Macau has gained a reputation as the “Las Vegas of the East” or “Asia’s Monte Carlo” – and understandably so. Most people immediately associate the special administrative region with lavish casinos and the glittering Cotai Strip. Spectacular additions such as the Batman Dark Flight experience or the magic show at Studio City have grabbed recent headlines as Macau attempts to broaden its appeal as an entertainment haven, beyond its gambling hub status. But beyond the glitz and glamour of this relatively small area, there’s a wealth of cultural delights that ought not be missed. I started my exploration at Guia Hill – the highest point on the Macau Peninsula. At its peak stands the 16th-century Guia Fortress, a perfect symbol of Macau’s maritime, military and missionary history, and now a designated Unesco World Heritage site. In addition to the fortifications, there’s a 15-metre-tall lighthouse with a circular observation platform offering panoramic views over Macau. Adjacent to this is the Guia Chapel. Its simple façade belies the elaborate frescoes within, depicting both Chinese and Western themes that are well worth a look. From the fortress, it’s a gentle 20-minute walk downhill until you reach the Jardim Da Flora (Flora Garden). This pleasant park boasts landscaped gardens, an aviary and a small zoo. It is also home to the world’s shortest cable car ride – a mere two minutes and 18 seconds by my calculations – which offers a welcome shortcut for those who can’t face trekking up or down the hill, plus some lovely views (MOP2 one way; MOP3 return). If you’ve visited Macau before, chances are you’ll have stood under the Ruins of St Paul’s – one of the most iconic tourist spots in the old part of town. But hidden in the shade of this magnificent structure is a less well-known Unesco site: the tiny Na Tcha Temple. Built in 1888, the single-chamber building is a dedication to Na Tcha – a popular Chinese folk hero. A small exhibition next to the temple details the legends surrounding the mythical figure, from his epic defeat of the Sea Dragon King to protecting the Macanese people from epidemics that ravaged neighbouring states. The juxtaposition of a Chinese folk temple next to the Jesuit cathedral ruins is also a vivid reminder of the city’s longstanding multicultural identity and religious freedom. After a morning of cultural exploits, it was time to step things up a notch and seek out what excitement the old district has to offer. Priming my camera, I set off for The Pier 16 3D World. Located at Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, the 3D museum has over 100 interactive exhibits divided into eight themed zones such as “Jurassic World”, “Touch of French” and “Chinese Culture”. From climbing on top of the Ruins of St Pauls to jumping into the set of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, the photographic playground is an excellent chance to take some entertaining selfies. And on the subject of the King of Pop, true fans might want to consider checking in to the unique Michael Jackson-themed suite at the Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 and spending the night immersed in memorabilia. The MJ Mansion is immediately distinguished by a golden crown logo on the door, while a peek inside reveals lavish diamante trimmings, plush fabrics on the walls and a vast array of Michael Jackson insignia. Other luxuries include a rainforest shower and a Jacuzzi in the bathroom, with great views of the river. One highlight is the private karaoke room – the perfect opportunity to rock out to some of MJ’s greatest hits. For a dose of adrenaline, forget the highs of the gaming table, and head straight to the Macau Tower. It’s one of the only venues in the world that offers a bungy jump in the city centre. Jumpers leap from a platform 233 metres above the ground and experience the ultimate free fall, before slowing down roughly 30 metres from the ground and rebounding skywards. While bungy jumping gets automatic daredevil kudos, an equally thrill-seeking activity is available in the form of the Tower Climb, where the brave few can climb to the very top of the 338-metre tower via a 100-metre vertical ladder. Personally, I was happy to stick with the Skywalk, a gentle stroll – if heights don’t worry you – around the outer perimeter of the tower, soaking up the views over the rapidly developing peninsula. Feeling satisfied with my discoveries so far, I decided to try the southern tip of Macau. A 30-minute taxi ride to Coloane – bypassing the Cotai Strip – and I arrived at the Panda Gigante de Macau. The leafy enclosure is home to just two residents – Kai Kai and Xin Xin, who were happily munching on bamboo when I arrived. Although pandas are known for sleeping most of the day, these two were very energetic, and were soon rolling around in the outdoor playground. There’s an MOP$10 (US$1.3) fee to enter the pavilion where these national treasures reside. Outside, a colourful array of other caged creatures can be seen, from monkeys to parrots and ostriches. From this mini-zoo, I embarked on a one-hour hike up to the statue of A-Ma – a Taoist goddess and the protector of seamen, fishermen and merchants. Standing on top of Dep Sek Tong “mountain”, the A-Ma statue is nearly 20 metres high and weighs about 1,000 tons. It took 120 sculptors eight months to transform blocks of white jade into the spectacular figure, which was erected in 1998. Of course A-Ma has been worshipped since long before then – in fact the name “Macau” literally translates as “the port of A-Ma”. After the long walk up, I needed to recoup some energy and headed down the far side of Coloane in search of a snack. There are plenty of local food choices in Macau, but the humble egg tart remains one of the best recommendations. Again, there are countless venues and restaurants selling the national treat, but I was told the best are to be found at the renowned Lord Stow’s Bakery. Located in Coloane Village Square, the takeaway joint has a constant stream of customers queuing up to enjoy the crispy outer layer and hot custard filling for just MOP9 (US$1) each. Perhaps it’s true that everything tastes better outdoors; relaxing outside St Dominic’s Church, enjoying views of the South China Sea and feeling the sea breeze on my face, I couldn’t imagine a better setting to savour this baked delicacy. With my appetite whetted, I moved on to another popular haunt farther round the island on Hac Sa Beach (Black Sand beach). Fernando’s is well known by those who frequent Macau for serving up authentic Portuguese fare, from roasted half chicken and Portuguese sausage to suckling pig. The latter is an absolute delight; roasted for hours, the meat is juicy and tender, while the skin offers a perfect crispy contrast. The restaurant does not take reservations, however it’s no hardship to grab a glass of sangria at the bar while you wait. Another eatery offering beautiful sea views and excellent cuisine is Ristorante La Gondola. Situated next to the Cheok Van seaside public swimming pool, this restaurant offers a range of Italian delicacies. It’s particularly famous for its pizzas, which are baked in a charcoal oven, and comes with a decent wine list. Satiated and spent from a full day of exploration, it turned out taking a gamble on Macau’s lesser-known delights paid off.