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Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Guarded by a giant golden statue, with the cacophonous yells of monkeys, you’ll find the Batu Caves looking down upon Kuala Lumpur. Weathered and rugged limestone hills steeply climb upwards, adorned with festoons of jungle foliage, giving way to one of the most popular Hindu shrines in the world outside of India.

Upon coming to Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves was one of – if not the – top thing that we wanted to see. The caves are very easy to access. You can take the metro directly to the town of Gombak where the shrine resides for RM 4.40 (~$1.50) from KL Sentral Station. However, we had to take an Uber to the caves, as we were in Petaling Jaya which did not have rail access. This was not an issue though – it was cheap, quick, and efficient.

Consecrated Gold Statue of Lord Mudrugan

Upon arriving to the caves, you will first notice the golden statue of Lord Murugan. It towers above you at the entrance to the long staircase. Which brings me to the second thing you’ll notice immediately – the stairs. There are 272 concrete steps bringing you to the cave complex within the hill.

Batu Caves Stair Entry

The Batu Caves are an active religious site, and you should come dressed appropriately. This means wearing shirt sleeves and covered knees for me, and to covering shoulders and legs for women. If you don’t meet these requirement, you cannot enter – however there are usually attendants at the base of the stairs renting out sarongs for only a few RM each. Actually entering the cave complex itself is free.

We began our climb in the late morning under the surprisingly warm January sun. We took our time climbing the stairs, but it only took ten or fifteen minutes to reach the first landing. Along the way, we took time to admire the jungle and local inhabitants of the caves – namely monkeys.

Climbing the Stairs
Monkeys Just Hanging Out
Mischievous Monkey

The monkeys keep their distance mostly, but as we’ve learned in other locations, they are wildly unpredictable, curious, and will take a swipe at any opportunity. On the way up, we saw a baby monkey had managed to swipe an entire ice cream cone.

Monkey With Ice Cream
Monkey Stealing a Waterbottle

Dark Cave

We took our first stop at the landing of Dark Cave. The Dark Cave is an undeveloped part of the cave complex, which offers tours. There is a 45 minute guided tour for RM 35 (~$10) running every 20 minutes. For larger groups and advanced notice, you can book a 3 – 4 hour tour, further exploring the cave complex for around RM 80 (~$22) a person.

Dark Cave Entrance

We didn’t take the tour, because we didn’t have closed-toe shoes. If you have the time and opportunity it is a great tour though. The caves are home to the rarest spider in the world, endemic geckos, and other fauna found only here. The 2 km complex exhibits a wide range of geological formations with stalagmites, stalactites, cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops, and other features. Instead of taking of the tour, we read the informative plaques at the entrance to the cave, and watched the antics of the monkeys – very entertaining.

Cave Map
Batu Caves Flow Stone
Plaque at Batu Caves

Temple Cave

After a half hour, we continued up the last third of the stairs to the shrine. When you arrive at the top of the stairs you will find a large landing opening to a large cave atrium. You will actually need to descend more steps into the main “room” which houses several small shrines.

Kyle and Bri on the Steps
Inside the main room
Shrine within Batu Caves

Various vendors will sell you trinkets, drinks, and other items while up here. Keep in mind that the drinks in the shrine are more expensive than at the base because everything must be carried up by hand – no elevator or wheel-chair access here.

Proceed further into the cave and you find another shrine in the back. Here the roof gives way and light enters the cave. This allows the cave to feel more open and inviting than many other cave complexes you may encounter.

Staircase to Interior Shrine
Shrine Within Batu Caves

Batu Caves is actually a rather recent development. The caves are estimated to be 400 million years old, and has been used by the indigenous Temuan people for centuries. Modern day usage of the caves began in 1860 with Chinese settlers  excavating guano for fertilizer. The caves then became famous after being recorded by colonial authorities and the American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.

An Indian trader named Pillai was inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped entrance to the cave. In 1890 he founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple within the cave. Wooden steps to the temple were originally put in, but concrete steps were placed in 1920 to accommodate the heavy number of visitors.

Thaipusam

The Batu Caves serves as the premier place to be outside of India for the Hindu holiday of Thaipusam. We are still kicking ourselves for not visiting the temple during the holiday (we were in Kuala Lumpur during it).

