The Penang Snake Temple is about three km from the airport in Sungai Kluang, Bayan Lepas. Built in honour of Chor Soo Kong, a Buddhist priest and healer, legend has it that the monk gave shelter to the snakes and when the temple was completed after his death, they moved in on their own.
After that, the snakes were believed to the disciples of the priest, so it became the home to several resident venomous Wagler’s pit vipers and green tree snakes. The temple is also known as the Temple of the Azure Cloud or Pure Cloud Temple and was constructed in 1850 as a result of a generous donation from a Scotsman, David Brown, whom Chor Soo Kong is said to have healed of an incurable disease using local medicine.
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When visitors think of Penang, Malaysia’s smallest state, it’s often summarised as ‘Asia condensed’. Penang conjures up images of clear beaches and Baba Nyonya culture (a blend of Indian and Chinese traditions). Meanwhile, locals swear by its cuisine and the island is the country’s unofficial culinary capital; food is practically a religion in and of itself and trying the local fare is a must for visitors. About 12km from Georgetown, the Snake Temple is one of Penang’s ‘Malaysia – Truly Asia’ sights, to quote Tourism Malaysia.
Some say the Penang Snake Temple is a misleading moniker because it’s not a pulse-quickening (read: dangerous) place to explore – after all, when you hear about a snake temple, most people expect pythons coiled around effigies and rattlers jangling away. Instead, the temple is a tranquil spot (as much as it can be with slithering snakes around).
At the entrance of the temple there’s a big incense burner which fills the main prayer hall with ‘smoke’: the incense that wafts through, acts as a tranquillizer, making them appear motionless, even asleep. Additionally, there are statues and carvings that make for great photo opportunities – check out the 600-lb bell in the main hall, brought from China in 1886 during the Manchurian Dynasty. It is rung on the first and 15th of every month in the Chinese calendar, as an invitation for those departed to pray. At the back of the temple is a snake ‘pool’ filled with fruit trees – take a closer look at the trees to see snakes coiled around the branches.
Nowadays it is hard to determine the amount of snakes that live in the temple grounds. Some say that the temple’s population is declining due to the rapid development that is disturbing the snakes’ natural habitat. However, during festivals you’ll see more of them, probably due to the extra offerings available. At night they slither about eating offerings, so during the day they’re reportedly too worn out to do more than lay around. Prayers at the temple begin as early as 05:00, when devotees pay homage to the deity by chanting the sutras.
There is a small exhibition annexe next door to the temple with tanks containing snakes, including pythons and cobras; the entry fee is cheap and this is where you’ll take pictures with defanged snakes (most of the snakes in the temple have had their fangs extracted). Having a photo taken while holding a snake can be slightly expensive, so do not give into the persistent snake handlers unless you really want to.
It is easy to get to the Snake Temple: from Georgetown there are three buses that take you to Bayan Lepas, bus numbers 302, 401 or 401E. There is not much else around the temple in the way of sightseeing attractions as it is mostly surrounded by factories and a highway, so be sure to leave the temple early to catch the free shuttle bus or be prepared to take a taxi.
- Opening Hours: 06:00 – 19:00
- Location: Bayan Lepas
- Tel: +604 643 7273
- Price Range:
For Temple: FREE
Snake farm: Adults – RM5, Kids – RM3