Macau is just as unique from Mainland China as it is from Hong Kong. Many of my students assume it would be just like HK since it was a colony of a European power; however, it is so different.
First, a little history, Macau was a Portuguese territory for a few hundred years, nearly twice as long as Hong Kong was British. Because of this history, there was a lot of Catholic influence with many of the first colonizers being monks and missionaries.
This history gives Macau its unique culture, from its architecture to the language; everything is a hybrid of Chinese and Portuguese influences. Macau was given back to China in 1999 under very similar conditions to Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region.
Our trip to Macau was just a day long, and, unless you’re planning to do a bit of gambling, that was just enough time. We got to see and experience a lot of the history, see some casinos and not get tired with it, but got just enough to understand it and appreciate it.
The Main Attraction (for me anyway)
Macau’s main historical attraction is a huge UNESCO World Heritage area that includes a few old churches, residences and some very interesting history. The crown jewel is the façade of St. Paul’s cathedral at the top of a hill. The best way to reach this through Senado Square and the winding streets lined with old European architecture.
It is a beautiful place with a great mix of China and Europe. It shows how people with such diverse cultures and beliefs could live and work together with respect for each other. One great example of this is the small Chinese temple with incense burning right next to the ruins of the cathedral.
At the top of the hill next to the cathedral ruins is the old Monte Fort that now houses the Macau Museum. The museum is all about this merger and blending of two completely different cultures. It gave a great perspective on everything we were seeing.
Macau is made up of two areas, a peninsula and the island of Taipa, both pretty small and right across a small harbor to the mainland either connected directly or by bridge. The peninsula is the more developed part of the region with a lot of the history and original casinos. The island is where the airport is and the new development of mega-resort casinos. It is also home to some small fishing villages that seem untouched from the casino environment.
We took a bus to the far end of the island to the small village of Coloane. This small village showcases a similar mix of Chinese and Portuguese influences with both a small Catholic church and a Taoist temple. The architecture throughout the village also shows this with blends of Asian and European motifs, colors and elements.
On the top of the biggest hill of Taipa is a large and colorful temple dedicated to A-Ma, goddess of the sea. We went up on a free bus that takes you from a parking lot at the bottom of the hill, right next to the main road with public bus stops, up to the temple.
Also on the island are some other sights we didn’t get to see but if I went back I may, including the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion.
No trip to Macau is complete without at least going into a couple of casinos, just like Vegas. Now, some say that Macau is the Las Vegas of Asia, but I don’t think it is quite there yet. Right now it is Reno. However, in a year or two when many of the ginormous mega-resorts are completed on the island, it may be better than Vegas.
On the peninsula is where a lot of the older casinos and their new incarnations are. These mostly focus on gambling not the entire entertainment package, hence Reno and not Vegas. These casinos are mostly owned by one man who had a monopoly in the Macau market until a few years back. That’s when some of the big chains started moving in.
The old ones include the Lisboa and the Grand Lisboa, both icons for Macau casinos. Some of the newer ones include the Wynn and Sands. Out on Taipa is a new development where Vegas-style mega-resort casinos are popping up, the most recognizable and seemingly the favorite being The Venetian. This is the area that feels like a strip of sorts is growing with more consideration for shopping, eating, entertainment and gambling.
Before we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch a boat to Shenzhen, we wandered the Venetian and had dinner in the food court. It is beautiful inside with the full ceiling frescos and rich architectural elements and has the signature canal. Biggest difference was the Chinese girl gondoliers with Italian names.
If you ever make it to Macau, be sure to take advantage of the free things like free bag check at many casinos and free shuttle buses from many casinos to others and to the airport and ferry terminal. It is also easy to get to, both from the Mainland and Hong Kong.
I enjoyed the day in Macau and may find myself back in the future. However, it can never compare with Hong Kong.