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Tian Hock Kung – The Snake Temple of Klang

I’ve always had a fascination with temples—and being raised a Buddhist (the faith of which a majority of Malaysian Chinese people profess to), I’ve been to my fair share of unique places of worship in Malaysia. Among them are:

But just when I think I’ve seen it all, my backyard surprises me with a hidden gem — Tian Hock Kung, also dubbed the “Snake Temple of Klang”. I chanced upon some pictures online while doing research; there wasn’t a lot of info available in English, but it was enough to pique my inner travel journalist. So I decided to drag the Hubs, a fellow person of culture, on an impromptu adventure to seek out the place.

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Once the capital of Selangor, Klang is one of the region’s oldest cities, known for its colonial buildings and rich heritage sites. It has a huge Hokkien Chinese population, and as such, there are dozens of beautiful Chinese temples within the city, some of which are over a hundred years old.

Tian Hock Kung is tucked in a quiet locality next to the Klang River, a few minutes drive from the city centre. There are no signs along the way pointing to the temple and the building is hidden from the main road by foliage, but it’s not that difficult to find (you can Waze there, or look out for Klinik Kesihatan Sungai Berthek, which is just next to it).

Even though it was a weekend, and most temples would have seen at least some visitors, it was so quiet that we thought the place was not open to visitors. But since the gate was open, we ventured in cautiously. No caretaker was present; we were greeted only by a skinny black and white dog, ie the informal temple guardian.

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On the outside, Tian Hock Kung looks like an ordinary Chinese temple, with all the elements — curved orange roofs, lots of red, typical Chinese motifs. But as you walk closer, you’ll see why they call it Snake Temple.

In place of dragons or phoenixes, which are common motifs that represent auspiciousness and prosperity, you’ll find dozens of life-like snake statues and carvings; coiled around pillars in menacing poses and perched atop roofs.

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Even for someone without ophidophobia (fear of snakes), looking at the figures can trigger a feeling of uneasiness — even though they are clearly not alive. I think it stems from a primal sort of fear : a NatGeo article suggests that fear of snakes may be hardwired, a remnant from a time when being wary of dangerous animals gave humans an evolutionary advantage. Even though only one in five snakes are venomous (a smaller number are fatal to humans), and snakes are generally shy creatures that would run away from people rather than attack them, I think the natural reaction for many of us towards snakes is to get the hell away from them, lol.

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A large green snake figure surrounded by flowers and plants on a giant wheeled float.

There is also, perhaps, another reason why we fear snakes. Their appearance and slithering movements seem cold and alien; far removed from mammals like ourselves, and so unlike cuddly, furry animals such as dogs and cats.

PS: For those unaware, a majority of the Malaysian Chinese population subscribe to an amalgamation of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, the latter two which incorporates many elements of traditional Chinese folklore and pagan practices of ancestor worship. Tian Hock Kung is primarily a Taoist temple, but it has a Guanyin statue as well, which is worshipped in both Buddhism as a bodhisattva, and Taoism as a deity/god.

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So why does this temple have so many representations of snakes?

Since I couldn’t find a caretaker to answer my questions, I can only rely on info I found online (most of these are written in Mandarin, which I can’t read lol and had to Google translate— so excuse me if I get some things wrong in translation).

The deities worshipped here are three sworn brothers, and like many Taoist deities, they are based on real historical figures. They are Zhang Gong Sheng Jun, Xiao Gong Sheng Jun, and Hong Gong Sheng Jun. You will find their statues inside the temple, with the main deity sporting a green face.

I’m not 100% sure which brother it is (I think it’s Zhang Gong Sheng Jun) but the god has an affinity for snakes and was known for defeating a thousand-year old snake demon. He also carries a magical weapon that used to be a snake which he subdued. You can read about the legend here.

