Ipoh Cave Temples (Chapter 1) – Sam Poh Tong, Ling Sen Tong & Nam Tin TongNovember 16, 2011 | 19,711 views
This old lady was a vagrant. Or beggar, if you insist to name her that. But that did not stop her from praying for a better life. And probably for a better Malaysia?
I still remember vividly the sheer excitement and a perpetual smile pasted on this chubby face back in my pre-schooling days; whenever my parents suggested for a visit to one of the most famous landmarks of Ipoh; the Sam Poh Tong cave temple on Gopeng Road.
My brother and I would be dressed in our smartest Kiki-Lala or Kiko outfits, and strap on the sneakers while Mum would be hastily combing our hair (with extra hard hair gel, I remember … before Brylcreem took over our lives once we started schooling, since hair gel’s forbidden in school) and Dad would get his gear in check; not an SLR or any fancy camera, but one that worked as well. Loaded with a roll of 24 or 36 Kodak film (ISO 100, since we have never visited the cave temples at night, and films with higher ISO cost a bomb back then).
More insight of this Motormouth’s childhood passion and pet peeves after the jump. Be warned that once again, LOADS of photos ahead ….
Ling Sen Tong is the first temple that will greet you after turning into the small alley; now perfectly tarred and fit for any vehicles. Back then, the rocky path did not deter us from going for repeated visits.
Guardian deities and coiled incense
A Ray of Light peering through the foliage of trees above the elaborate altar fit into the alcove
There are various colourful statues outside of Ling Sen Tong temple, and replicas of animals for the kids (or the child in you) to ride on and snap a Kodak moment.
Ipoh’s pride; the bougainvillea blooms 365 days a year, and in abundance in almost every garden in the city. Remember this post on Japanese Garden @ Tambun Road?
Ling Sen Tong and Nam Tin Tong (Southern Sky Temple) are almost inseparable; you don’t even realize that you’ve crossed the border until you see the garden in front of the latter, and the temple brandishing the name in Chinese.
The colourful/mythical characters immortalized in statue forms; juxtaposed against vibrant paintings made photography here a delight. You don’t have to be brandishing a top notch DSLR, or even a digital camera. Whip out your handset (provided with camera, of course) and let your creativity juices flow.
And you bet there will ALWAYS be an ice-cream seller capitalizing on the near-heatstroke condition of most travellers. Or a sugar cane stall. Or maybe someone selling fresh coconut water?
Nam Tin Tong (Southern Sky Temple) (read this excerpt from Ipohworld for a clearer picture of the origin of this oldest cave temple among all)
The grand marble(like) archway leading to the most famous cave temple of all; Sam Poh Tong.
Back then, I was in awe over these humongous temples built into the caverns. Everything was so enormous back then. So clean, so mystical, so beautiful. I might be a small brat then, but I sure understood how to respect the intensive effort in keeping the surroundings in its most natural state.
The tranquility was astounding and soothing; save for the random whispers (or at times, chattering) between the folks visiting the holy grounds.
Sam Poh Tong was founded in 1912 (!), and has remained as one of the most visited tourist spot in Ipoh. Until today. Visitors don’t come to Ipoh for shopping, watching a movie, singing at karaokes or even relaxing at 5-star resorts.
They come because of the FOOD (if this is your first time here, YOU MUST READ THIS LIST), the beautiful limestone caves and temples, and the charming sights around Ipoh old town; heritage shops on the brink of devastation if proper means of salvaging and preserving them are not in place.
Back then (this was during the late 80’s, so you can roughly estimate whether I belong to the Paleolithic age, or prior), there were already certain structures existing as depicted above. The beautiful pond on your right, as you enter the archway. The vegetarian restaurant for a holistic experience (instead of kids nowadays running to the nearest McDonald’s for lunch …. which is less than one kilometre away!). And the cave remains untouched (almost) until this very day.
A magnificent effort, and one that deserves a standing ovation if you don’t mind.
There was a period of time, when the housekeeping was kept to a deplorable level and complaints were heard and read from all corners. On how the water in the tortoise pond was murky and visiting Sam Poh Tong was left out of the itineraries for some tourists.
In lieu of that, Kek Look Tong rose to the occasion with a splendid lake surrounded by gorgeous natural limestone formations. And the breath-taking impression left to first timers to the cave; less claustrophobia and gentle rays of the sun streaming into the highly shaded interior of the mammoth-sized cavern.
But the tortoise pond of Sam Poh Tong has NEVER grown old. Or out of fashion. Ipoh does not have a proper zoo or night safari. But a visit to Sam Poh Tong is never complete without a step towards the edge of the (in)famous tortoise pond with resident tortoises numbering at least in the realm of hundreds.
And I tell you … they are NOT shy creatures. Walk near and some will just rush to you (or maybe crawl … in their modest speed) for they believe you have ‘kangkong’ (a type of leafy green vegetables named water convolvulus or morning glory) in your hands.
This old lady from Gunung Rapat has been selling the tortoises’ feed for years. The ‘Kangkong’ and hardened (sun-dried?) bread cut into smaller pieces.
Her name’s Wai Po Lin. A widow whom probably has never really tasted the luxuries in life; coming here on a daily basis to sell the same stuff since decades ago.
“Business is good on Sundays or public holidays. I don’t like to be pushy. Some people do not like to buy the feeds from me. I don’t mind. As long as I can make a living, and I can spend my time gaining something in return.”
True enough. The moment I stepped onto the grounds of Sam Poh Tong, I was approached by her. But I kindly rejected her by saying I was more interested in taking photographs of the place. And she smiled, nodded and without missing a beat, turned around and walked towards the other visitors.
She was nothing like the annoying ‘jaga kereta’ men around the most congested areas of Ipoh. (This story on a traditional Teochew-style porridge and rice had bits of the shady side of Ipoh town).
She told me about her recent trip to Singapore with her friends. Her first time; visiting the casinos and finally treating herself to an overseas trip. Her kids are working now, with children of their own. Her son’s a labourer and does not earn much either. So she’d rather support herself than counting on others. She’s already 64, but looks so much older than her age.
At the back of my mind, I felt grateful that my Grandma (who’s more than 80 years now, yet still strong enough and quite active) has tasted the sweeter nuances of life. The travelling, the food, the strong family support and the immensely-rich life experiences.
“Remember, everyone has a story to tell, and deserves a chance to be heard.”
SAM POH TONG, LING SEN TONG and NAM TIN TONG are all located next to each other on Gopeng Road (Jalan Raja Dr Nazrin Shah), in Gunung Rapat, Ipoh. Going southbound from Ipoh towards Simpang Pulai’s direction. Once you have passed the Medan Gopeng bus station on your RIGHT, go forth and after the second set of traffic lights (you will see a petrol station on your left at the traffic lights junction) you will reach the caves on your LEFT.