My Visit To Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi In Penang

Posted by : foongpc | Wednesday, August 6, 2014 | Published in


On my third day in Penang, I visited the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, one of the finest and grandest Chinese clan temples in Malaysia.

Housed within Cannon Square in George Town, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and known as an icon for heritage conservation.

The entrance to Cannon Square and Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (or Khoo Kongsi for short) is  located along Cannon Street. However before entering the clan temple, I could not help admiring these pre-war colonial houses located opposite.

 photo P1220685_zps38ea1f28.jpg

I thought these buildings were pretty charming!

 photo P1220686_zps64c42f26.jpg

This is the entrance to Khoo Kongsi. By the way, the name Leong San Tong literally translates as Dragon Mountain Hall.

 photo P1220684_zpsbb0c46b1.jpg

There's a brief historical description of Khoo Kongsi on the wall. Apparently, Khoo Kongsi was founded in 1835 when members of the Khoo clan gathered to form an association to look after the welfare of Khoo clansmen who made their journey from China to the promised new world of Malaya.

 photo P1220688_zps7dccc22e.jpg

Khoo Kongsi were known as one of the Five Big Clans that formed the backbone of the Hokkien community during the early days of Penang - the other four being Cheah, Yeoh, Lim and Tan Kongsi.

The building now standing was actually rebuilt from scratch after the original building was destroyed by a mysterious fire in 1901. It was partially damaged in World War II but restoration work was done to fully reinstate it to its former glory in 1958. The last major restoration was done as recent as 2001.

This plaque on the wall certifies that the Khoo Kongsi building was registered as a Heritage building by the Malaysian Government.

 photo P1220687_zpsf89cf5df.jpg

The entrance into Cannon Square was flanked by double-storey terrace houses on both sides. They are known as 'Sixteen Houses' because there are 16 of them - 8 on each side. There were not many people at the time of my visit, which was a good thing as I simply dislike crowds.

 photo P1220689_zps04184657.jpg

At the end of the Sixteen Houses was a shop selling tickets and souvenirs. The entrance fee was RM10 (US$3.15).

 photo P1220690_zpsc239a0e6.jpg

The Khoo Kongsi complex consists of the Leong San Tong clan temple, an administrative building with meeting hall and offices, an opera stage and 62 units of terrace houses and shophouses.

Refer to this diagram taken from the Khoo Kongsi website below.

 photo KhooKongsimap_zps07176ea9.jpg

Notice there are 3 entrances to the Khoo Kongsi complex but I think only the main entrance at Cannon Street is open. I could imagine that in the olden days, this whole area is like a self-contained village occupied by the Khoo families.

Round the corner after the Sixteen Houses stands the Administrative Building. This is the place where clansmen hold meetings and settle clan affairs.

 photo P1220692_zps65f74279.jpg

This double storey building looks interesting as it has some elements of British colonial architecture. I was just curious about those blue-coloured designs on the wall. Not sure what they symbolise or if they have anything to do with feng shui.

 photo P1220693_zpsb403475b.jpg

I stepped inside and was surprised to find ancestral tablets. I thought this is an administrative building!

 photo P1220695_zps9946420a.jpg

On further research while writing this post, I learnt that this is an extension from the Leong San Tong temple as the altar for the enshrinement of ancestral tablets at the Leong San Tong was overcrowded.

There were some nice carvings on the wall.

 photo P1220696_zpscc5d97ae.jpg

 photo P1220697_zpscd331036.jpg

Leaving the Administrative Building, I walked towards the Opera Stage. I tried to take a picture but my camera got jammed midway. And the picture ended up like this!

 photo P1220699_zpsc4cb405b.jpg

Maybe I was not supposed to take picture of the ancestral tablets earlier? : )

OK, this is the picture of the Opera Stage after my camera behaved itself. LOL. I took it standing in the middle of the courtyard.

 photo P1220700_zps0107b026.jpg

Directly opposite the Opera Stage is the Leong San Tong clan temple.

 photo P1220698_zps059fa320.jpg

Look at the detailed ornamentation on the rooftop! What a masterpiece!

 photo P1220701_zpse3481b06.jpg

Pieces of ceramic bowls were used to form all those patterns and images probably using the cut-and-paste method. The roof must be pretty heavy!

 photo P1220703_zps9b444266.jpg

 photo P1220704_zps9fc79aea.jpg

 photo P1220705_zps203f267b.jpg

There were four staircases leading up to the Prayer Pavilion in front of the building. The two front stairs were blocked so I entered using the side staircase.

 photo P1220706_zps3020739c.jpg

Look at the ceiling - it was full of intricate ornamentation and design!

 photo P1220707_zps186a1632.jpg

A closer shot of the Pavilion's ceiling.

 photo P1220702_zpse1eb037a.jpg

Big lanterns and images of carved celestial animals make this clan temple a perfect place for avid photographers.

 photo P1220710_zpsfb728fb1.jpg

The Leong San Tong clan temple is a two-storey building. The top floor consists of three halls - the Main Central Hall, the Ancestral Hall on the left and the God of Prosperity Hall on the right.