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The interior of the temple is quite spacious, and the ceiling features an octagonal window with a Yin Yang motif — the primary symbol of Taoism — surrounded by other Taoist symbols that represent the different Immortals, such as the fan, gourd, iron crutch, and flute. In the centre of the room are several small but intricately carved wooden shrines with wooden seats on them (I’ve seen this before and I think they’re used to carry the deity statues out on religious parades). During our visit, there were also large stacks of paper offerings, sorted into neat bundles.

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Of course, it won’t be a Snake Temple without at least one resident snake — a huge albino python in a cage in the corner. Apparently snakes used to come here from time to time (on their own). According to a China Press article, in 2011, a six-foot-long python climbed into the temple and made a cozy nook for itself behind the altar, just before the deity’s birthday celebration. However, the snakes don’t come anymore, likely due to the surrounding neighbourhood’s development.

PS2: The northern state of Penang, another Chinese majority place, also has a snake temple, but instead of being in cages, the snakes roam freely around the temple. The history behind that temple is super interesting too, but I haven’t visited, and that would be a story for another time.

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Wall paintings. I think they tell the story of the deities worshipped at this temple.
Not being able to read Chinese characters is a real bummer. :c
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The main altar has been designed to look like a cave, complete with stalactites and outcroppings. There are three nooks, each housing one deity. The main one, as mentioned, has a green face, with a dragon on its back, and many smaller deities at the base. There are also large snakes with glowing LED eyes on each side of the central altar.

Unlike Buddhist statues, which often have serene, calm expressions, Taoist gods can appear quite….intimidating. In Cantonese, we call it having a strong sat hei, or ‘killing’ aura — ie a fierce disposition which is meant to scare away evil. You need not fear if you’re not an evil-doer, but those with evil in their hearts, beware.

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More paper offerings, these in the shape of clothes.
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Why pineapples? Pineapples are symbols of prosperity and good luck — the Hokkien word for pineapple ‘ong lai’, sounds like ‘prosperity comes’.
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The entire time we were roaming around and taking photos, there was not a soul in sight. I would have liked to speak to the caretaker to understand more about the place, but it was also a positive experience in a way, as I could take my time exploring without having to worry about bothering anyone.

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While on my way to the toilet, I chanced upon an area that was almost hidden from sight, adjacent to the main building. Peeking in, I saw that it was a shrine to the Taoist god of the underworld, Yanluo Wang. The entrance was designed to look like the gates of Hell, flanked by Hell’s guardians in Chinese mythology, Ox-Head and Horse-Face. As the name suggests, they have the bodies of men, but the head of an ox and the face of a horse. They are believed to escort newly deceased souls to face Yan Wang’s judgement, where they will subsequently be sent to the different levels of hell for punishment, based on their earthly crimes, or sent on to heavenly realms if they’ve been good people. Trivia: Japanese mythology has similar beliefs, where they are known as Gozu and Mezu.

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If what the temple committee wanted to achieve was to evoke a sense of fear and apprehension, then they certainly succeeded. The shrine was located lower than ground level, so visitors would have to descend steps to get closer (I did not because no way, Jose), and it was also bathed in an eerie blue light.

Instead, I respectfully (call me superstitious if you like, better safe than sorry!) asked for permission to take photos (the husband, a Christian, looked at me with a funny expression at what must seem to him absurd; ie me talking to the air, lol).

There were baskets of paper offerings lined up on one side of the shrine, a small table and chair on the other with some teapots (for mediums to channel the gods, perhaps?) on the other. Like at the main shrine, Yanluo Wang’s shrine was made to look like a cave, with the deity elevated on an outcropping, flanked by his assistants, the Black and White Guards (Heibai Wuchang). Taoism is heavy on balance, and like the concept of Yin and Yang, the Hei Bai Wuchang represent rewarding the good, and punishing the evil.

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Before leaving, I paid a visit to the Na Tuk Kong shrine within the temple’s compound. You might be wondering why there’s a dome resembling a mosque, and why the deity within seems to be wearing traditional Malay clothes. Well, when the Chinese migrated to Malaya centuries ago, they brought their folk worship beliefs with them; that is, paying respects to the local guardians and spirits they may encounter in this new land. Malays probably have another word for it — penunggu.

