While far from historic (it opened in 1989), Thean Hou Temple is one of Malaysia’s—and indeed southeast Asia’s—most important Chinese temples. Set atop a hill a little way outside the city center, the 6-tiered temple blends Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in a tribute to the sea goddess Mazu and hosts a wealth of festivals.
There is no charge to visit Thean Hou Temple, and you don’t need to join a tour or hire a guide, but given the lack of signage, many visitors may appreciate a guide who can explain the different Chinese deities on display. The temple is a long way from the nearest train stations, so many travelers choose to join an organized Kuala Lumpur city tour. Tours that focus on Kuala Lumpur’s multicultural society and Chinese history will spend more time here and offer a more in-depth view.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Thean Hou Temple is a must for photographers and fans of Chinese culture.
- There is no dress code for Thean Hou Temple, but be aware that it’s an active place of worship.
- Visiting Thean Hou Temple involves quite a few stairs, with neither elevators nor wheelchair ramps.
How to Get There
Thean Hou Temple stands on Robson Hill, to the south of downtown Kuala Lumpur, and is tricky to reach by public transport: It’s well over a mile (1.5 kilometers) from Bangsar, Tun Sambanthan, or KL Sentral, the three main train options. Many travelers choose to visit the temple as part of a tour that takes in other Kuala Lumpur attractions.
When to Get There
Thean Hou Temple is open seven days a week, from morning until late at night. It’s at its most vibrant, though also its most crowded, during its myriad Chinese festivals, including Lunar New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, Vesak (Buddha’s Birthday), and the birthdays of the different deities within the temple. Visiting after dark over the Lunar New Year period delivers a visual feast of colorful lanterns.
The Story of Mazu
The Chinese sea goddess Mazu (also known as Tianhou—Thean Hou in Malaysian—or Queen of Heaven) is particularly popular in Malaysia, which is home to over 150 temples built in her name. She is the deified version of a Fujianese shaman named Lin Moniang, who seems to have lived during the 11th century. As a goddess, she guards fishermen, sailors, and seafarers.