The ground floor consists of a museum and a kitchen.

A grand staircase leads up to the Main Hall from the Pavilion.

 photo P1220709_zpsebe8fa97.jpg

The ceiling outside the Main Hall.

 photo P1220711_zps509408fb.jpg

 photo P1220712_zpsbbd2bfb6.jpg

Beautiful, intricate carvings! Must have been done by master craftsmen!

 photo P1220718_zps7b91e79b.jpg

 photo P1220717_zpsef5d5bf6.jpg

Standing outside the Main Hall, I snapped a picture of the courtyard below and the Opera Stage in the distance directly opposite. To the left of the Opera House is the Administrative Building which I visited earlier.

 photo P1220716_zps8cffa7de.jpg

This is the verandah outside the Main Hall.

 photo P1220728_zpsb45b0e43.jpg

Look at those ornate wall carvings! They are pretty amazing!

 photo P1220725_zps03a81ebb.jpg

A closer shot of the beautiful carvings.

 photo P1220724_zps3b032ff9.jpg

A relief sculpture of a mythical animal.

 photo P1220723_zpsc2821505.jpg

Beautifully carved windows too!

 photo P1220722_zps5446b0e3.jpg

I love this round stone window!

 photo P1220719_zps838a7cfd.jpg

I am pretty sure each carving tells a different story. I am just not sure what story.

 photo P1220730_zps814c7c12.jpg

What is this all about?

 photo P1220726_zps37d32794.jpg

And this?

 photo P1220727_zps9f6c1955.jpg

I spent the entire afternoon clicking away with my camera haha! Unfortunately, my pictures were just average at best. If you own a really good DSLR camera, you should visit this place and take gorgeous photos! Honestly, every inch of this clan temple is filled with intricate carvings and ornamentations.

 photo P1220732_zps6be1b51b.jpg

As mentioned earlier, there are three halls on this top floor. I entered the Main Central Hall first as it was the biggest and most important.

 photo P1220740_zps46a68572.jpg

This central chamber has an altar dedicated to the Khoo's patron saints, Ong Soon and Tai Sai. There were lanterns and worship paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling.

 photo P1220742_zps2a5c98dd.jpg

A closer shot of the altar.

 photo P1220741_zps31f02b97.jpg

The walls in this hall were adorned with ink frescoes depicting the 36 celestial guardians of Chinese mythology.

 photo P1220743_zps384d0ebb.jpg

 photo P1220745_zpsbad5e7cb.jpg

A closer shot of the ink frescoes. The celestial guardians appear to be of both sexes, each riding on different creatures and holding unique weapons.

 photo P1220744_zps4384d969.jpg

Next, I went into the Ancestral Hall on the left of the Main Hall. This hall which is smaller and more subdued, contains an altar for ancestral worship.

 photo P1220735_zpsa41d5b00.jpg

On the wall on both sides are plaques of Khoo clansmen who have achieved academic excellence or recognition for their service to society.

 photo P1220737_zps2855a3c8.jpg

A close shot of the altar where the ancestral tablets are placed. These tablets were inscribed with the names of members of the Khoo clan who had departed. They were placed in rows according to the ancestors' position in the clan hierarchy.

 photo P1220736_zps5c53ad1b.jpg

This is the door entrance to the God of Prosperity Hall. Notice the unique stone drums flanking both sides of the doorway.

 photo P1220734_zpsc1328492.jpg

This small hall contains an altar to worship the God of Prosperity. Just like the Ancestral Hall, the walls in this hall were also lined with plaques of the members of the Khoo clan.

 photo P1220748_zpsf87b1bea.jpg

Behind the three halls is a rear corridor that did not seem interesting to me until I spotted a few ink murals on the wall. This is one of the murals that I took a picture of. The rest did not turn out well due to the dim lighting.

 photo P1220747_zpsc9de968c.jpg

It appears that these murals are almost a century old, making them one of the most important heritage paintings of this country.

After completing my tour of the top floor, I went down to the ground floor of the Khoo Kongsi clan temple. There was a museum here but I did not take any photos except for this section that depicts the lifestyle of the Khoo family.

 photo P1220759_zps4663f83e.jpg

OK, these life-sized statues gave me the creeps so I quickly took some photos and did not linger too long in there!

 photo P1220762_zps39137208.jpg

Some of the cooking utensils on display.

 photo P1220761_zps45ad12b4.jpg

 photo P1220763_zps8945bcb3.jpg

 photo P1220764_zpsd1982eed.jpg

Just one last photo (from a different angle) of the Khoo family having their dinner before I left.

 photo P1220766_zps39d51752.jpg

I had no regrets visiting this clan temple. It is indeed an architectural marvel and a model example of heritage conservation and restoration.

By the way, here's a little trivia. Did you know that the 1999 epic movie 'Anna & The King' starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yuen Fatt was partly filmed here?

 photo P1230035_zps203e37cf.jpg
Postcards given with the admission ticket

Rightly known as the Heritage Jewel of Penang, the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi is a 'Must Visit' for first timers to Penang.