you ascend, the number of other visitors around dwindles and there is a growing sense of gloom. The bridges and handrails can be rickety, and there are no lamps on the upper floors and nowhere for natural light to poke through. At times, it is pitch dark and downright creepy if you also enjoy being spooked.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, all of the staircases to the upper floors were blocked off and inaccessible. We were only able to get as far as the second cave room with the small altar that is pictured above. Whereas a tourist would usually take 30 minutes to explore the entire cave and the grounds, we only spent a total of 10 minutes here – five minutes in the cave temple and another five in the garden. With only the ground floor sanctums open to visitors at this time, Nam Thean Tong can feel like a dull disappointment instead of memorable in its own right.
Nam Thean Tong Temple Info
Admission: Free (donations appreciated)
Parking: Free (~RM10 fee applies on special occasions)
Hours: 9am – 5pm sharp (last admission at 4:30pm)
Washroom On-Site: Probably