Macau is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations and a gambler’s paradise. Located close to both mainland China and Hong Kong, Macau is accessible by ferry, flight and road. In Hong Kong Macau ferries ply from Sheung Wan, Kowloon and International Airport. From mainland China, ferries for Macau are available from Shenzen Airport, Shekou, Jiangmen and Wanzai, Zhuhai. Lotus Bridge connects Hengqin Island (China) with Macau via Cotai Strip and from Zuhai, Portas de Cerco is the usual entry point. Buses for Macau are available from Guangzhou, Shenzen Airport and Zhuhai and nowadays a lot of low cost airlines fly into Macau International Airport. For those willing to splurge helicopter service called Sky Shuttle operates chartered flights between HK Ferry Terminal and Shenzen Airport to Macau.
Macau offers visa and entry permit exemptions to most nationalities, however possession of a valid passport is required during entry. Accommodation in Macau is pretty expensive and most tourists prefer staying at Coloane, Taipa or Zhuhai to save money. Recently a few guesthouses and home stays have started operating and a few of them are housed in historic buildings. Transportation within Macau includes the historical cycle rickshaws called triciclo, taxis, buses and rental cars. Dangerous and unscrupulous taxi drivers are quite common in Macau and although they are supposed to run on fare chart, most demand extra especially during peak hours. Scooters can also be hired and are most convenient way to explore Macau. Although Macau tourism is heavily based on gambling, the peninsula has quite a few interesting pockets for intrepid travelers too. Presenting a list of top 10 fun things to do in Macau-
1. Explore the Portuguese heritage – The Portuguese heritage site of Macau is easily walkable and is the best way to explore the area. Around 25 buildings are included in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Macau and the Heritage Circuit Walk covers all of them. Check out the stunning streets like Rua do Cunha, Rua da Felicidade, Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida and Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro. Macau has a host of very pretty squares and the most beautiful ones are Tashi Square, St Augustine Square, Largo de Senado and Cathedral Square. Ruins of St Paul’s Church, Guia Fortress, Largo de Senado, Macau Museum, St Domingo’s Church etc are stunning Portuguese colonial relics. Heritage Circuit maps are available at the tourist information centers and cycle rickshaws also offer the same at very exorbitant rates.
2. Give into the Oriental charm – The vintage beauty of Macau’s Oriental side is unmissable and there are numerous old houses included in the Heritage Circuit. The Mandarin/Zhengjia House, Casa de Lou Kau, Bajiaoting Library, Pawn Shop Museum etc are worth a visit and are photographer’s paradise.
3. Go Temple hopping – Macau has an impressive number of Chinese temples and shrines. The most famous ones are the A-Ma, Macau Matsu, Kun Lam and the Na Tcha temples. However nearly every turn, nook and cranny of Macau, Taipa and Coloane has lovely joss stick spiral burning shrines.
4. Visit interesting museums – Macau has some very quirky museums most of which are housed in heritage buildings thus making them more atmospheric. The Maritime museum, Pawn Shop museum, Tap Seac Gallery, Post Office, Mandarin’s House, Wine and Grand Prix museum and the Fire Services museum are the most interesting ones.
5. Check out the stunning colonial architecture – Architecture aficionados fall in love with Macau’s colonial jewels. Although some are included in the Heritage Circuit Walk, the pastel coloured buildings are scattered all over Macau. The most beautiful ones in my eyes are Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, Moorish Barracks and the Lazarus Quarter (although this is more of a restored neighbourhood).
6. Say a prayer – This tip also refers to the heritage circuit and no Macau visit is complete without experiencing the richness of its baroque churches. Rich, colourful and beautifully restored, the most photogenic ones are the famous Ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, St Domingo’s church, Chapel of our Lady Guia (part of the Guia fortress), St Jesph Seminary and Church, Our Lady of Carmel and St Augustine’s church.
