Raw, sublime, and utterly splendid, Ipoh’s cave temples take your breath away. Developed inside enormous caves, these Buddhist and Taoist temples infuse this already-surreal atmosphere with an otherworldly vibe, taking what is our favourite town in Malaysia (and probably its best-kept secret) and making it even more unbelievable. In case you are heading over to Ipoh, we’ve done what we do best: created this handy travel guide to the best Ipoh temples, and a few other things to do while you’re in town.
Now, keep in mind that there actually about 30 cave temples to explore in Ipoh, so you could really dedicate an entire week to visiting them all. For this guide, however, we’ve picked 5 of the best (in our opinion of course) Ipoh cave temples, all leaving a bit of time for you to explore this enchanting city and some of the other activities on offer.
Kek Lok Tong cave temple
What sets the Kek Lok Tong temple apart is the absence of any man-made structure on the outside. Once you climb up a short flight of steps, you will find yourself at the large opening of the cave – like a giant mouth gaping open, ready to swallow those who trespass. Worry not; the interiors of this temple cave transport you to a different world altogether. When lit up, the cave glows golden, matching the golden statues of the Buddha placed inside.
Walk around to take in the brilliance of the setting – unusually shaped and magical stalactites and stalagmites that pierce from above and below, traditional paintings, the glow of candles, the scent of incense all add to the allure. With a mix of Taoist and Buddhist elements, the Kek Lok Tong is, at once, simple yet grand.
Head to the rear of the cave that opens out to a serene Zen garden, a lotus pond, a couple of lakes, and even a jogging reflexology trail. Overlooking the lush greenery of the Ipoh countryside, it’s the perfect spot to catch a few quiet moments and reflect. Little wonder then that this cave temple has been called the ‘Cave of Ultimate Bliss.’
Location: Pesiaran Sepakat 3, Tmn Endah Jaya
How to get there: The Kek Lok Tong is a 10-minute drive from the Ipoh city center. However, it is tucked away in a relatively nondescript area, so finding the exact location can get a little tricky. You could take a bus, but we recommend you travel by Grab taxi.
Perak Tong cave temple
One of the most visited cave temples in Ipoh and most famous landmarks in Malaysia, the Perak Tong temple impresses on many counts. It starts with the elegantly designed stairs that lead to the red and white facade of the temple. The Perak Tong sits at the base of Gunung Tasek, a massive limestone mountain.
Once inside, it’s tough not to be awed by the 40 feet golden Buddha statue that takes centre stage, flanked by four guardian deities. The tall cave is filled with colourful murals, artistically done calligraphy, and striking figures from Chinese mythology, including an 18-armed Guan Yin statue.
Head behind the main altar and climb the 300 odd steps to the viewing platform at the top of the temple. The 360-degree views from the Perak cave temple of the Ipoh countryside are well worth it.
Location: ln. Kuala Kangsar, Kawasan Perindustrian Tasek
How to get there: Bus services (towards Kuala Kangsar) go right past the Perak Tong temple. Speak to the folks at your hotel or hostel and find out if the bus starts or has a stop nearby. If not, we recommend taking a taxi.
Top tip: For those who are short on time, the Kek Lok Tong and the Perak Tong cave temples are the two we would recommend visiting.
Sam Poh Tong cave temple
Discovered and used as a place for meditation by a Chinese monk in the 1890s, the Sam Poh Tong temple is one of the most important temples in Ipoh and is considered the biggest cave in all of Malaysia. While the temple holds beautiful statues and other religious artifacts, it is the outsides of the temple that impress.
At the front of the temple are a beautifully landscaped garden and koi pond from which mountain-like structures rise. But the absolute stunner is towards the rear of the temple. Once inside, take the tunnel that opens out at the back. Set against a backdrop of towering limestone karsts is a stunning red pagoda. Even though visitors are not allowed to go inside, the entire setting is pretty spectacular.
