10 Top Macau Travel Tips
An excellent companion piece to the 10 Top Things to Do in Macau, these 10 Top Tips for Macau Travel were primarily written for visitors who have never been to Macau before.
Don’t be that person getting clobbered by casinos, cabbies and hordes of Chinese tourists, while shooting everyone and their mother 25% tips. Rather, follow the advice below and become a mini Maven overnight, a seasoned veteran who knows the city inside and out.
Read on for all the things I wish I had known back in 2010!!
Macau Travel Tips #1. Stay For More Than 1 Day
I don’t know how one day travel plans to Macau ever became a thing, but they’re all over the net, particularly as add-ons to Hong Kong travel itineraries. Perhaps it was viable advice 20 years ago, but the city has changed a lot since then, with attractions multiplying not only on the history laden Peninsula, but in Taipa and Coloane as well.
To do the city true justice, you’ll probably need to set aside 3 days at least, with 4 or 5 a more appropriate number. To that end, I’ve devised detailed 3 Day and 5 Day Travel Plans for your viewing pleasure, along with a special 3 Day one if you’re on a Budget.
Now that you’re sure to be staying for more than one day, check our handy Macau Hotel Guide found here: Macau Hotel Guide.
Bottom line? Going to Macau for 1 day is like strolling into MacauSoul, ordering the 2004 Batuta and a cheese board, then taking off before any of it comes. For the love of God man, don’t you know where you are??
Stay, relax, enjoy!!
#2. Avoid Chinese Holidays, Weekends, and Other Peak Times
Every year, Macau gets rocked by 4 or 5 massive tsunamis that whip down from the North, wrecking everything in their wake. Fortunately they always happen to coincide with major Chinese holidays (Spring Festival, Labor Days, National Days, and Mid-Autumn Festival, as well as Grand Prix weekend), so you always know the exact time to stay away.
When the Border Gate bursts at the seams and the city collapses in on itself from overcapacity, Macau turns into tourism from hell and just about the last place you want to be on Earth. All main streets and attractions get overrun, restaurant and hotel rates go through the roof, while public infrastructure takes a beating trying to keep up with the demand. Heed my advice and do the only sane and logical thing: visit another time.
While it’s nowhere near that bad on weekends, I don’t recommend visiting then either, since hotel rates get jacked up every Friday and Saturday night, particularly in the nicer casino properties. Try and hit Macau right in the sweet spot if you can – between Mondays and Thursdays, and from October to December, when the weather is best.
For more tips on climate, cash, karma, along with other vital info, please check out our Macau Introduction.
Macau Travel Tips #3. Avoid Taxies
The Macau taxi system is an utter disgrace and why the government doesn’t fix it is beyond me. You basically have a 40% chance of getting ripped off during the day, and that number jumps to 80% at night. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve written them off altogether, and you probably should too.
The good news for tourists is that with some advance planning you might not even need to use them at all, since the public bus system is excellent and the casinos provide a lot of free shuttles as well. And with most top sites centrally located and in close proximity to each other, walking has always been the best way to get around anyway.
However, there may be times when you have no choice but to take a taxi, so it’s important to know the rules regarding cabbie conduct in Macau. Keep in mind: they’re not allowed to haggle over the fare, refuse passengers, drop you off at another location, let other passengers into the vehicle, or take long ways.
Hopefully for those unfamiliar with the city, ignorance will be bliss, and you won’t even realize you’re getting taken for a ride. If you do suspect something is up though, take pictures of the meter and the taxi’s ID card before exiting, then phone the Transport Bureau at 8866 6363 afterwards. You’ll need to provide the Transit Bureau with the following information: plate number, driver ID number, and driver name, in addition to where you got on and off, and how much it cost.
What you don’t do, and I can attest to this from personal experience, is refuse to pay the fare, leave the taxi, then drop the driver with a sweet left hook once he chases you down. You just might find yourself banned from Macau for 3 years shortly thereafter.
For more information on how to get around, including a lot of bus information, just follow the Transportation link.
