From fusion cuisine to spectacular performances to a colorful blend of history, the peninsula has more than one way to hit the jackpot.
LOCATED ON THE SOUTHEAST coast of mainland China and with a history that includes centuries as a Portuguese outpost, Macau is a curious blend of cultures. Now though it is probably best known for its glitzy Las Vegas-like casino scene and grand hotel complexes including the Sheraton Macao Hotel (the largest Sheraton in the world) and the Conrad Macao. And the boom doesn’t seem to be ending soon, new projects planned for the near future include the Wynn Macau casino and hotel, and Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels. But beyond all of the dazzling neon lights, Macau still retains its rich past and boasts a number of great ways to spend your time away from the tables.
Get A Taste
Macanese cuisine was created when colonists arrived here from other Portuguese outposts such as Angola, Brazil, and Goa, blending their cooking styles with the local Chinese fare. To sample some of these fusion cuisine front-runners head to Restaurante Litoral. The restaurant specializes in hard-to-find Macanese dishes such as beef pork with shrimp paste and tacho, a Macanese meat stew.
Be sure to save some room for Taipa’s Kwun Ya Kai, a popular street-food area where hawkers sell something for every taste including almond cookies, hundreds of variations on meat jerkies, durian ice cream, and egg tarts. But if you want the original egg tart, follow the crowd to Lord Stow’s Bakery. Opened in 1989. this egg-custard creation or pastel de nata in Portuguese, quickly became a national dish. There are a number of different outlets now across Macau and in Asia, but the original bakery is in the Coloane Town Square on Rua Do Tassara.
Step Back to the Past
The historic center of Macau was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 and inside you will find a mix of residential, public, and religious Chinese and Portuguese buildings. The old buildings are numerous, but there are some can’t-miss stops in the area. The large crimson A-Ma Temple is the oldest Taoist temple in Macau, built in 1488, and is still a popular worship site today. Perhaps Macau’s best-known historical site, the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral are also located in the area. The cathedral, built by Jesuits in 1602, used to be one of the largest Catholic complexes in Asia but it was abandoned and the building was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835. Although only the imposing and ornate facade remains, the Museum of Sacred Arts is located behind it in what was formally the cathedral’s crypt.
You can see excellent examples of Portuguese influence at Senado Square and St. Dominic’s Church. Both display trademark design elements from the country. In the early 1990s. Portuguese experts were brought in to pave the 3.700-square-meter square with a wave-patterned mosaic of colored stone in a manner popular in Portugal. The church, whose current structure dates back to the 17th century, boasts a bright pastel facade that is in a classic Portuguese style.
The second section of the historic center comprises the sprawling Guia Fortress. This popular tourist site is a great example of Western and Chinese cultures blending in Macau. Sitting on the highest point on the peninsula, the fortress was built after the Dutch unsuccessfully tried to take Macau. The compound also holds the first Western-style lighthouse built on the East Asian coast as well as the Chapel of Our Lady Guia. which retains nearly all its original features including frescos discovered in 1998 that show both Western and Chinese themes.
Take A Walk
With the hustle and bustle of Macau’s glittering casino scene it can be easy to forget that the peninsula also has a natural side. For a change of pace head to the southern island of Coloane There are two beaches on the island; the golden-sand Cheoc Van is the smaller but more beautiful of the two.
Coloane’s mountainous terrain makes for interesting and visually captivating biking and hiking adventures. The island’s center is crisscrossed with unpaved routes that vary in length and difficulty.
Coloane is also home to one of two golf courses in Macau, the 18-hole Macau Golf and Country Club, which has hosted the Macau Open and players like Nick Faldo, Lee Westwood, and John Daly since 1998.
Don’t forget to take in a show while in Macau. The US$257-million House of Dancing Water is a record-breaking production created by former Cirque du Soleil director Franco Dragone. The show has everything: high-flying aerials, more than 250 embedded fountains, 77 performers from 18 different counties, water stunts, and more all performed in the world’s largest commercial pool, built especially for the production.
Macau has a number of action-packed activities for the whole family starting with Macau Tower, which has a 360-degree observation deck 223 meters above ground level for unparalleled views of the island. From the deck, Skywalk X offers a couple of activities not for the faint-hearted; take a walk around the outer rim of the deck on a 1.8-meter platform or take the plunge with a bungee or Sky fall jump.
For amusements on firm ground, Fisherman’s Wharf is an 11-hectare theme park that is open 24 hours a day with free admission. Inside, you will find a hodgepodge of structures and attractions including replicas of Tang Dynasty towers, a 40-meter man-made volcano, and a Roman amphitheater. There is also a large shopping center, video-game arcade, and water-performance space.
Macau also has a collection of museums dedicated to the peninsula’s colorful past. The Macau Museum is probably the most comprehensive with three floors dedicated to the beginnings of Macau, popular arts and traditions, and to contemporary Macau and its portrayal in literature and arts. Additionally, the Museum of Taipa and Coloane History is a notable stop for those interested in archeology and history as it holds the findings and some artifacts from five excavations in the Hac-Sa area of Coloane Island that span from 1973 to 2006. Comprised of five green houses built in 1921 in the traditional Macanese style with strong Portuguese influences, the Taipa Houses Museum gives visitors a historical and intimate look at everyday life in Macau.