During my last trip to Penang, I also visited Ipoh. This sleepy small town is the state capital of Perak and used to be the tin mining capital of Malaysia. It’s glory days of tin mining are long over and although it’s frequently missed out by visitors to Malaysia, it’s starting to get more popular these days, as people are attracted by it’s low cost of living and good food.

One of the features of Ipoh is it’s many limestone hills which rise majestically out of the ground. Through millennia of erosion by rainwater, caves have formed in some of these limestone hills, and Buddhist temples have been built into some of these caves as places of meditation and retreat. The last time I visited these cave temples was more than 20 years ago, and I felt that it was time to see them again.

The oldest and most well known cave temple is Sam Poh Tong (三宝洞). Translated into English, the name means 3 Treasures Cave. It may have been famous once but it seems that it has seen better days. The place is now quite run down and we even had trouble finding it because there was no name on the front entrance.

Once grand looking archways are now overgrown with vines. It does give that abandoned look to the place.
Once grand looking archways are now overgrown with vines giving that spooky, abandoned look to the place.
The fish pond which looks kind of in need of a good cleaning.
The murky looking fish pond which looks kind of in need of a good cleaning.
Feeding the many Koi in the pond. Visitors can buy the fish food from the temple.
Feeding the many Koi in the pond. Visitors can buy fish food from the temple.
We came to the entrance proper to the cave temple.
This gateway marks the entrance to the cave temple.
An incense burner in front of the cave's mouth.
An incense burner in front of the cave’s mouth. Years of neglect are clearly visible here.
inside the cave, you will find several Buddhist shrines.
inside the cave, you will find several Buddhist shrines. Despite the run downed looking exterior, the interior of the cave was well maintained and you don’t have the musty and damp smell that you often find in caves.
Following the cave to the back, there is a tunnel that leads to an opening inside the limestone hills.
Following the cave to the back, there is a tunnel that leads to an opening inside the limestone hills.
So what do we see at the end?
A small clearing inside the limestone hills. A quiet and peaceful place to meditate and shut out the outside world.
There is a tortoise pond where visitors can feed the tortoises and turtles. Again you can buy the vegetables and food at the temple entrance.
There is a tortoise pond where visitors can feed the tortoises and turtles. Again you can buy the vegetables and food at the temple entrance.
There was also a temple building but this was closed to visitors.
There was also a temple building but this was closed to visitors when we were there.

I left the place feeling that it had been neglected through the years. What could have caused it, I wondered. Somehow the neglect seems to have given the place a sort of secluded charm about it, like a beauty that has faded and now isolated.

On the road out from Sam Poh Tong, we passed by several other cave temples. These looked more lively and well maintained compared to  Sam Poh Tong. Our curiosity piqued, we decided to stop at the most crowded and well decorated temple, which is also the first temple by the road when we drove in.

The sign on the entrance says that this is Lin Sen Tong, and it certainly looked very lively with many worshippers and visitors. It has many colourful statues of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac and numerous other deities. I guess these festive looking decorations served to attract more visitors. It definitely was a happy place compared to the sad looking Sam Poh Tong.

A large Kuanyin statue standing in the middle of the courtyard.
A large Kuanyin statue standing in the middle of the courtyard.
The entrance to Lin Seng Tong's cave temple. Well it wasn't really a big cave, more like an overhang of the limestone hill. The ceiling was blackened by the years of incense burning.
The entrance to Lin Sen Tong’s cave temple. Well it wasn’t really a big cave, but more like an overhang of the limestone hill. The ceiling was blackened from all the years of incense burning.
There a lot of incense being burnt.
Catching a quiet moment in between the crowds of worshippers.
The guardian of the temple.
The guardian of the temple.

After visiting these 2 cave temples, I can’t help but wonder how their circumstances are similar to businesses. You could be successful once, but not upgrading your business will lead to others overtaking you in future.

Getting There

It’s quite easy to get to Ipoh – by driving or plane. Driving from Singapore takes maybe  5-6 hours, and from Penang it takes around 2 hours. There are also direct flights from Singapore to Ipoh on Firefly and Tiger Airways.

3 thoughts on “Cave Temples of Ipoh

  1. Great series of photos, and I like how you describe the neglect and broken down nature of the place, and how it also seemed to give it a sort of charm. Such places I find most interesting, as they usually have a great history and thus a great story to be discovered. You do well with the photos in showing us such a feeling. Sleepy and small towns are enchanting, and with a history such as being the tin mining capital of Malaysia, your post shows that Ipoh is definitely worth exploring.

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