Kyoto Day One
Macau has long been known as a gambling destination, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time at the tables. There’s a whole other world waiting for you outside the casino doors: one shaped by both the rich history of the city, AKA the ‘Outpost of all Europe in China’ as Austin Coates wrote, and the modern dynamic of a city flush with unprecedented gambling revenue in the midst of rapid change.
A must read for anyone planning to visit, here are the Top 10 Things to Do in Macau!
Macau is a walker’s paradise. With the lion’s share of the city’s top sites centrally located, there’s no better way to see them all than by foot. Getting around is a breeze too, since street signage is excellent and maps are available free of charge from any Government Tourist office.
The area between A Ma Temple and Camoes Park should be your first port of call. An absolute joy to walk through, it’s full of baroque churches, Taoist temples, pristine squares and hilltop fortresses. Getting around on foot will also allow you to experience Macau’s seamless blend of Portuguese Chinese fusion style architecture, tiled streets, and beautiful garden areas. Cars and buses, taxies and scooters? Forget about them in Macau! Walk, walk, walk!
Other great walking areas include: the Praia Grande and Avenue de Republica, the St. Lazarus Quarter, the area around Mong Ha Hill, Taipa Village, Coloane Village, and in parks, like Lou Lim Ieoc Garden, Luis de Camoes Garden, and Guia Hill.
One thing’s for certain, you won’t go hungry in Macau. For starters, the city has the unique distinction of producing three different types of local cuisine: Portuguese, Cantonese, and Macanese food, with each style stupendous in its own right. And with the gambling industry contributing all those mammoth 5 star luxury hotel complexes, the city is now a first class dining destination, home to high end international cuisine and some of the world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants.
To top it all off, Macau’s also does unforgettable local snacks. Bakeries abound in the city’s heavy tourist zones peddling all manners of meat jerky, egg tarts, almond cookies and peanut candies, devilishly delicious treats that will have you coming back for more and more.
The bottom line? Leave the diet at home and loosen the belt straps in Macau – let it all come out!
Your vacation is your time so why not spend it taking care of number one? Macau’s 5 star hotels are home to amazing spas that exist for three reasons – to please, pamper and serve. Whether it’s a massage, facial, body scrub or wax, Macau’s highly trained spa professionals will reduce your stress and leave you refreshed, recharged and rejuvenated. As an added bonus, some spas also offer package options for couples, so you and your significant other can mix relaxation with romance, the ultimate combination!
Indulging in Macau for other people (especially me!) also means something else – the chance to sample and savour excellent Portuguese wine. Every bit as good as their more famous French and Italian counterparts, Portuguese wine is the drink of choice in Macau, prominent in many of the city’s bars and restaurants. Long famous for Ports, Portugal these days is producing stunning reds (Thank you Douro boys!) and very underrated whites that suit all palates and tastes. And when indulging in Portugal’s greatest export do it at the place I consider to be Macau’s 26th UNESCO World Heritage site – the stellar Macau Soul. Just look at that picture. If that’s not the pinnacle of life, then I don’t know what is.
4. GO TO TAIPA VILLAGE!
Truly a step back in time, Taipa Village is a can’t miss for anyone visiting Macau. Start on the eastern side, at Sam Po Temple, before following the signs to Our Lady of Carmel Church and Taipa Houses Museum.
Make your way to Rua de Cunha next, the acclaimed food street, to try a wide array of local snacks, a glorious and guiltless endeavour, since all the samples are free! From there, wander aimlessly through the rest of the Village, and get lost among the red, green and yellow buildings that belong to another century. Make sure to finish your tour on the west end, with the two big temples, as well as the nice tree lined road that leads out to Galaxy.
5. SPEND A DAY IN COLOANE!
Rent bicycles in Taipa Village then cycle past the Venetian towards Coloane. Stop off first at Saec Pai Van Park to see the pandas then continue towards A Ma Cultural Village. Don’t worry about having to climb to the top because there’s a free bus that will take you up and down.