Klang’s Snake Temple is an interesting look into the Malaysian Chinese community’s way of life, culture, and beliefs. It’s a unique mixture of adherence to long held traditions passed down through hundreds, perhaps thousands of years – combined with new influences shaped by centuries of migration and assimilation. Definitely one of the more unique temples around!

TIAN HOCK KUNG (KLANG SNAKE TEMPLE 巴生天福宫)

Lot 3115 & 3116, Jalan Siakap, Jln Tepi Sungai, Taman Teluk Pulai, 41100 Klang, Selangor

Opening hours: 9AM – 11PM (daily)

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto

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Beautiful 130 Year-Old Malaysian Chinese Temple: Kwan Imm Temple, Klang

Mention Klang, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably bak kut teh – the town’s most famous dish comprising pork ribs, mushrooms and beancurd cooked in a complex broth of herbs and spices.

But dive deeper and you’ll find that the royal town of Selangor has plenty to offer, from vibrant cultural hubs – such as the Little India district, where one can shop for spices and sarees, or tuck into authentic Indian cuisine – to beautiful heritage sites like Kwan Imm Teng, a historic 130-year old Chinese temple dedicated to Guan Yin, the Buddhist/Taoist goddess of mercy.

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Founded in 1892, the original temple consisted of a simple wooden pavilion, built by Hokkien immigrants from China who settled in Klang during the tin mining boom. Since then, the temple has been relocated three times, to its current location along Jalan Raya Barat. Today, visitors are welcomed by an impressive outer pavilion, complete with studded wooden doors, lionhead-shaped door knockers, and lanterns.

Video below. Subscribe to my Youtube channel if you haven’t already!

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Entering the temple grounds, you will come to the grand-looking central pavilion. On both sides of the archways are granite stone carvings depicting figures of deities and dragons. Meanwhile, the building’s eaves are tiered and resemble clouds, while the roof boasts the signature Chinese temple look, with curved edges. Offerings of joss sticks may be made and placed into the large urn facing the structure. In the middle of the pavilion sits an intricately carved wooden shrine housing Budai, or the Laughing Buddha.

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Look up and marvel at the richly carved and gilded ceiling, which form a mesmerizing spiral pattern around several sacred symbols made to look like a flower. Coincidentally, you’ll see the colours of Buddhism (white, yellow, red, blue, and green) widely represented here. These colours are also common in Chinese culture and architecture, as they represent the five elements, namely wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

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The temple’s spacious courtyard comes in handy during religious festivals or ceremonies.

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Moving on to the innermost pavilion, the structure features a more enclosed design, its facade mostly covered in intricate stone reliefs and carvings. Once again, dragons, deities, clouds, and flowers are common motifs — but instead of a curved roof, the inner pavilion’s design is features more tiers, and appears more angular.

Our timing was unfortunate as the hall was closed for prayers. I caught a glimpse of the interior, though, which has an even grander ceiling, as well as a large statue of Guan Yin.

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Fun fact for my non-Chinese friends who are wondering why dragons are so common in Chinese culture. In Chinese mythology and folklore, dragons are considered benevolent creatures, with magical powers that allow them to control wind, rain, and water. As such, they are meant to symbolize strength, power, and good luck. Some Chinese families still consider it auspicious to have babies born in the Dragon Year of the Chinese zodiac (the next cycle is in 2024, so if you want a Dragon baby, plan accordingly :P).

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Just outside the prayer hall you can perform kau chim, an ancient Chinese fortune telling practice which involves asking the divine for answers to any questions that a devotee has. The practice is said to have originated in the Jin dynasty around 3AD. And because Chinese culture has strong Buddhist roots, a lot of these folk practices assimilated into religion — which is why you’ll often be able to kau chim at Chinese Buddhist/Taoist temples.

