31 January 2012

Penang - Khoo Kongsi

Date of Exploration : 10 Dec 2011

Getting to the Khoo Kongsi clan house-cum-temple is something of a treasure hunt. Recognised as possibly the most beautiful masterpiece of its kind outside of China, it is in my opinion, undeniably the most architectually stunning of all postage stamp sized Chinese temples and clan houses I'd visited in Penang and South East Asia so far.

The temple being so gorgeous, one would expect it to be easily found and featured prominently by the roadside. But that's not the case. The first time I was here in 2009, we walked a couple of times up and down the streets before finding it. Khoo Kongsi is a sort of clan village made up of a wall of shophouses surrounding the clan temple in the typical Hakka's wei 围 formation (meaning enclosure). This practise of building a clan community was unusual but made perfect sense at a time when clan wars and disputes neccessitate protective dwellings.

Alright, now let's take a photo tour of this heritage treasure of Penang with anecdotes on some points of interest.

Entrance to Khoo Kongsi along Cannon Street. It's along a stretch of old shophouse facade so don't be surprised at how understated it looks.

After walking through a short lane from the entrance, the walls open up to a square and the feeling of seeing the elaborate temple for the first time is something one won't easily forget.

The temple isn't very big, but it houses a mind-boggling conglomerate of 4 decorative styles on its roof and walls - Stucco Sculptures, Jian Nian 剪粘 (cut-paste), Jiao Zhi Pottery 交趾陶, and Ceramic Figurines.

View of opera stage from temple's verandah framed by Western-influenced metal grille.

 The original clan temple was built in 1851 but it was burnt down in 1894. Legend has it that the gods deemed it too beautiful and toasted it for resembling the Emperor's palace in China. The current temple was built in 1906.

A pair of monks guards the stairs leading to the prayer hall. One of them is laughing, the other crying, representing the co-existence of joys and sorrows in life.

Almost every inch of the Khoo Kongsi clan temple is decorated with stone and wood carvings, reliefs and lanterns.

I've not seen structural beams so merticulously decorated as those at the clan temple.

Superior quality green, white and pinkish stones were imported from Fujian China to fashion the support columns and walls of the main prayer hall.

Altar inside the Khoo Kongsi prayer hall.

The 2 walls inside the prayer hall are painted with murals of celestial guardian gods totalling 36.

The back corridor of the prayer hall is lined with large murals, paintings and calligraphic pieces.

The Nine Old Men painting captured the scene where famous poet Li Bai and 8 of his friends gathered to recite poems, symbolising the need for optimism as a means for good health.

I wonder if I can find a font face like this for PC. So obiang but cool!

Below the temple is an interesting and well-kept museum / gallery.

Replicated kitchen scene at the clan house.
Well, that's Khoo Kongsi for you. The temple is small in size but big on aesthetics. Definitely worth a visit even if it's a little obscured from view. Have fun exploring! :o)

Address : 18 Cannon Square, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
Tel : 604-261-4609

Opening Hours : 9.00am - 5.00pm daily (including Public Holidays)
Admission : RM10.00


  1. That place is amazing. I don't think I have seen anything as ornate, even in the Forbidden City. Thanks for taking us in!

  2. Khoo -Kongsi is a fascinating Clan House which has been beautifully restored but there are many other hidden gems to be found in the back streets of George Town.Please come back again.


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