Across the bay from Hong Kong lies its lesser known neighbour, Macau. A former Portuguese colony, it was given back to China in 1999 and turned into a special administrative region. Since then everything has changed. For over 4 centuries, Macau was a quiet atmospheric town, with consistent and unique architecture mixing both Chinese and Portuguese styles. Under the new Chinese era, the city has become a Las Vegas copycat, soulless, with new buildings mushrooming everywhere. Most of the city’s former green areas are gone, replaced by dull expressionless massive structures. Luckily not everything is lost: the major historical landmarks are still there to be seen, thoroughly preserved.
The city proper lies on a peninsula separated from mainland China by a short green strip. Macau is divided into different parishes, organization inherited from its colonial past. To the south, across the sea, Taipa, Cotai and Coloane, on the island, make up Macau’s large metropolitan area. The historical heritage can be found on the western side of the peninsula and in Taipa Village and Coloane Village on the island. Several hills dominate the cityscape, many with interesting historical landmarks. Two artificial lakes, Nam Van and Sai Van, occupy a large portion of the peninsula’s southern tip.
Macau’s most interesting sights are its historical buildings in the city centre, a few modern high-rise towers and two island villages (Taipa and Coloane). Unesco’s World Heritage List includes 25 buildings of historical Macau. You can start your historical tour by visiting the beautiful A-Ma Temple, the city’s most famous Chinese temple. Taking the road Calcada da Barra you will reach Moorish Baracks and the Mandarin House built in a traditional Chinese style. On the same road St. Lawrence’s church is one of Macau’s oldest sacred buildings. A couple of steps away Macau’s main square Largo do Senado is a masterpiece of colonial architecture and the beginning of a charming pedestrian area. The colourful St. Dominic’s Church was founded in the 16th century by Spanish Dominican priests. Behind the church, the narrow Rua de São Paulo takes you to the city’s most famous landmark: the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built in the 17th century and burned in 1835 only its richly decorated façade still stands today. Do not miss the Fortaleza do Monte, on the right, for some spectacular views of the city. South of the historical core the bizarre shaped Grand Lisboa Hotel has become Macau’s symbol in recent years. The most important casinos and shopping centres are located down south on the peninsula and in Cotai, around the Venetian Macau. You should visit them and witness the results of human stupidity.
Macau is a heaven for those who love gambling and hanging out with prostitutes. If you are not into either, you’ll find Macao a rather expensive city, with a limited number of guesthouses and hostels. However, at times casino hotels can offer affordable prices. The two areas to stay are near the historical area and on the modern part southwest of Grand Lisboa. Hotels closer to the historical core are usually smaller, modest and cheaper. Hotels in the modern neighborhood are bigger, more comfortable and more expensive. Staying on the island doesn’t make much sense other than for shopping and gambling. If you want to soak up a bit of nature, isolate yourself on Coloane Beach.
Macau is mostly flat with a few isolated hills. Walking around is a pleasant experience and the best way to discover historical sites. In the modern part it’s also a nice way to enjoy the massive scale of recently built skyscrapers. Distances on the island are far bigger, so a bus or taxi is needed to move from place to place. Buses are reliable, with a fixed schedule, but you need to have the exact amount in order to pay for the ticket. Taxis are not very expensive but drivers don’t speak much English. Most casinos and large hotels have free shuttle buses, which stop conveniently near the ferry terminal and the airport.
Macau is a typical example of investor urbanism, where private capital is the only thing that matters. It seems like the local government didn’t care about anything other than profits. This small territory is being completely over built pushing local residents far into China if they want to take a glimpse of what real nature looks like. Unfortunately most of the new buildings are dull, monotonous and can be seen elsewhere in the world. But if you are visiting Hong Kong and want to complete your tour with a glimpse of colonial heritage then a couple of days in Macau will make for a pleasant experience. If we add a few bizarre modern buildings worth visiting you might just put it on your bucket list!
Macau Travel Guide
- Southeast of the Grand Lisboa Hotel, in the modern neighbourhood. Happy Frog recommends Rio Hotel
- A-Ma Temple and Moorish Baracks;
- Mandarin House;
- Lawrence’s church and St. Dominic’s Church;
- Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral;
- Taipa Village on the island.
- Have dinner or lunch in Travessa de São Domingos.
- On foot, by bus, shuttle bus or taxi.
- Spend a day in the secluded Coloane Village.
DO NOT MISS:
- Walk around the historical area starting from Largo do Senado;
- Enjoy your free time observing the city from Fortaleza do Monte;
- Check the bizarre newly built Fisherman’s Wharf;
- Walk around the Nam Van and Sai Van lakes;
- Watch the night show in the Venetian Macau.