After A Ma Cultural Village, continue cycling until you hit Coloane Village. Stop for lunch at Espaco Lisboa or Nga Tim and then have a nice stroll through the village, before continuing your journey towards the Cheok Van and Hac Sa beaches.
After a quick dip at Hac Sa, take it to the limit and cycle all the way to the end of the island – where few tourists dare to tread – the super remote and very austere church, Our Lady of Sorrows.
6. SEE A SHOW!
The Cotai Strip is home to all of Macau’s best entertainment. The House of Dancing Water has been packing audiences since first opening in 2010, while international star power shuffles in and out of the Cotai Arena next door at the Venetian on a regular basis.
When it’s time to club, Showhouse at Studio City burns the city down every Friday and Saturday night, while Galaxy brings 1930’s Shanghai back to life in one of the hippest lounges in Asia, the ultrachic China Rouge. Club Cubic is another happening venue, and occasionally home to the super seductive, no holds barred, hit cabaret performance Taboo. When it’s time to hit the town, get down on the Cotai Strip!
On the flip side, if creative endeavours are more your thing, then you’ve got a friend for life in the Macau government. Every month they stage and promote a wide range of cultural shows and exhibitions, most of them free of charge. You name it and Macau does it: Chinese opera, poetry sessions, traditional dance, film screenings, art exhibitions etc. For information just head to any tourist office and pick up the free “What’s On” newsletter for a schedule of upcoming events. Alternatively you can also check online here: What’s On.
We admit that Macau is no Hong Kong, but then again where is? If you want it, Macau will still have it, and at prices much lower than other cities in the region. The mega hotels are full of upmarket boutiques selling all the high end fashion, clothes and beauty accessories you’ll ever need, while downtown Macau deals in all kinds of electronics, jewellery, porcelain and antiques.
When the shopping bug hits, scratch that itch in Macau!
8. VISIT THE RELIGIOUS SITES!
The early Portuguese who developed Macau may be long gone, but their spirit, passion and faith still remain, preserved in the bricks and bells of the beautiful grand churches that grace the Historic Quarter. Building a city from scratch on the other side of an Empire was no excuse to build it badly, and the Portuguese certainly did not, as the best of their churches clearly attest; in particular, St. Dominic’s, St. Lawrence, and St. Joseph’s.
And while most visitors are drawn to Macau’s churches first, the city’s temples shouldn’t be ignored. There are a number of excellent ones, with A Ma Temple, Lin Fung Temple, Kun Iam Temple and Pou Tai Un Monastary exceptional examples.
Of course the most ironic thing is that even though most of Macau’s religious sites are very old, they’ve been excellently maintained, save of course for the most famous church in the city, St. Paul’s, which burned down 180 years ago!
9. VISIT THE MUSEUMS!
There’s a great line from a Macau tourist brochure that goes something like this: “Macau is such a living museum that it hardly needs to build them, but it does and the results are extraordinary.” Indeed! Macau’s 20 museums highlight every facet of the city’s unique colourful history. From opium pipes to fishing boats, Grand Prix racers to Taipa houses, it’s an eclectic journey through over 450 years of East-West cultural mixing and mishmash, all for $15 or less.
10. STAY IN A PORTUGUESE POUSADA!
Okay okay, we know that Macau’s new 5 star hotels like the Wynn, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton etc leave little to be desired. In terms of comfort, service, and modern amenities, they’re second to none and visitors are pretty much assured a great stay and wonderful experience.
However, nothing about them screams Macau, which is why we recommend trying a Portuguese Pousada (aka “Inn”) instead. Smaller, more intimate and decked out in true Mediterranean style, Pousadas offer a more authentic Macau experience at half the price of the city’s five star hotels. As an added bonus, breakfast is often free.
There are two Pousadas we’d like to recommend: Pousada de Mong Ha and Pousada de Coloane. And while not a Pousada in name, the Lisboa is another hotel with distinct Macau style and characteristics that’s worth checking out.