The Sam Poh Tong temple also includes a tortoise enclosure and you’re able to purchase small bits of fruit including tomatoes and apple to feed them. Honestly, we were excited at the prospect but, in the end, we found the whole experience a bit sad and quite inhumane – if we had to do it over, we wouldn’t have supported the fruit sellers so would advise you don’t either.
Location: Kampung Gunung Rapat, 31350
How to get there: The temple is located about 5 km from Ipoh city center in the Gunung Rapat area, with many other temples. You can get to this and nearby temples by taxi or car.
Ling Sen Tong Temple
Vividly colourful and quite playful in its decorations, the Ling Sen Tong Temple (Rock of the Heavenly Spirits) is a Taoist temple markedly different from the others in Ipoh. Done up in reds, yellows, greens, and goldens and featuring traditional, fun, and quirky statues all around the complex, the temple has a cheerful feel about it. Take a walk around; you’ll get to see statues of the Monkey King, the reclining Buddha, Guanyin (the Goddess of mercy), and animals from Chinese mythology. If you are traveling with young children, this is one temple that we recommend visiting.
Check out the spiral-shaped incense sticks hanging from the balcony or verandah area of the temple. You’ll find more of these incense or joss sticks inside the altar – the ceiling of the cave is covered in soot from the burning of these sticks.
Location: Gunung Rapat, 31350
How to get there: The Ling Sen Tong is located right near the Sam Poh Tong and Nam Thean Tong and can be seen while visiting these other temples (they are in walking distance).
Kwan Yin Tong
Dedicated to the Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, the Kwan Yin Tong temple is another impressive cave temple in Ipoh. More than 70 Guan Yin statues and those of the Buddha and other Chinese mythological characters can be found within the premises.
Look out for the mural of Guan Yin that is illuminated with blue psychedelic light.
There are a lot of interesting surprises to be discovered here – the shrine dedicated to man’s best friend, the dog, is just one of them. The temple is also a wedding venue!
Location: Lot 21606, Batu 4 1/2, Jalan Gopeng
How to get there: The temple is located in the Gunung Rapat region near the Ling Sen Tong and Sam Poh Tong temples. Hiring a taxi or car is the best way to get here.
How to get around Ipoh
If you want to maximize on time, then we strongly recommend traveling by taxi. Grab taxis are easy to book and offer a lot of flexibility. You can book a Grab taxi for a full day, half-day or for point to point drop offs too.
The Gunung Rapat region, which lies around 5 km southeast of Ipoh city, is home to several cave temples that can be visited together.
Budget-conscious travelers can take the Perak Transit public buses. Just be ready for slightly longer wait times!
What to wear at the Ipoh temples
As is the case with most Southeast Asian temples, visitors are required to dress modestly. Wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
Opening hours and Entrance fees
Most temples are open from 9 am to 6 pm. Entry is free. Donations are welcome!
Other great things to do in Ipoh
Ipoh is known for its charming colonial-style buildings, and the best way to experience this is by walking the Ipoh Heritage Trail.
Make sure you also walk the streets of Old Town Ipoh; it’s a hotspot for street art! There are eight vibrant and fascinating murals painted by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. They make for some interesting pictures. We actually have an entire guide dedicated to Ipoh Street Art to check out.
While there, try the white coffee the town is famous for at Old Town White Coffee or at one of the many cafes in Ipoh. This stuff is a particular favourite of James!
The town is also known for its culinary delights. Head to the Kinta Riverfront walk, where you can sample food that has Chinese, Malay, and Indian influences. End the day with lip-smacking Taugeh Chicken rice, Hakka Mee, Chicken Ho Fun, and more – all with a side of twinkling lights and serene river views!
Where to stay in Ipoh
Budget: We’ve personally stayed at Brownstone Hostel which, while it’s 15 minutes walk from the Old Town, is a great option and somewhere we’d stay again. This is a lovely modern hostel – we took a private room and it had all the amenities: comfy bed, hot shower, you name it! It also had a great shared courtyard where we found it easy to make a few travel friends.