4. Be Smart In The Casinos
As I’ve written elsewhere on the site, I neither recommend nor endorse gambling, since the odds are stacked against you in every game you play, with the only exception being Texas Hold ‘Em, assuming you know what you’re doing. If you’re in Macau to have some fun though, and simply can’t resist the allure of winning some free money, it’s important to gamble smart. That means you need to understand bankroll management, loss limits, which games are best, the proper way to play them, and what to avoid doing, in order to leave with a shirt on your back.
Start by having a look at our Macau Gambling Guide, before checking out House Edge in Macau, the Game Strategy Guides, the Macau Casinos Guide, as well as VIP Info and Comps if you’re a high roller. When you think you’ve mastered the basics and are ready to roll, finish up by taking a fun Gambling Quiz to make sure.
No matter if you gamble or not, always get the free Player Card before eating in any hotel restaurant, since it gives you a 10% dining discount.
Macau Travel Tips #5. Avoid Chinese Restaurants In The Casinos
Speaking of dining in the hotel restaurants, it took me a little time to learn that the Chinese restaurants there are mostly a waste of your time and money. With locals shunning them for cheaper and better options on the street, they often stay empty or close to it, which leads to a very depressed dining environment and hardly any ambience. They’re basically haunts for tourists who don’t know any better, so don’t fall into the same trap.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few exceptions, however. By all means, experience the fine French infused Chinese in the Eiffel Tower (La Chine), high quality Northeastern fare courtesy of Master Liu Guo Zhu at Golden Flower, out of this world Cantonese food, service and setting at Lai Heen, and some of the best dim sum in the world (8).
The only other time to venture into hotel restaurants is for upscale International fare like French, Italian, Indian and Japanese cuisine, as well as buffets. It will be expensive, but the food is often stellar.
6. Try Macanese Food
Proper Macanese food can only be found in one place in the world – Macau! Once you leave town that ship will have sailed, so it’s integral to get on board while you still can. Assuming you like Western food, and especially Portuguese food, then you’ll dig Macanese cuisine as well, since it’s basically the same thing, just with more exotic ingredients.
For more information, check out our handy Macanese Food Guide, to learn all about its history, top dishes, and the best restaurants to try them in.
Street food is another plus in Macau, so don’t sleep on that either, especially if you’re looking to save a little coin. Which brings me to….
Macau Travel Tips #7. Forget Tipping
Like Hong Kong and the mainland, tipping is not customary in Macau nor is it expected. Many restaurants already add a 10% service charge to the bill, while hotels have the audacity to take even more, an obscene 15%. Of course, if you feel the need to do tip, either in restaurants, or with taxi drivers and dealers in the casino, it won’t be refused, but unlike the West, you are under no social obligation to do so.
Personally speaking, the only time anyone’s ever made a comment or shot a sideways glance is with expat waitresses in some of the Western restaurants, but such is life. That 10 percent service charge is money too.
Another side note about cash: Hong Kong Dollars are accepted at the same rates as Macau Patacas, although the $10 HKD coin is strangely shunned – not even the homeless will take it.
As for the casinos, the currency of choice is generally HKD, although a few places do accept Macau Mops.
8. Don’t Be Afraid of Older Hotels
Macau is experiencing a boom in new hotel properties, particularly in the mid-range, which naturally gets a lot of tourists’ attention. Comfort and cleanliness generally rank very high on everyone’s wish list, and hotels that have recently opened are very safe bets to provide those very things. That sometimes leads to a chain event where older hotels get pushed further and further back to the end of line. I mean, if you know the Parisian opened in 2016, the Venetian in 2008 and Sands Macao in 2004, I’m not sure how many people are going to be clamoring for the Sands Macao, just based on age alone. It’s certainly a very sensible approach to take, but in Macau you might be selling yourself short.
In my opinion, many of the city’s best hotels predate the handover in 1998. That’s primarily because more recent properties generally give patrons the short side of the stick in two areas: room size and facilities. As Studio City, the Parisian, and MGM Cotai clearly indicate, smaller rooms are preferred to larger ones, simply so the hotel can have more of them.