7. Look behind the facade for real Macau – The most photogenic and atmospheric parts of Macau is carefully layered behind the prettily restored facade. Wander down the radial lanes around the historic squares and see the living, breathing real Macau come alive. Narrow alleys, crumbling colonial buildings with Chinese signs, street cafes, banyan tree walls and strings of bright red Chinese lanterns make this area almost movie like. Discover awesome street art, quaint shops and hidden Chinese shrines. Take a break at tiny squares and share some street food with the locals. The contrasting Oriental signs of peeling paint, stacked scooters and red tiled roofs in a very Mediterranean ambiance is absolutely mind blowing.
8. Indulge in some authentic Macanese food – While the Portuguese egg tart is “the” must try dish in Macau, it is available in Hong Kong too. Macanese cuisine however is more varied and although not easily available, is a delightful fusion of Oriental with a dash of Portuguese influence. The pork bun ( at Tai Lei Loi Kei), soupy Portuguese seafood rice, cockles “Bulhao Pato” style, Portuguese suckling pig ( O Santos), stir fried curried crab, African peri peri chicken, Macanese chili shrimp and tapas are also not to be missed by food lovers.
The more adventurous ones can also try pig ears and papaya salad, rabbit stewed in wine, cinnamon and other spices along with ginger milk and typical dusty Serradura (layered dessert made of sweet biscuits). The islands of Taipa and Coloane have some very good restaurants and serious foodies should try the deep fried salted frog legs at Seng Cheong Restaurant (Taipa). For those with weaker tolerance to exotic food stick to the cheap and delicious finger food at Senado Square and dig into mouthwatering dumplings, fish balls etc. Wash them down with generous bowls of great sangrias and Macau will forever be etched in your mind for its yummy treats.
9. Try a bit of island hopping – Coloane and Taipa make perfect getaways for those seeking quiet refuge from the blazing garishness of the Cotai Strip. Start with the row of minty green Taipa Houses Museum, take a walk down the atmospheric old village, ogle at the picturesque Portuguese influenced houses and visit the 4 headed Buddha for luck. Separated from Macau by the Pearl river, modernization is encroaching Taipa fast and already huge casinos can be accessed from there in minutes. In olden times, Taipa consisted of 2 small islands and a sheltered port which was much favoured by the merchant ships engaged in trade with mainland China. A former hideout of pirates, Coloane is smaller of the 2 islands and is less developed.
Apart from the pretty old village with rows of pastel coloured houses, narrow photogenic alleys and excellent Macanese restaurants, Coloane offers great beaches and hikes for nature lovers. Hac Sa Beach, famous for black sands and the lovely Bamboo Bay are just the places you need to break away from Macau’s bustle. It is also possible to stay in both the islands although Coloane is definitely more atmospheric.
10. Have some naughty fun – After the overdose of history and culture, when the night is still young, indulge in a bit of Macau’s largest revenue grosser. Choose between the dazzling array of casinos, take your pick and try your lady luck. Pamper the human side of you and enjoy a gondola ride at the opulent Venetian, stare at the fake mermaids at Vquarium, get stunned by the fantastic shows at the House of Dancing Water and drool over the erotic dance performances at Taboo (The Show of Secret Fantasies). If adrenaline rush is what you are looking for, try your guts at the bungee jump at Macau Tower. At 233 meters, its guaranteed to make a grown man cry.
After my traumatic experience I visited Macau once more and mostly stayed at Coloane except for 1 night at the Venetian. It was very different from the previous Macau nightmare and while I chickened out from the bungee jump, I dined out, watched some shows and gambled. My quiet Coloane moments were very enjoyable and I loved the exotic fine cuisine, lively shows and won a bit of money too.
In general I had a pretty good time and even though my habit of constantly looking over my back persisted, it helped ebb the bitterness of the previous experience. Although my doubts on Macau as a travel destination ( purely personal opinion) its mesmerizing duality never fails to intrigue me. Its life in the fast lane in a very time warped city and nothing could be more enigmatic than that.
TRAVEL TIP- Macau has a dazzling array of very interesting festivals and some of them are truly world class. The Macau Grand Prix (November) is not to be missed by the racing fans, the Mid Autumn in September brings out moon cakes galore and the International Dragon boat Races in June are truly spectacular. The most famous and wildest is however the Feast of the Drunken Dragon in May, followed by the Chinese New Year in February and the Macau International Fireworks Display Contest held every year in September.
Some photos have been taken from internet.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE