Of the many temples in Macau, one of the most important is the Temple of Kun Iam Tong, founded in the 13th century. Its present buildings, with ornate porcelain figurines adorning its roofs, date from 1627. The most significant historical event that took place at this largest and wealthiest of Macau's Buddhist temples was the 1844 signing of the first treaty of trade and friendship between the United States and China; the round granite table where the treaty was signed is still here, in the back garden. The temple houses images of Buddha, representing the past, present, and future, as well as the goddess of mercy (Kun Iam) dressed in the costume of a Chinese bride. She is attended by 18 gold-lacquered figures lining the walls that represent the 18 wise men of China. Curiously enough, the figure on the left with bulging eyes and mustache is identified here as Marco Polo, who, having embraced Buddhism, came to be viewed as one of China's 18 wise men. Behind the temple to the right is a landscaped Chinese garden; it has four banyan trees with intertwined branches, popularly known as the Lovers' Tree and considered symbols of marital fidelity. According to local legend, the trees grew from the burial site of two lovers who committed suicide when they were forbidden to marry. Although the original trees have died, new ones have taken their place.

As you wander through the various buildings on the temple grounds, you will notice small funeral rooms with altars dedicated to the newly deceased, complete with photographs, offerings of fruit and other food, and paper money to assist the departed in the afterlife. You may even chance upon a funeral service, in which participants are dressed in white. Please show respect by being quiet, and refrain from taking photographs. It is also considered bad manners -- not to mention bad luck -- to take a picture of a monk without his permission. In any case, a visit to this temple is like going back in time; allow 20 minutes in this time capsule.