You have probably seen this place on Instagram — the humongous golden statue and the 272 multi-colored steps leading you into the gaping mouth of a dark cavern.
Batu Caves is one of the most popular attractions for those visiting Kuala Lumpur. Located approximately 15 kilometers away from the city, it is a limestone hill comprising three major caves and some smaller ones.
But is there more to it than that? Recently, I’ve come across a few different articles saying how Batu Caves is not worth visiting because it’s too crowded, too artificial, and there are too many ‘kitschy statues ruining the natural cave’.
So, what’s so special about Batu Caves? Is it worth visiting? I’m Malaysian and this is my honest review:
What's So Special About Batu Caves?
What’s all the big fuss about? Why does it get thousands of visitors every day and millions every year?
Here are some of the reasons why:
- It has the tallest statue of Lord Murugan (Kartikeya) in the world. The 43-meter-tall golden statue took 3 years, 350 tons of steel bars, 1,550 cubic meters of concrete, and 300 liters of gold paint to build. It is the world’s third tallest statue of a Hindu deity.
- There is a temple inside one of the caves that is over a century old. It was built in the late 19th century during the British colonization. You might have seen Hindu temples before, and you might have seen caves too. But how many times have you seen a century-old temple inside a cave? Best of all, it’s not merely a relic — it’s still a functioning temple where local and foreign worshipers come to pray every day. This is why it remains free to enter.
- It’s where the Thaipusam festival is celebrated every year. During this festival, hundreds of thousands of devotees, from all over Malaysia (and the world!) would walk in a procession from the city center to Batu Caves. Some of them would carry urns of milk or large metal structures with spikes and hooks piercing their skins. They consider this as a pilgrimage and penance for all their sins.
How to Get to Batu Caves from Kuala Lumpur
There are a few ways to get to Batu Caves from Kuala Lumpur:
- The easiest is by taking a Grab (Southeast Asian version of Uber). The journey from the city center will take around 20 – 30 minutes and cost about RM25. But this, of course, depends on the traffic. If you go during rush hour, it could take much longer and cost more.
- The second option is by taking the KTM Komuter train. From KL Sentral, the journey takes approximately 40 minutes and costs RM2.30. The train is hourly. Check the train timetable here to plan your trip.
- There is also a bus (#713) that goes there from Masjid India, but I’ve never personally taken it, so I can’t comment on how reliable it is.
- If you come during Thaipusam, you can join the procession and walk!
The Best Time to Visit Batu Caves
Kuala Lumpur enjoys consistently warm weather all year round, although it may sometimes rain. If it rains, it’s usually in the evening.
The opening hours are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. To avoid crowd, some people visit very early in the morning. By 9 a.m., the place would already be crowded. In my personal experience, there are more people in the morning (9 a.m. – 11 a.m.) than in the afternoon, as they want to escape the afternoon heat. So, go either very early in the morning or in the afternoon. Avoid weekends and public holidays.
If you’d like to witness the Thaipusam festival, visit in late January or early February. Google the exact date because they use the lunar calendar, which changes every year. The place normally stays busy for a week leading to the festival and a week after.
What You Need to Know Before Visiting Batu Caves
- Ladies have to cover their legs, otherwise they won’t be allowed to climb the steps or enter any of the temples. If you’re wearing a short skirt/dress/shorts, make sure you bring a sarong. Alternatively, you can rent one at the entrance.
- Stay hydrated. To get to the temples inside the cave, you need to climb 272 steps. This in itself is not a very challenging feat for the average person. However, the midday heat can be unforgiving. Bring at least half a liter of water. Wear a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and comfortable clothes. If you’re not used to physical activities, go slow. Have a light meal before climbing and take a few short breaks along the way.
- There are lots of pigeons and monkeys. You’re not supposed to feed them, but people still do. Because of this, the monkeys have become overly familiar with humans and start begging for food. If they don’t get any, they will steal. Do not carry plastic bags even if they don’t contain any food. The monkeys are going to assume they do. Do not carry water bottles. Do not carry flowers or wear them in your hair. Keep everything in a zippered bag.
- Due to all the animals living here (monkeys, pigeons, bats, and roosters), it doesn’t always smell nice. Although for the most part, it is masked by the smell of jasmine and incense, sometimes you can still get a whiff of guano, which people collect to make fertilizer.
Are Batu Caves a Tourist Trap?
Is it touristy?
Yes, since they painted the steps in 2018, there has been a significant increase in the number of visitors, particularly young travelers and Instagrammers. It is said that some 5,000 people visit every day, and they tend to linger longer on the steps to get the perfect shots.
However, the people you see there are not all tourists. Many of them are actually locals and visiting Hindus who come to pray.
Is it a tourist trap?
In my opinion, no, it is not. To me, a tourist trap is something that is built solely with tourists in mind, and for the sole purpose of making tourists spend their money. And this is not the case for Batu Caves.
True, there are some souvenir shops around the caves, but there are no organized tours that will force you to go into any of the shops. There are some smaller caves in the complex that charge a fee, but the main cave (where the temples are) does not.
And most importantly, whether there are tourists or not, it will still remain a temple, and locals will still go there to pray and celebrate their festival.
So, are the Batu Caves worth visiting?
Well, it depends.
If you’re looking for an untouched, secluded cave where you can do some real caving activities away from people, then this is probably not it. There a lot of other caves in Malaysia (and the world) that you can visit for that purpose.
However, if you want to witness first-hand the local traditions in one of the most important Hindu sites in the world, then the answer is yes. If you simply want to enjoy the colors and the sight of the big statue, also yes.
In short, people go to Batu Caves for the culture. Although I’m not a Hindu, and not a believer of religions in general, I do find the comments about the ‘tacky statues ruining the view of the cave’ somewhat disrespectful.
You wouldn’t go to the Taj Mahal or the Great Walls of China and criticize the locals for building them, would you? Similarly, you wouldn’t go to Manhattan and complain about the skyscrapers ruining the view of the sky.
As for it being crowded, well, like I mentioned earlier, many of the visitors are actually local Hindus. I don’t think it is fair for us to visit a country and then complain about there being too many locals at their own place of worship.
It is important to know the history and the significance of the place before we pass any unnecessary judgment.
What’s your take on this? Have you been to the Batu Caves? Do you think they are worth visiting?