Once known as the “Pearl of the Orient”, Penang Island (Pulau Pinang) is one of Malaysia’s most exciting destinations. A melting pot of traditional and modern Asian cultures, the island’s capital city Georgetown boasts historic buildings, monuments, and museums showcasing the breadth and depth of its unique heritage.
Established as a port for the British Empire back in 1786 by Captain Francis Light, Penang attracted seafaring immigrants from the Middle East, India, and China who made the hilly island their permanent home. Bringing their religious beliefs with them, these new residents built iconic places of worship—many of which are still in use today.
Some over a century old, Penang’s religious sites offer visitors a fascinating insight into how Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism established their roots in the land.
Walk with us as we journey through Penang’s best-loved temples, mosques, and churches.
||1000-L, Tingkat Lembah Ria 1, 11500 Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
||+60 4 828 3317
||Free to enter, MYR 2 to enter the pagoda, and MYR 2 to take the inclined lift each way
|Opening Hours||9:00am to 6:00pm|
Considered the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, Kek Lok Si (极乐寺) temple complex is located on breezy Air Itam Hill. Accessible via an inclined lift for only MYR 2 each way, its sprawling complex was completed in 1930.
A towering 36.5 metre tall Goddess of Mercy statue draws crowds of local and international believers and visitors alike. The tallest Guanyin statue in the world, it is a sight to behold, surrounded by 100 smaller statues (each 2 metres high) around its base.
Another architectural highlight is the 30-metre Ban Po Thar pagoda containing 10,000 mini Buddha statues. The pagoda’s syncretic design reflects the diversity of Buddhism in Penang. Its core is as an eight-sided Chinese base structure (八卦), with a Thai design in the middle, and a Burmese crown on top. Enjoy picturesque island views at the Pagoda costs just MYR 2.
Feeling peckish after your temple rounds? Eat healthily for a day in the temple’s vegetarian restaurant. Or sample the hawker food Penang is famous for at the open-air Ayer Itam wet market and food court, located at the bottom of the temple complex.
Get directions to Kek Lok Si
||1, Jalan Lebuh Farquhar, George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
||+60 4 261 2739
||Tuesday to Saturday: 08:30am to 12:30pm and 1:30pm to 4:30pm
Sunday: open all day
Closed on Mondays
Marvel at colonial Georgian-Palladian architecture in Southeast Asia's oldest Anglican church. Commissioned by the former East India Company in 1817, St. George's Church was built by an army of Indian convict labourers.
With a portico featuring distinctive columns, the church designed by Colonel J.L. Caldwell and constructed under Captain Robert Smith was modelled on St. George's Cathedral in Madras. Look out for its Victorian-style Greek pavilion honouring Sir Francis Light, founder of the then-British colony of Penang.
Ravaged by a WW2 bomb attack in 1941 and a looting in 1942, the church’s original pipe organ, pews, and monuments were destroyed. Declared one of Malaysia's 50 National Treasures and a Heritage (Warisan Negara) site by the government in 2007, its tranquil premises were faithfully restored after the war.
Get Directions to St. George's Church
||17, Jalan Kebun Bunga, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
|| 6:45am to 12:30pm, 4:30pm to 9:15pm daily
Witness local worshippers’ devotion to Lord Murugan at the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple (அருள்மிகு பாலதண்டாயுதபாணி கோயில்) in Georgetown.
Climb 513 steps up to the temple—one of Malaysia's oldest since its founding in 1782. Along the way, be charmed by the bird and peacock sanctuary and koi pond on the hill where the temple stands.
Located at the end of Penang’s yearly Thaipusam procession trail, the 70,000 square feet temple grounds makes it the largest temple dedicated to Lord Murugan outside India.
Look out for hand-sculpted decorations and architecture created by 19 South Indian temple builders and artisans, inspired by the Chola and Pallava kingdoms in India. These exquisitely carved and painted motifs took four years to complete! The temple also features a 21.6-metre main gopuram tower, and the 8.23-metre Lord Shiva statue at the foot of the hill.
Get directions to Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple, Penang
||Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque, Tanjung Bungah Road, Pulau Pinang, 11200, Penang, Malaysia
||+60 4-250 2800
||Call ahead to ask for permission to visit.
Closed on Friday for prayers from noon to 2:30pm.
Built with regal concrete on stilts, the Floating Mosque was named for how it appears to “float” on the Penang bay. Also called the Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque, this religious landmark is an architectural alchemy of Malaysian and Middle Eastern designs.
Holding some 1,500 worshippers, Malaysia’s first and only floating mosque on the sea covers an area of 1,295 square metres, topped by its signature seven-storey high minaret.
Visit in the evening to catch a dramatic island sunset, and experience the call to prayer (or azan) resonate across the water. Thereafter, stroll on the sandy beach nearby while taking in the serene and unblocked sea view.
Get directions to the Floating Mosque
||Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Bayan Lepas Industrial Park, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
||+60 4 643 7273
||6:00am to 7:00pm daily (temple)
9:30am to 6:00pm daily (snake farm)
Constructed back in 1850 and located near the current Bayan Lepas airport, live slithering pit vipers—we kid you not—live in this Buddhist temple.
The Snake Temple in Bayan Lepas (also known as Hock Hin Keong) was built to venerate the monk Chor Soo Kong—a mythical figure known for his supernatural abilities to heal and summon rain to save cities from drought.
Coiled lazily on altars and trees in the premises, the snakes living in the temple are not a sight for the faint-hearted, even though they are docile. Some say that the smell of fragrant incense renders the vipers harmless. Others surmise that these serpents are harmless as they have had their venom removed.
The adjacent snake farm charges MYR 5 per adult and MYR 3 per child for entry, and displays more than 50 snake species. For the bold-hearted, you can ask the temple photographer to help you photograph yourself holding a snake for MYR 30.
Get directions to Snake Temple in Bayan Lepas
Wish to improve your luck? Why not visit the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Penang?
There’s a wishing pool at this religious site, right in front of a mural portraying the Buddhist story of the Great Renunciation of Prince Siddhartha. Toss a coin into the pool and your heart’s greatest desire may just come true.
First opened in 1803 as Nandy Moloh Burmese Temple, the gold and scarlet building was designated as a historical site in 1988. Designed in the characteristic Burmese style with ornate glittering stupas, it is one of Malaysia’s earliest Burmese temples. It is run by monks who lead its religious ceremonies.
The temple is known for its Panca-Rupa (or Guardian Protector) statue—a chimera with the features of a horse, elephant, fish, the mythical Garuda, lion, and deer. This deity is said to protect the world, which is portrayed as a globe in the statue. Devotees also flock to the Arahant Upagutta Shrine, believing their wishes can be granted and difficulties overcome.
Beyond helping your wishes come true, the coin you toss to the bottom of the pool will also help with the temple’s upkeep.
Get directions to Dhammikarama Burmese Temple Penang
||17, Lorong Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
||+60 16 410 5115
||7:00am to 6:00pm
Just across the road from the Burmese Buddhist temple is the Thai-style Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple (泰佛寺).
Like the Burmese, immigrant Thais have made Penang their home, transporting their own versions of the annual Songkran (around April) and Loi Krathong (around November) festivals here.
Snap a shot of the 33-metre long gold-plated Reclining Buddha (Pra Buddhachaiya Mongkul), which is also one of the world's largest. Representing the Buddha’s death when he attained peace and detachment from worldly affairs, the Reclining Buddha hall also contains niches with deceased devotees' ashes.
Built in 1845 on land given to the Thai people in Penang on behalf of Queen Victoria by the British East India Company, the Thai Buddhist architecture of this temple complex is evident in its small Buddha shrines and ornate Thai deity sculptures. Buddhist devotees of all races flock here on the Thai New Year and Vesak Day with offerings and fragrant joss sticks.
Get directions to Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple
Elegantly designed and decked in the finest Islamic architecture, the Kapitan Keling Mosque is a jewel not to be missed.
Admission is complimentary (this is one of the rare Penang mosques providing visitors with this privilege). However, guests should dress modestly with their shoulders and knees covered or wear robes provided at the entrance.
Resplendent in hues of white and gold, the mosque rewards you with its glittering marble floor and stained glass windows, Gothic and Moorish arches, tall minaret, chandelier, and Islamic calligraphy panels. Come in the later part of the afternoon for the best photo opportunities.
Uniquely designed in a Moghul revival style, the Kapitan Keling Mosque was founded by a Tamil Muslim community leader Cauder Mohudeen and designed by a German Eurasian architect Henry Neubronner in 1910. Muslim visitors attend Sunni Muslim sermons conducted in both Malay and Tamil.
Sign up for a free guided tour at the information counter. Your guide will regale you with the history of the mosque and its unique relationship with the local Penang community. When you’re done, stop by the Nasi Kandar Masjid stall right outside the mosque. Wash down the satisfying spicy rice dish with iced tea—a great way to top off your sojourn of Penang’s finest religious sites.
Get directions to Kapitan Keling Mosque