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Author: A Potato in a Rice Field
Wanderlust Travel Blog of the Year ’13
With free casino shuttle buses and free admission to attractions in Macau, you could easily see most of it without spending a Pataca (or dollars as they’re just called there). Hell, if you fill up on free food samples at tourist attractions, you could probably holiday in Macau for free. While I didn’t set out to prove this I did realise along the way as I put together these Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Macau. Even on arrival at the airport we find a bunch of free casino shuttle bus services throughout Macau and, reaching our nearby casino, we just walk to where we need to go. To reach further tourist attractions in Macau, we again just did the same, hopping over to Taipa and the islands. Throughout this visit we didn’t use one taxi at all and in two visits we have only used one. But taxis are always nearby if needed, or you could probably rent a chauffeur for the day, or hire a Ferrari. Anyway, we would recommend staying on the Macao Peninsula side, and this is where we opt for on this visit in the Historic Centre of Macau (UNESCO) near both the Ruins of Saint Paul and Senado Square (Nearby Hotel List Here). Two of the top tourist attractions in Macau. A busy, albeit touristy pedestrianized area, with lots to keep us busy and entertained.
This is a fancily paved town square which makes a good starting point, and leads to, a wider area of tourist attractions with Portuguese styled buildings, churches and cathedrals. This included Saint Dominic’s Church, the Igreja da Sé Cathedral and just a bit further finds the Ruins of Saint Paul’s. It would be one of the more touristy areas but it is also popular with more youthful local crowds where streets are lined with all sorts of shopping, restaurants and snack shops (unlike elsewhere in Macau where it sometimes feels like one giant gold and jewellery store). It reminds me a bit of Taipei’s Ximending area, which itself is compared to Tokyo’s Harajuku, so you get the idea. Anyway, it’s not quite on the same scale but the contrasting background of Portuguese churches and architecture, set against Chinese neon lettering, makes it quite a fascinating area to explore.
Probably the best known tourist attraction in Macau. This ruins of Saint Paul’s is no more than a five minute walk from Senado Square, via all those shopping and eating streets as mentioned before, and it is easily found with sign posted. The Portuguese settled in Macau in the 16th century and at the time this would become one of the largest Catholic churches in Asia. But now it is pretty much just a facade of the old Church front, as the rest was burnt to a crisp during a typhoon in 1835. Anyway, at the front of the façade is a set of many steps which is usually packed with tour groups and people taking selfies. It is the most touristy tourist attraction of Macau, but it is also the perfect place to grab all those local Macanese foods you’re looking for and the usual tourist knickknacks.
I actually missed Forte Monte on my first visit to the Ruins of Saint Paul’s and, while it is right next door, it can easily be passed by if you don’t know about it (or maybe that’s just me). There is a bit of a steep climb to reach this fort so if lazy, like me, the best way to the top is through the Macau Museum. While you do have to pay into the museum, the escalators are not past the ticketing office, so take them to the top for free. But it’s really not a strenuous climb otherwise to be honest. Surrounding the fort are 32 cannons which were used to hold off the attempted Dutch invasion of Macau back in 1622, along with many pirates through the years. There are also fantastic views from the top, arguably the best views on the island (although the Macau Tower may want to argue).
The Grand Lisboa hotel, slash casino would be the centre piece of the Macau Peninsula and can be seen towering over the landscape from almost anywhere. The Casino itself was one of the first on the island and to this day it still hosts many of the island’s biggest card games. But, despite its brash architecture and flashing lights (an attraction in itself), it still feels more low key and authentic than the American branding opposite on the Cotai Strip, in Taipa. Out front there will always be stern Chinese gamblers smoking cigarettes while holding tight to their money pouches. Again, the opulence inside is in itself impressive and walking around the floors you can pretty much watch on as the card games take place. Although I’m pretty clueless to what the hell is going on. Anyway, when it comes to card games, the Lisboa and GRand Lisboa is where it’s at.
