Considered to be one of Macau’s finest Buddhist temples, Kun Iam Temple is larger and far less crowded than A-Ma Temple, its historic counterpart located closer to the center of town. Though the current buildings date to a restoration performed in 1627, the original temple dates back to the 1400s and is one of only two temples in the city to pre-date the arrival of the Portuguese in Macau.
Dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Kun Iam features three main worship halls, one of which is adorned with statues of Sakmayuni and is frequently drenched in a hazy cloud of burning incense. A second hall known as “The Hall of the Three Precious Buddhas” houses three bronze Buddhas and a bell which has hung in this hall for over 300 years. Inside the final hall, separated from the others by a well-manicured courtyard, a statue of Kun Iam is adorned in embroidered silks and a crown which is dutifully changed every year. Surrounding the statue of Kun Iam are 18 Buddhas who serve as her constant companions and contribute to the splendor of what is inarguably the most popular hall in the temple.
Paths winding behind the temple lead to a series of gardens, one of which contains a granite table where the very first Sino-U.S. treaty between China and the United States was signed in 1844, an agreement which would lead to the opening of Chinese ports to U.S. foreign trade. Though visits to temples have recently taken a back seat to the glitz and glamor of Macau’s mega-casinos, those who venture off of the gambling path can find some tucked away corners of history and reflection at places such as Kun Iam Temple.