The Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, Malasia are the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. They have a level of beauty and wonder on par with Pandora from the movie Avatar, and the macaque monkey population makes the experience truly memorable.
Kuala Lumpur’s key attractions are centered in the downtown area. The Petronas Twin Towers are easily the most known. Chinatown and Little India are very popular streets to explore. The botanic gardens and animal sanctuaries draw thousands of visitors daily. But the Batu Caves, less than 15 km north of town, have their own special quality unique from anything else I’ve seen this year.
How to get there
The caves are located at the end of one of the KLM Komuter train lines. From the Kuala Lumpur Station (near my hostel), the fare is only 2.50 Malaysian Ringgits (about $.60) and takes about 20 minutes. This is by far the easiest way to get the caves, and the KLM Komuter Line is easily reached by any of the other forms of public transportation throughout Kuala Lumpur. For far more money you can get a tour bus, taxi or Uber.
Batu Caves admission and layout
There several caves to explore. The main one, known as the Temple Cave or Cathedral Cave, is located at the top of a 272-stair climb up the side of the limestone cliffs. The first cavern is huge, containing Hindi shrines and religious artifacts. But the second open-air cave (pit cave) is breathtaking. There’s a Hindu shrine in the center of the floor, but I hardly noticed it as I was distracted by the cave walls.
Talk about stepping into the land of Pandora. I had a really hard time capturing a panoramic shot, but no photo or website can substitute for the awe and majesty of standing there in person. There is no entrance fee for this cave, but make sure you dress appropriately. Knees and shoulders must be covered. This is still a Hindu place of worship, despite the tourists.
The Dark Cave is a few steps down from the top of the stairs. It’s exactly that: DARK! There are tours for 35 MR per adult (25 MR per child) to explore the caves, or at least some of them, as the network is huge and most of it is a conservation site. You can see species of animals found nowhere else in the world, as well as bats, snakes and everything else which might make its abode in absolute darkness. Maybe even Gollum…
At the bottom of the stairs are the Art Gallery and Museum Caves. These are simply museums of artwork, reptiles and some Oriental wisdom. I didn’t visit them myself, but it’s not that expensive if museums are your thing (the entrance fee is 15 MR). I’ve just seen too many museums this year.
Finally there is the Ramayana Cave far to the left of the main caves, behind the train station. This cave is what Disneyland wishes the It’s a Small World attraction looked like, except that the figurines depict the history of the Vishnu avatar, Rama. The caves themselves are worth exploring. They are not as impressive as the Pandora-esque caves and they have no open-air sections, but there are interesting formations. Worth the visit, even with the 5 MR fee collected by a really sketchy local sitting in his tiny hut at the entrance.
Macaque Monkeys Everywhere!
As spectacular as the Batu Caves and cliffs are, what made the experience truly memorable for me were the Macaques. These old-world monkeys abound on the steps leading up to the temple and throughout the grounds. They literally bound across the heads of tourists and will abscond with your food or other possessions if you’re not careful.
The cutest ones were the babies holding tight to their mother’s stomachs as the mommy climbed around, made faces at the tourists or even jumped onto the tourists to steal their drinks (as happened to my friend). I watched another monkey grab a water bottle out of a tourist’s hand, and another had already poached a full VitaWater bottle and was climbing along a fence to get away. But despite their antics and peskiness, they still are adorable, especially when shoving their head into an open coconut to have a refreshing afternoon snack or trying to open a trash can.
The Batu Caves are an attraction I would definitely recommend for Kuala Lumpur, as soon as you’ve seen the Petronas Twin Towers. They are a unique experience, which is more than I can say about the botanical gardens or China Town. The whole adventure shouldn’t take more than a couple hours unless you want to book the full Adventure Tour for 80 MR to get a full tour of the Dark Cave. Just make sure you book a week in advance and bring clothes to get wet and dirty!
If you’re traveling with more than one person, I’d recommend using Airbnb. Some locations can be fantastic.
Couchsurfing is my favorite way to stay in a city. I haven’t tried Couchsurfing in Kuala Lumpur personally, but I’m sure it’s as fun as anywhere. Malaysians can be very friendly!
You could also find a hostel or other volunteer job to work at via Workaway.