With Macau’s reputation as ‘Vegas of the East’ I envisioned it as the dirty, Asian version of Vegas. However, I was surprised; it was a pleasure to walk around during the day, and evenings were fun and lively. Culturally speaking, it’s one of the most fascinating countries I’ve visited. Portuguese and Chinese culture and architecture met here long ago, and they still get along fabulously. Here are 10 things to do in Macau…
With a cheap bus system, it’s easy to get around. This list winds through Macau Peninsula, Cotai, and Coloane. Aside from the reclaimed land of Cotai, parts of Macau have UNESCO World Heritage status, which includes historic sites, like #1, 2, and 3:
Walk -or skip- down the black and white tiled walkway while admiring the colonial, Portuguese buildings of the Macau Business Tourism Centre. It’s not all business though; this spot is a popular hangout and shopping center during the day, and it comes alive at night with families and young couples.
Just around the corner is St. Dominic’s Church, or Ingreja de Saint Domingos- a Catholic church whose bell tower is now a museum of Sacred Art. It couldn’t be more aesthetically pleasant -or more pastel yellow.
Right up the hill from St. Dominic’s is another church, but this one didn’t stand the test of time. However, with only one wall, St. Paul’s Church is an iconic, impressive landmark of Macau.
Overlooking St. Paul’s is a fort once used to protect the Portuguese Jesuits and their property. Monte Fort still offers great views of popular properties, like the famous Grand Lisboa Hotel pictured below. The old cannons are still in place, but they are bookended by flower gardens for a charming touch.
This beautiful zen garden is known for being the most ‘Chinese’ garden in Macau. It’s a tranquil space with a winding walking path, spaces for picnicking, a large lotus flower garden, and hundreds of hungry turtles and fish to feed.
A wine museum? I’m all about that. This museum offers a brief but interesting look at wine history and etiquette, and it showcases Portuguese wines from different regions. Of course, the best part is wine tasting. For less than $2, (15 Macanese Pataca) you can try 3 samples at the end of your self-guided tour. We left cheery and buzzed.
I was surprised by the diversity of sights when I took to the streets of Macau Peninsula. At times it felt European with open, tiled plazas, gorgeous colonial buildings and bakeries. Other times, it felt distinctly Chinese with bustling alleys full of dried, spiced pork and cramped, slummy residential areas. Yet, in most places, elements of both cultures co-exist.
The revenue from Macau’s gambling industry dwarfs that of Las Vegas. Macau is casino heaven. The Venetian Macao, on Cotai Strip, is the biggest casino in the world and a playground for wealthy, Chinese gamblers. Once you’re ready to cut your losses, this enormous complex has tons of shops, restaurants, and live performances.
The Portuguese style egg tart is a must-try. This little morsel has a flaky crust, creamy inside, and is caramelized on top. Egg tarts can be found all over Asia now, but Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane is where they were originally made famous and sold by the Englishman, Andrew Stow.
In the Southwest corner of Coloane is a sleepy village that’s as cute as a button. If you’re not tired of yellow churches, you can peek inside the Church of St. Francis Xavier, which hosts holy mass every Sunday in both Chinese and English. A leisure walking path outside the church passes by small coffee shops-including Lord Stow’s Bakery and Café- that look out onto the bay.
I’ve saved the best for last. The food…. oh my lord! We ate 3 dinners in Macau, 2 of which were phenomenal. At Dragon Portuguese Cuisine, we kicked off our first meal with Sagres, a Portuguese beer, and continued with vegetables and potatoes smothered in a creamy, yellow sauce- almost a mellow curry- that were baked to perfection.
On our last night in Macau, we barely snagged a reservation at A Lorcha, and before it opened at 6:00pm, there was a line halfway down the block. No wonder… the flavor of their lamb stew BLEW my mind.
I didn’t make it to Fernando’s, thought I hear that’s another top notch restaurant. I would have sampled some seafood dishes, which are a staple of Portuguese and Macanese cuisine.
A-Ma Temple, the Moorish Barracks, Macau Tower (though I wouldn’t partake in the “skyjump” from the building), the Giant Panda Pavillion, and Hac Sá Beach.
I spent 4 days in Macau, and I still could have enjoyed another day (or two) there. It’s a culturally and historically unique country that can entertain for days.