The festival begins in the early morning hours and features devotees walking several kilometers from the the city. During their march, kavadi bearers pierce themselves will metal skewers, and elaborate shoulder carriers (Kavadi), as a display of their devotion. Priests tend to the devotees sprinkling consecrated ash over the flesh of the participants.

Thaipusam

This display is made to offer milk to Lord Murugan, the god of war within Hinduism – though he also features prominently within some sects of Buddhism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and India as well.

Thaipusam

Photo courtesy of: nina.bruja

While the display can come off as extreme and macabre, the surreal experience is viewed as a purifying bringing good luck in the coming year.

The festival is extremely crowded, attracting over a million visitors on the day (which takes place in late January or early February.

Thaipusam

Other Attractions In Batu Caves

At the base of the stairs, there are two other cave temples: the Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave. Both feature Hindu statues and paintings. For those interested in the history and lore of Murugan and other Hindu teachings, these are excellent places to check out – though not free like the cave temple.

Art Museum Cave

There are numerous shops and stalls surrounding the entrance to the complex selling souvenirs, clothes, food, and drink.

I enjoyed my first of many coconuts on our travels here. Briana also managed to grab some vegetarian food easily and for a very reasonable price.

Kyle with Coconut
Veg food at nearby stall

We really enjoyed the Batu caves and recommend it for anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur. It’s a great activity for most anyone, especially families and active adults.

Things To Keep In Mind At Batu Caves

  • This is an active religious site, and as such you should dress and act respectful and modest
  • The complex is large and will take several hours to properly explore
  • The temple requires strenuous physical activity as there is no elevator or wheelchair access
  • Pay attention to the monkeys, we recommend not carrying food, and keeping water out of site when not actively drinking.
  • Keep all loose items on you or in a bag, don’t let the monkeys grab your stuff
  • Monkeys have personalities, some are far more bold and aggressive than others
  • Once a monkey has an item, it is no longer yours – don’t get bit by fighting a monkey 

~B & K

Briana Descending Stairs
Angry Monkey

Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest (Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana)

While we spent the majority of our one week in Bali in the town of Kuta, we did make a day trip up to Ubud. We really wanted to see a few things there, but ultimately ended up only really getting to see the Ubud Monkey Forest – Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana.

A quick pit-stop to develop some pictures

We started our day off quite early as it was a long ride to Ubud from Kuta. Leaving around 8am, we started off towards Colour Digital Photo Lab to pick up some film Briana had dropped off on an earlier outing to Tanah Lot. It went much speedier this time, since we did not get lost (yet). After getting the film, we then proceeded up towards Ubud.

The ride was relatively easy, although it did require constant checking of the GPS. The roads were always having little turns to them, and nothing was labeled very simply. The best indicator we were going in the right direction was that we were traveling north and uphill. I knew that was the direction of Ubud.

Occasionally, we’d see a sign. I’m pretty sure we technically got lost a few times because the GPS would not know where we were. Luckily, Briana managed to keep up on track and around noon we finally managed to arrive.

Grabbing a bite to eat

We were very hungry, so made a b-line to Earth Cafe. Briana read that it offered good vegetarian options at a fair price so we decided that was where we should go. We were moderately surprised to find that it was the exact same menu as the Zula Vegetarian in Kuta.

Upon finishing our meal, we rode about 3 minutes to the entrance of the Monkey Forest. Parking was a bit confusing, as there seemed to be several lots, all for cars, but none for bikes.

A winding “road” to park

An attendant directed us towards a small alley looking path for us to go. It ended up being a very long and very narrow path through steep twists and turns – a little harrowing, but fun – that eventually put us at the main entrance as well as the bike parking.

Path To Parking
Parking

Get In

We purchased our tickets to enter the temple for 40,000 IDR (~$3.00) each. The first warnings upon entering the park, and posted all throughout as well, is to not have food with you. And if you do have food and a monkey wants it, that food now belongs to the monkey.

The monkeys are fierce, and although they appear cute and fun loving, they are also mischievous little fiends. There were a few occasions they tried to sneak up and grab the bag when we put it down for a rest to grab water.

