Snake Temple – Bayan Lepas, Malaysia - Atlas Obscura
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Bayan Lepas, Malaysia

Snake Temple

Come in, light some incense, and ignore the live snakes around you. 

Worshippers regularly visit this beautiful temple, located just under two miles away from Penang Island’s airport. However, the gorgeous place of worship has a unique catch: It’s filled with live pit vipers.

The Snake Temple (officially known as Hock Hin Keong or Cheng Hoon Giam) was built in the mid-19th century to honor Chor Soo Kong, also known as Qingshui, a Buddhist monk and healer born in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). The legend holds that during his lifetime, Chor Soo Kong sometimes offered shelter to local jungle snakes. After the temple was erected in his honor, it’s said snakes began showing up there of their own accord. 

Snakes aside, the temple is a beautiful piece of architecture. In its earliest years it was a simple attap structure, a traditional housing style found in the rural villages of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. But after decades of improvements and several major renovations, it has blossomed into a magnificent structure, featuring intricate detailing on the doors and rafter beams. The main temple opens into a courtyard, where the Shrine Hall of Kuan Yin is located, allowing visitors to marvel at the beautiful plants that populate the garden. Follow the pathway and you will arrive at the “snake pool,” where snakes recline on trees among leafy green branches, either basking in the sun or taking refuge in the shade. 

The snakes are thought to be kept docile thanks to incense being constantly burned. Locals will also tell you that many of the snakes in question, which are Wagler’s pit vipers and green tree snakes, have been de-venomed. Still, you’ll want keep your hands and feet to yourself at all times, and look around before you sit. It’s not recommended to bring small children, but the temple is a tranquil spot and they claim that no one has ever been bitten.  

Know Before You Go

The temple is located about a 25-minute drive from downtown Penang, so either get a taxi, or catch the free shuttle bus. There is not much else around the temple, so consider trying to fit this in before or after the airport. On your way to the courtyard, you can also visit the exhibition next to the temple, which includes pythons and cobras. While entry to the temple is free, you do have to pay for a photo opportunity with these snakes. This is completely optional.