Mid-range: If you’re keen on a gorgeous, well-appointed hotel, then The Tudor Hotel is a wonderful bet. You’ll all find yourself with a delicious breakfast each morning; and all of it at pretty reasonable prices.
Luxury: If you want top of the proverbial accommodation pops, then try. The Haven Resort. Nestled in the bosom of some limestone mountains, you’ll wake up with the most incredible views from your luxurious room before heading to a top-notch breakfast and a swim in the five level swimming pool.
Places to visit near Ipoh
Keen to extend your trip to Malaysia, or looking for some destinations in easy reach of Ipoh? There are really three to consider: Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown (Penang) and the Cameron Highlands.
If you’re okay to travel further afield, then your next stop after Kuala Lumpur should definitely be Melaka (read our Melaka itinerary here), or you could just laze in the quiet beach town of Port Dickson, if sand between your toes is more your thing. Avid beach bums could also head out from Georgetown to the island of Langkawi.
Just two and a half hours from Ipoh is the buzzing capital city of Kuala Lumpur (known as KL). One of our favourite cities in Asia, it’s a rite of passage to stay in KL if in Southeast Asia, and you can’t do a Malaysia trip without it.
Think sparkling high rise shopping malls, incredible temples of its own, the Batu Caves, the Jamek Mosque, the breathtaking Thean Hou Temple and so, so many delicious types of cuisine at rock bottom prices.
You can read our entire Kuala Lumpur itinerary here.
How to get to Kuala Lumpur from Ipoh: You can rent a car or, if you’re on a budget, just hop on a bus. While they take a little longer (from 3 hours 15 min to 4 hours), prices start as low as 4 USD. Book it with Bookaway here.
Georgetown / Penang
Used interchangeably, Georgetown and Penang (Penang is actually the state) is the perfect destination for those wanting a dose of more colonial culture, but also street art, as it’s considered one of the world’s most prominent street art destinations.
Check out the street art, do the colonial heritage walk, meander around the many (many!) museums or walk up Penang Hill; Georgetown has heaps to offer.
How to get to Georgetown from Ipoh: About 2 and a half hours between the two, the cheapest (and easiest) way is via bus. Again, you’ll find rock-bottom prices starting at 3 USD – find your bus of choice on Bookaway here.
If you love tea more than coffee, then heading to the Cameron Highlands is the next stop for you. You’ll be surrounded by incredible tea plantations but also able to go strawberry picking, head into the Mossy Forest, hit the hiking trails or just hang out in the local tea house.
How to get to the Cameron Highlands from Ipoh: This is not as well-travelled a tourist route, so you won’t have as many options. That said, you’ll definitely be able to rent a car or (like us), hop on an express bus and be there in 2.5 hours. As always, check out the best operators on Bookaway here.
Ipoh Temples FAQ
What are the best temples to visit in Ipoh?
There are so many temples to visit in Ipoh – about 30 cave temples alone. With that in mind, if you can only pick a few, the best would be: Kek Long Tong, Perak Tong, Sam Poh Tong, Ling Sen Tong and Kwan Yin Tong temple.
What time do the Ipoh cave temples open?
Most of the temples in Ipoh open at 9am and close around 6pm.
What should I wear to visit the cave temples in Ipoh?
Like other temples in Malaysia, it’s respectful to dress modestly at the Ipoh temples. This usually means covering your shoulders and knees – consider a shawl for ladies, and long skirts or trousers.
About the Author: Gayathri Ranganathan
Gayathri is an accomplished travel writer, who loves to travel with her family – her teenage girls and her husband. She feels that ‘traveling is the best way to open up one’s mind and heart to different cultures, foods, and lifestyles.’ When she’s not traveling, she’s dreaming about traveling or busy researching some new destination. “Over the years, I’ve discovered that in life and travel, it’s always about the journey, never about the destination.”
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