Paying
Monkey and Baby

All about the monkeys

The sacred Ubud Monkey Forest Sanctuary is populated by over 600 Balinese Long-Tailed Macaques. The monkeys belong to one of five groups, each which occupies it’s own territory throughout the park. The park itself is not that large, and only supports such a large number due to human interaction. As a result, conflicts between the different troops frequently occur. During the dry season, some troops have to cross into other territories to get water.

The monkeys are fed a primary diet of sweet potatoes by staff three times a day, and tourists can purchase bananas to feed to the monkeys. They also received papaya, corn, coconut, and other fruits.

Monkeys Eating
Monkeys
Monkeys Drinking From Water Fountain

Monkey obesity has become a problem for them. They have access to so much food as well as stealing junk food from tourists (such as chips).

Lazing Around
Monkey with Chips bag

The Monkey Forest is very large

The temple complex covers about 27 acres and contains three Hindu temples constructed in approximately 1350 CE. Tourist may not enter the temples themselves, unless they intend to actually pray and use the temples for their intended purposes. But otherwise, you may wander the compounds and look about as you please.

Temple Map

There is the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal – the Great Temple of Death. It is the main temple in the southwestern part of the park. Here patrons worship the god Hyang Widhi in the personification of Shiva.

Temple

The Pura Beji, or Beji temple is in the northwestern part of the park and worships Hyang Widhi in the personification of Gangga. It is a Holy Spring for bathing and spiritual cleansing.

Temple

The Pura Prajapati is located in the northeastern park of the park, to worship Hyang Widhi in the personification of Prjapati. A cemetery lies across from this temple, where the dead are buried and then later cremated.

Cemetery
Temple

The park is very mountainous, full of jungles, and contains a ravine with a rocky stream. All of which can be visited.

Jungle
Bridge Over Ravine
Going Down a Path

Very odd statues to say the least

One of the most interesting thing about the temple though, is the statues. We can’t believe that upon prior research, and researching afterwards as well, that we could find no information whatsoever regarding the statues and carvings.

Cow Statue

They are interesting to say the least.

Statue

With many venturing into disturbingly sexual and erotic imagery.

Creepy Sexual Statue
Weird Sex Statue
Weird Statue
Really Creepy Statue
Um...

Others are just downright violent.

Violent Statue
Creepy Statue

The best explanation we could find is that imagery is meant to depict and satisfy demons so that they won’t bring misfortune to the living. But perhaps the artists were just a bit disturbed. We’ll leave the answer up to you. Regardless, we wouldn’t recommend bringing young or impressionable children here…

Pig Sex

The area also has an amphitheater for various shows that may be put on.

Amphitheater

There is also a less dense forested area with information about the trees.

Briana On a Swing

In search of waterfalls

Once we left the forest, we tried our best to find a waterfall about 30 minutes drive east. My phone was almost dead and not wanting to have the GPS work. We got close, but ultimately never did make it. We got a few great shots of a volcano however and a wonderful look into local Balinese life.

I ultimately decided to give up, with the sun beginning to sink and knowing we had a long way to go, and a decent amount of driving in the dark to do. Briana was upset, because she is sure she could have directed us to the waterfall (we were very close admittedly), but it is what it is.

Highway Gate
Rural Bali

Getting back was not quite as simple. We had made some weird turns, but ultimately just headed south towards Denpasar knowing we could figure out how to get to Kuta from there. My phone was dead by this point.

Watch out for cops

The ride went smooth mostly. I got caught by a cop at a check-point, who promptly pointed out my license did not allow me to drive a motorbike. He asked me who rented the bike, and when I replied our AirBNB host, he just sighed and rolled his eyes. He told us, “Get a license tomorrow.” and then shooed us on our way. I really thought we were going to have to bribe our way out of it.

As we approached town, the sun was almost set, and we didn’t know how to get back properly. We pulled over at a Circle K, got a drink and charged my phone for about thirty minutes. It wasn’t much, but it got my phone back up to 20% and gave our sore butts a rest from the bike. We then headed off, through the dark and finally wound up about an hour later back at our AirBNB.

~K~

Monkey Temple Monkey Statue