Each cylinder contains a bundle of sticks, each with a number. Devotees shake the container until one falls out — then match it to the corresponding fortune. Back in the day, it was more common to find a fortune teller on site, who would interpret the fortune written on the paper in context to your question. These days, like everything else, it’s self-service. lol

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Just next to the inner pavilion is a smaller, simpler structure housing two Buddhas. This is actually the ‘original’ building before the temple was expanded, and you can see the foundation stone on one side of the wall.

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We’re not done exploring! Don’t forget to stop by the adjacent Chinese-style garden for some rest and respite from the hustle and bustle of Klang. It comes complete with pond stocked with koi fish, a small bridge, a gazebo, and plenty of greenery.

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A tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.

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To be honest, I’m surprised there isn’t more publicity for Kwan Imm Temple as a tourist attraction, given it’s rich history and beautiful architecture. While locals seem to know about it, I wouldn’t have found out about the place if I hadn’t specifically been googling “places to visit in Klang”.

So the next time you’re in town for a bak kut teh fix, allocate some time to stop by Kwan Imm Temple. Entrance is free. They’re okay with photos, but as with any place of worship, be respectful during your visit. 🙂

KWAN IMM TENG (KWAN IMM TEMPLE) KLANG

30, Jalan Raya Barat, Selangor Darul Ehsan, 41000 Klang, Selangor

PS: I hope you liked this post! Please consider supporting my blog via my Patreon, so I can make more. Or buy me a cup of coffee on Paypal @erisgoesto.

Review: Coconut Flower Restaurant, Teluk Gong Port Klang

“Where are we going for lunch again?”

“Coconut Flower.” – mom 

I was thoroughly confused by the name, seeing that the restaurant served neither coconut nor flower-based dishes lol. What it really was – a huge and airy seafood place in the fishing area of Teluk Gong, Port Klang. Teluk Gong used to be a fishing/agricultural village, but its vast palm oil, cocoa and coconut estates have made way for heavy industries and factories in recent years. One can still find many Chinese seafood restaurants though, and Coconut Flower is one of them.

The restaurant grounds were huge, with the alfresco dining area boasting at least six or seven ‘huts’ made to look like traditional gazebos, surrounded by lots of greenery. Most of these were occupied, so we opted to sit at the main area. Because of the open air concept and the abundance of trees, it was cooling and pleasant to dine in – no need for air conditioning! 🙂

Almost makes one feel like they’re at a seaside resort. Although it isn’t anywhere near the beach and you can’t see the river/port.

Tank with different types of fish that you can have cooked fresh to order.

Coconut Flower is famous for their fried ‘sa jui’ (a small bony yellow fish) – sorry don’t know what it’s called in English – but it was out of stock during our visit. We got their other specialties, namely the lala (clam) fried mihun and home made fried tofu, along with stir fried yau mak (Romaine lettuce) and deep fried salted egg yolk squid.

The mihun was alright but nothing to shout about tbh. Texture was good, but I barely tasted any lala (they were very small/shriveled up) and the noodles had an overwhelmingly soy-sauce-y taste.

The fried tofu fared better. Mixed with fish paste, the tofu had an eggy flavour/texture with crisp skin. Perfect with the accompanying mayonnaise and chilli dip.

The star of our meal was the deep fried salted egg yolk squid. Squid was fresh and springy, evenly coated on the outside with salted egg yolk batter. Fragrance was enhanced with a mix of bird’s eye chili and curry leaves. Insanely addictive.

Some hits and misses, but I’d say the quality of the food was decent and I liked the chill, village-like environment. Prices are average, ranging from Rm20 and above for each dish. Our meal came up to Rm100+ for four.

PS: They are pork free.

COCONUT FLOWER RESTAURANT 

 702, Jalan Udang Galah, Telok Gong, 42000 Pelabuhan Klang, Selangor, Malaysia

Open for lunch and dinner: 11AM- 10.30PM (daily)

Phone: +60 3-3134 1218