The Batu Caves in Malaysia – Into the Darkness
Almost every traveler who visits Kuala Lumpur goes to see the famous Batu Caves. The giant golden statue of the god Murugan in front of the caves has been photographed so many times that it will be the first thing you will see if you google Kuala Lumpur. But what is so special about the Batu Caves? Why are so many people fascinated by this Hindu temple? In this guide I am going to explain what travelers can experience at Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves and how you can get there by public transport.
What you should be prepared for:
- Monkeys trying to steal your stuff
- Lots of pidgeons
- Lots of other tourists who walk reeeeally slow in front of you
- Wet feet, hot weather, and a long climb
- Creepy crawlers lurking in the shadows
What is so special about the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur?
The Batu Caves contain a Hindu temple that is embedded in an ancient natural cave formation with incredibly high ceilings that is believed to be more than 400 million years old. The walls of the cave are over 100 meters high, which is why it is called a “cathedral cave”. The cave is embedded high up in a mountain, so in order to get there, you have to climb up 272 steps first to actually get to the spiritual center of the cave.
But the sight is well worth the sweat: Encircled by huge walls of natural rock that is decorated with Hindu art displaying the fight of Murugan against the demon Soorapadam, you will feel how small you actually are as a human compared to nature’s wonders. It is a humbling but at the same time fulfilling experience. The Batu Caves are truly a special place! But there is more to discover than just the ancient temple…
What will you see after climbing the stairs?
The Batu caves have two faces: The bright one and the dark one!
On the light side of the caves there are many shrines with statues and burning candles, which creates a special atmosphere inside the already stunning natural wonder. Streams of sunlight pour through openings in the ceiling, so if you go throughout the day the cave is not dark, but beautifully luminous. One can only marvel at the breathtaking natural structure of the big main chamber. (And even though it is such an amazing place, you do not have to pay an entrance fee to go inside – It is free for everybody to visit this spiritual place. ) However, since it is a temple, some rules of decency have to be observed, so females should wear pants or a dress that cover the knees.
The Bright Side of the Batu Caves
First you will have to climb the stairs beside the giant golden statue to get into the actual caves. The ascend is long and hot, as you are climbing up 272 steps in the bright sun, with other pilgrims and tourists in front and behind you, while cheeky monkeys will try to pull things out of your bags and pockets, if you are not careful. If you like a challenge and a bit of exercise, this part is really fun!
Once you made it up the stairs, you will enter a breathtaking chamber where light falls through a huge arc onto many colorful sculptures of Hindu heroes and gods.
In the highest chamber on the light side, you can see a lot of monkeys that live near the cave and come down the walls through a big hole in the ceiling. They are being fed several times a day, to deter them from stealing food (and other things) from visitors, so if you are lucky, you can give them a banana!
The “Dark Side” of the Batu Caves
If you are the adventurous type, you also have the choice of exploring the Dark Caves on the left side of the temple. After climbing the stairs, there is another set of stairs branching off to the left which you have to walk up to get to the entrance of the Dark Caves.
Entering the Dark Caves is not free: You have to pay 35RM per person for a guided tour, due to conservational efforts to prevent careless tourists from disturbing the fragile eco-system of the cave. Also, there is a certain risk to get lost or injured when inexperienced people walk into the pitch black labyrinth by themselves and lose their orientation in the dark. Thus, taking a guided tour is a good idea either way.
The extended tour through all the chambers takes about 1 hour, but there is also the option to only see the main chamber, which is easily accessible by a walkway if you don’t want to go too deep into the heart of the earth.
We decided to go all in and chose the full-length tour! We put on the provided caving helmets, switched on the torches and followed the guide into the uncertain…
On the way, the guide will explain everything about the unique ecosystem of the cave which relies completely on bat guano (excrements). It is a vital source of energy for the cave system which is otherwise shut off from sunlight and can thus not rely on plants to convert sunlight into energy to form the base level of a food chain. Instead, bats carry organic material from outside into the cave through their droppings which become the basic food source for several insects like cockroaches and millipedes which in turn become a food source for spiders, snakes, and bats.
And if that does not motivate you already to go inside the dark tunnels filled with tons of creepy crawlers, wait ’till you hear about this: The millipedes are practically immortal! If you cut them into pieces, each piece grows back a new head and lives on as another millipede! Like a tiny Hydra!
Immortal insects that multiply if you kill them. Great…. Did I mention they inject venom into their prey that dissolves their intestines so they can suck them out like a fancy cocktail? Nature sure creates fascinating creatures…
But where there is horror, there is also beauty! Inside the darkness hide stunning rock formations that were formed by water entering the cave through cracks. Those walls of shiny flowstone glitter in the torchlight and look like something otherworldly!
The sounds of the cave are a very special experience as well: Since you cannot rely on your eyes in the darkness, you will notice even more how silent some parts of the caves are. Somewhere you hear bats squeaking overhead (that you cannot see, however, since pointing the torchlight at them would startle them greatly), at other places you can hear wind whistle through the tunnel. And then there are places, where it is absolutely silent and absolutely dark.
It feels like you are standing inside pure nothingness, as there is nothing that your senses can perceive (except for the ground under your feet). It makes you realize how much reality is determined by our own senses and how blind we probably are to many things, simply because we did not evolve a sense to perceive them. While the cave bats can “see” the surrounding tunnels through echolocation, for us, there is nothing but darkness and silence. Who knows what other things we are missing?
I got so fascinated by this first experience of going into the dark heart of the earth, that shortly after this I signed up for an even more intense cave exploration of the Gua Tempurung near Ipoh. If you want to know how it feels to spend more than 6 hours without light, walking and crawling through an underground river and climbing up slippery walls without any security equipment while seeing neither whats above nor below you – read the post about my Exploration of Gua Tempurung!
How to get to the Batu Caves by public transport
If you are in Kuala Lumpur, getting to the Batu Caves by public transport is quite easy. There is no need to book a tour to go there, as taking public transport such as Grab or the train is much cheaper and actually more relaxing, since you can go whenever you want without having to adhere to a schedule.
Going to Batu Caves by Grab
Just call a Grab taxi via the app and tell the driver to take you to Batu Caves. The fare will be set by the app before the ride, ranging between 6-20RM depending on demand and time of the day.
Going to Batu Caves by Train
The cheapest way to go to the Batu Caves is to go by train. You can take the line KMUTER 2074 from Kl Sentral which will take you to the Batu Caves in 30 minutes. You can buy the tickets at the station for only 2RM per person for each ride.
(Sometimes the train will not be able to go straight to the Batu Caves because of construction work. In this case you will have to take a free bus shuttle between the stations the train has to skip. But the service is well organized. Just ask the locals from where the buses go and you will surely find it, don’t worry.)
Visiting the Batu Caves is definitely worth it! So if you are in Kuala Lumpur, don’t miss the chance to see them!