This is like the New Macao, a stretch of casinos established first by the Sands, and I would guess is the equivalent of the Vegas Strip, only not quite as iconic or easy to navigate. The Cotai Strip is found on Taipa island and is connected to the Macau Peninsula by incredibly long bridges. The two areas are also easy to get between where casinos often run free shuttle services between the two of them. These leave every 15 minutes or so. One easier example would be the shuttle between The Sands Casino (Macau Peninsula) and the Venetian (Cotai / Taipa). And from either of them it is easy to walk to wherever you need to go. Macau is a relatively small place. So you could easily spend a day in each and every casino along the Cotai Strip so I will stick with the Venetian which is so huge that they built their very own canals inside and surrounded it by shops and restaurants. On this visit we only really saw the area when shuttling around on the free casino buses but the area is just fascinating. A new addition as well to the skyline is Wynn Palace which seems to have outdone them all. It’s definitely next on our to-do list.
On our first visit to Macau we stayed on the Taipa side and, if planning to do similar, I would definitely go with the old quarters of Taipa (nearby hotels here). This small and unassuming area is found hidden beneath a backdrop of casinos and skyscrapers of Cotai strip and it is this quiet residential area which won me over for a second visit to Macau. Walking into the central old town brings a more authentic Chinese feel which had before eluded us in Hong Kong and Macau Peninsula. In this quaint Chinese old town locals will walk, talk, shop and eat with not a tourist in site (or at least this is how it was). But it is the perfect place to escape the noise of tourist and casinos and sip through a bowl of noodles while local life passes by. Don’t expect locals to speak English. Another area worth considering is Coloane although it’s further flung and harder to navigate and get around as a tourist.
After passing through the quiet streets of Taipa old town you should come onto Taipa Houses–Museum a unique area of colonial architecture. The museum complex consists of five houses, where four display various artefacts and exhibits of Macau’s old colonial era. You do find that Macau’s Portuguese past is mirrored almost everywhere in Macau, like in street names, and in language where Portuguese is always put before English, and of course architecture and building design. The Taipa Houses-Museum is also found on an amiable lakeside and again is the perfect setting away from the brash and unashamed streets of the Cotai Strip which sit on the opposite banks of reclaimed land. Another nearby tourist attraction is Our Lady of Carmel Parish following the cobbled paths.
The real name for Macau is “The Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. Technically it is part of China and not a country of its own right. But, if it were a country it would easily be the most densely populated country in the world. Also 95% of the population is Chinese and one in every five works in the gambling industry. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that, while casinos and gambling is a big part of Macau it isn’t all of it. While Portuguese influences and gambling are sold to the tourists I often find the real charm in Macau is found at the Chinese temples which are central to the normal workaday lives of traditional folk. I often prefer poking around the smaller local temples but to share some of the more significant of Macau there is A-Ma Temple (Historic Centre, Macau Peninsula) and Kun Iam Temple.
Macau does have its own, unique cuisine called Macanese food which is a bit like Portuguese and Portuguese- Chinese fusion food. The more popular bites are easy to find in the tourist areas of Macau although it’s mostly the snackish food which is sold. This includes the famous Macanese egg tart, almond cookies, sweet pork jerky and the pork chop bun, which is literally a pork chop stuffed in a bun. But again, since I can find most of these things in Europe, I find myself delving more into the Chinese / Cantonese foods like noodle soups and there’s this wee lane leading down from Igreja da Sé Cathedral where the curry beef offal is honestly to die for. I would always ask for extra curry, then drink it from the tub (Here for our Eating Guide to Macau).
If you haven’t been to Hong Kong then you really should go (although there’s a good chance you just came from there). Because I wouldn’t do one without the other, and, to be honest, you don’t need much time for the excursion. It is only 60km between them and to get there the turbojet ferry crossings take around one hour and leave every 15mins (between 07:00 – 00:00). Or just go by helicopter and half that time, where Sky Shuttle Helicopters leave every 30mins between (09:00 – 23:00). And, arriving to Hong Kong, you are direct onto the convenient MRT lines and will be exploring the city in no time. Here for our Hong Kong in a hurry guide. Again I’d use the free casino shuttle to get to and from the ports of Macau, and the money you’re saving goes towards that helicopter. Anyway, obviously day trips aren’t ideal, but they are easily doable.