It’s also a sad fact that amazing leisure centers and recreation areas just aren’t being prioritized anymore. I think back in the 1980’s, hotels allocated a lot of resources there in order to stand out, but nowadays no one seems to care.
Anyway, here are 7 hotels that you should definitely consider, even if some of them are much older than you!
–East Asia | Price: $375 per night | Opened: 1920
A strict budget option all the way, I don’t think you’ll find an older hotel in Macau that’s better.
–Regency Art Hotel | Price: $500 per night | Opened: 1980’s
Formerly known as the Hyatt Regency, their spa and pool are both outstanding, far outclassing hotels that charge $1500 plus per night.
–Pousada de Mong Ha | Price: $700 per night | Opened: 1995
Macau’s most enchanting hotel is staffed by students in training from the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT).
–Grand Coloane Resort | Price: $750 per night | Opened 1993
Formerly known as the Westin Macau, this comprehensive resort offers an 18 hole golf course, outdoor and indoor pools, spa, tennis court, Kids Club and smoking views of Hac Sa Beach.
–New Oriental Landmark Macau | Price: $800 | Opened: 1997
–Lisboa | Price: $800 per night | Opened: 1970
I actually prefer it to the Grand Lisboa, given their retro style rooms straight out of the silky smooth swag and velvet 1970’s.
–Grand Lapa | Price: $900 per night | Opened: 1980’s
Formerly known as the Mandarin Oriental, the Grand Lapa’s pool, gym and spa facilities are second to none.
Should you be traveling with children though, one hotels towers over the rest and that’s Studio City. When it first opened in 2015, it branded itself as the entertainment epicenter of Macau, and I’d still agree with that description today, but only if you’re under 15 years of age.
Macau’s most family friendly resort by far, Studio City shines with their signature 4D Dark Knight Batman ride, arcade heavy Legend Heroes Park, and Ferris Wheel fun at Golden Reel. There’s also the Warner Brothers Club, Macau’s best Kids Zone by far, and a small Riverscape Ride outside beside the swimming pool.
No matter what, you should strongly consider basing your stay somewhere on the Cotai Strip if you have children, since the Peninsula is mostly limited to adult attractions and sites like churches, museums, world heritage sites, and casinos.
For a complete guide to Children Activities, please click the link here: Macau For Children.
Macau Travel Tips #9. Don’t Trust The Guidebooks
The Internet is littered with so much bad advice regarding Macau that I had to strike back by writing an article about Overrated Attractions. Each place on the list is a total waste of time, with no history, culture or meaning, and I wouldn’t be caught dead taking anyone there.
Restaurants are another disaster waiting to happen, and how joints like A Lorcha, Robuchon Au Dome, Ying, and Alain Ducasse ever get such positive press is beyond me. The latter three are even Michelin approved, so feel free to peruse my personal Michelin Maven Guide before walking into a world of hunger and hurt, where portion size shrinks in proportion to the price, as in the more expensive the dish, the less you seem to get of it!
Trip Advisor is another joke too, which currently has 13 of their top 15 spots occupied by a Las Vegas Sands Resort restaurant, a clear gaming of the system that shouldn’t be allowed to continue. The kicker is that the only one that deserves to be there is Golden Peacock, and it’s all the way down at 19th!
I understand that people are free to write whatever they want online, but that doesn’t make what they say useful or true. At least I’ve got some punch behind my punditry, with a decade on the job and hopefully many more to come.
To wit, I’m especially proud of my 3 Trip Reports, fantastic in depth summaries of what 3 or 4 days in Macau might look like, which I rate as some of the best writing on this site. Even though they’re a few years old, Macau moves in centuries, not minutes, so most of what is detailed is still relevant. In the few cases where there’s been some change, I’ve noted it and made the appropriate updates.
10. Say Hello to the Maven
As a way to finance the site, I’ve set up a Patreon account that allows us to do a Meet and Greet in Macau, an excellent choice for those who need help with trip planning and/or getting around.
I don’t want to say too much here, so for more information, just follow the link: Meet and Greet.