Think about some of the temples in Asia you might have visited; bright red outside and a roof with ornate carvings on it – check.
Lit candles and offerings reflecting hopes and prayers of those who left them – check. An ornate altar covered in gold – check.
Poisonous snakes draped around the incense burners – erm, not so common – unless you’re visiting the Snake Temple in Penang that is.
The Snake Temple Story
Penang’s Snake Temple has to be one of the most unusual things to do in Penang. Located about a 20-minute taxi ride south of the city, it’s official name is Hock Kin Keong.
At the time it was built, around 1850, the temple was surrounded by jungle and legend has it that the snakes living there decided to make the temple their home. Let’s face it if your choice was a nice cool, dark temple or, outside with scorching heat, thunderstorms and things that might try and eat you you’d probably pick the same.
The monks looking after the temple decided to let them stay and, even though the jungle has vanished (and been replaced by factories and highways) the snakes have stayed put – albeit not quite in the same numbers as days gone by.
Saying that though, there was still enough snakes hanging around the place to make me slightly nervous.
Erm, Is This Safe?
Don’t panic, this is not an Indiana Jones-type situation where you take your life in your hands walking through a viper pit to light your candle.
The snakes are poisonous, but they’re also pretty sleepy during the day (they’re a nocturnal breed). I don’t think we ever saw a tail twitch from any of them while were were there – let alone any actual slithering.
The snakes’ docile appearance is why there are so many warning signs everywhere – they don’t look real and it seems some tourists may have been tempted to poke one to find out.
Apparently, no-one has ever been bitten by one of the snakes at the temple, but let’s not be the person that finds whether that’s true that hard way. Keep your fingers off!
Does The Snake Temple Have an Entry Fee?
Where there’s no charge to enter the Snake Temple itself, the temple grounds also contain a small snake farm containing breeds of snake over and above the pit vipers you find in the temple itself.
If you do have the urge to touch a scaly thing, they will happily offer to drape a snake around you. It costs 5RM to enter the snake farm and 40RM more if you fancy having a snake photo.
I’d heard rumours about hard sell from this side of the building trying to get you to have your pictures taken, but the guys just asked us once if we were interested and then wandered off. As we were the only people in the temple at the time, that didn’t seem overly pushy.
If you’re in the mood to spend money, there’s also a small parade of shops selling plastic snakes and other Penang souvenirs outside the temple.
Make Sure You Head Outside…
One nice surprise not to miss is the serene garden at the back of the temple. You’ll also spot snakes in the trees here and Harry Potter fans should also not miss the chance to have a selfie with what I’m pretty sure is a mandrake!!!!! Hmmm, snakes and mandrakes – has anyone seen someone called Snape wandering about?
When is the Snake Temple Open?
It’s open seven days a week from 7 am to 7 pm.
The Snake Farm opens a little later at 9.30pm and shuts at 6 pm.
I have read that during Chinese New Year when many people come to the temple to pay respects they can remove the snakes to ensure everyone is happy.
If you’re travelling to Penang during Chinese New Year you might want to ask your hotel and ask them to contact the temple to check on this.
You really would not want to come down here and find there are no snakes in situ – there’s not a lot else to do down here.
Oh, and lastly, don’t miss this fella who also lives at the temple. Not sure who he belongs to, but he seems very at home. I’m guessing he’s not scared of snakes!
How To Get To the Snake Temple, Penang
We went to the temple via a Grab Taxi as it was raining really hard the morning we decided to go. This took about 20 minutes and cost just 27RM. To be honest, if you’re not on a super budget, I think this is probably your best bet as the temple isn’t that easy to spot.
If you’re not sure what Grab is, it’s an app rather similar to Uber that’s the best way to get taxis in Malaysia.
When we went it wasn’t possible to add your credit card to the app for payment and you had to pay cash. I’ve been told this is not longer the case (and we could add our credit cards when we used Grab in Bangkok recently) so just sign up and see what happens before you try and get to the temple.
Getting Back to Georgetown from the Snake Temple
The easiest way back to Georgetown would also have been to grab a Grab, but we decided to get adventurous (and save some cash) and take the 401e bus.
Apparently, this picks up on the main road right by the Snake Temple but on the day we visited, for some reason, Google maps told us to head to a stop around the corner on Jalan Tengah.
If it does the same to you note that most of the walk to the stop is on a side road parallel to the main highway, but there is one point where you cross a bridge and have to walk on the road itself which is a bit hairy – be very careful.
We were also a bit unsure if we were definitely waiting on the correct side of the road for going back into Georgetown, but if you’re facing a row of shops and restaurants and have a block of flats behind you you are in the right place and the bus is going the right way.
When you get on ask to go back to Georgetown or Prangin Mall if you want to be more specific.
This will bring you to an underground bus station pretty much directly underneath the big Komtar tower so you’ll know when you get there.
It cost us 2.70RM when I wrote this, I’m not sure if that’s gone up (have about 4RM of correct change ready and you won’t go wrong). The bus takes about 60-75 minutes to get back to Georgetown – traffic willing.
The buses run every half an hour. If you’ve got time to kill before the next one, or just haven’t had your fill of temple stuff from the Snake Temple, there’s another temple, Sri Vishwanather Sri Visalatchi, a short walk from the Snake Temple which is worth checking out.
Built at a cost of 3 million RM it’s the biggest Sivan temple in the area and has some interesting statues.
If you do want to get the bus from Georgetown to the Snake Temple tell the driver you want to get off at the Snake Temple as you board and they should help you. But do keep an eye on google maps for your stop as the Temple is on the opposite side of the main road so it’s might not be that easy to see.
One thing to bear in mind. I really wanted to see the Snake Temple and thoroughly enjoyed myself – but realistically you will only spend 15-20 minutes there so, if you’re not in Penang for long, you might want to splash out on a Grab there and back so you’re not spending 3-4x longer trying to get back to Penang as you do in the temple itself!!!
What to Read Next
The Snake Temple is just one of the fun and unusual things to do in Penang! Find the list of our favourite Penang sights here.
Chances are you’ve come to Penang to see some street art, but, while the famous murals are amazing, there’s a lot of smaller art works you really should’t miss. Our guide to some of the lesser known Penang Murals tells you where to find them.
There’s another snake temple located in the town of Klang, an easy day trip from Kuala Lumpur. See more details in our post on the perfect way to spend a day in Klang.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.
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