Macau, a special administrative region of China, has a totally different aspect than other Chinese cities. It was a colony of the Portuguese Empire, which explains its western cultural heritage. It includes a peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane. Although known as Vegas of Asia, gambling is not the only thing you can enjoy there.
How to get to Macau?
From Hong Kong, Macau can be easily reached by ferry within one hour. If you’re coming from China, you can take either the plane or the train. The international airport is located at Taipa island and the nearest train station Zhuhai is situated on the mainland border between China and Macau and is closer to the city center. We arrived by train and followed the signs to Gongbei Port which is the immigration and customs checkpoint before entering Macau. It is an easy procedure but it might take some time, just follow the signs.
As a Lebanese, we didn’t need a visa to enter Macau as they offer visa-free entry for citizens of many countries. But be aware that if you are going back to China you need a double entry Chinese visa as Macau operates as an independent state. It also has its own currency so you need to exchange the Chinese RMB. Hong Kong Dollar is accepted.
What to visit?
Exploring the best sites of the city is possible in one day. The city center of the peninsula can be discovered on foot: tiny streets, shops, churches, temples, Chinese & Portuguese restaurants, the vibes are just amazing. The best trail would be to start at the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral and walk all the way down to reach A-ma Temple.
Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral
It’s a famous site in Macau that originally included St. Paul’s college and St. Paul’s church. Unfortunately, they burned down in a fire during a typhoon. Decorated with biblical images, a Portuguese ship, Chinese characters.., the surviving facade of the church is the perfect example of the fusion between Eastern and Western cultures. Take the stairs right in front of the facade to reach the main street and continue the trail..
Lou Kau Mansion
Our next stop was the home of a Chinese merchant, built with blue bricks that reflect Chinese architecture style. You’ll also find interesting details of Portuguese decoration. If you love architecture, you’ll enjoy many similar stops along the way.
Passing by many restaurants and shops, we reached the center of the Peninsula, Senado Square which is surrounded by colorful western buildings and St. Dominic Church. It felt like we were in a European city decorated with a Chinese style.
Dom Pedro V Theater
This theater is another historical building to check in Macau. It is one of the oldest theaters in East Asia, also having a European style as it was built by local Portuguese.
The Mandarin’s House
Another perfect mixture of Portuguese and Chinese architecture, this place offers more architectural details to examine and enjoy. It was the house of an influential author-merchant and the oldest and largest residential complex in Macao which accommodated 300 persons at a certain time.
The Church of our Lady of Penha
It is peacefully located at the top of Penha hill away from busy streets. Just outside the church, enjoy a panoramic view of the city that includes Grand Lisboa Hotel, Macau Tower and the bridges linking the Peninsula to Taipa Island.. It is also possible to climb the tower for beautiful views of the city.
Our last stop on the Peninsula was A-ma temple, Macau’s oldest Chinese temple. It was full of colors and had richly decorated altars and burning incense hanged from the ceiling. You cannot miss the prayers tags hanged outside and attached to small bells which jingle when it’s windy.
The Cotai Strip
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the Cotai Strip full of hotels, casinos, shops and restaurants, a mini-Vegas where you will find The Venetian Hotel, The Parisian Hotel, Studio City Hotel and many more.. The area is so crowded but also so alive and there are activities for all sort of ages as well as shopping opportunities.
If you love Venice, the Venetian Macao is where you will enjoy a similar atmosphere: Canals, gondolas, beautiful sky…
The mini Eiffel Tower outside the Parisian Macao will take you back to Paris. Climb it for a nice view of the city or just enjoy its changing colors from outside the hotel.
If you have more time in the city and you are interested in Macau’s history, you can also explore the Taipa Houses-Museum.
The cultural mix also affects the food in Macau and one dessert you should definitely try in Macau is the Portuguese egg tarts. They are everywhere, try them at different shops.
Where to stay?
You can choose one of the hotels at the Cotai Strip to be close to the shops and activities but most probably it will be so crowded and it will take time to check-in and check-out so we decided to stay somewhere else since our visit was short. We chose Million Dragon Hotel, a luxurious 3-stars hotel which is 5 minutes away from the city center by car. It has a casino and many restaurants. The staff were amazing and helpful, they upgraded our room to a suite. We had a buffet dinner at one of its restaurant where they served an international menu including a wide variety of fish, sushi, salads and many more.. The experience was really good, their service too and I really recommend this place.
Book your stay on their website:
Macau has a unique atmosphere with a fascinating fusion between Portuguese and Chinese cultures. All of that is obvious in its architecture, food, streets and decoration. Before visiting this city, we knew nothing about it and adding it to our plan was a great idea. Staying for more than one day would perfect in order to enjoy more of its beauty.
Check out my posts “Two Weeks in China” and “Five days in Beijing” for more details about our Chinese experience: