Revisiting Old Times in Old Macau

30 Jun 2011

Reggie Ho crosses the Pearl River Delta to find the old Macau - with not a casino in sight

As recent as the 1990s, Macau was a rather sleepy enclave that Hong Kongers like myself visited for a short respite. There were casinos, but if you weren’t into gambling you could easily avoid them. I mostly went there for Macanese food – a delicious blend of Asian and Portuguese cooking – and the best places were always the ones hidden away on quiet streets and alleyways. But since the handover and the subsequent casino boom, the old Macau has been fading away. One after another, local shops and restaurants have closed and today, you have to squint not to be blinded by the flashing lights of casino hotels that have sprung up all over town.

Luckily, there is still a piece of Macau that feels untouched: Coloane. Once the southernmost outlying island of the territory, it has since been joined by reclamation with another island, Taipa, linked to the urban peninsula by bridges. I was worried what this would mean for the countryside of Coloane, but happily, much of its rural beauty has been untouched so far.

From the Macau Ferry Terminal, it is about 30 minutes by taxi to get to the town of Coloane, located along the southwestern shoreline of the island. Here, everything looks very much like it has for decades. At the town’s cobblestone piazza, there is Nga Tim restaurant, an institution and one of my favourite places in Macau. The Chinese and Macanese dishes are not the best in town and you sip Portuguese wine from a sherry glass, but the colonial vibe and sea breeze more than make up for it. From here, you get a clear view of St Francis Xavier Chapel, whose cream and white baroque façade is lit up at night. On the other side of the square past the stone fountain, the waterfront provides views of the Hengqin New Area, a special economic zone in mainland China. Ten years ago, this was merely two islands that were home to a few villages; now, reclamation has turned it into a sizeable landmass zoned for industrial development. It will also be where the extended campus of Macau University is located.

But the waterway in between is still wide enough that development on the mainland side does not affect the tranquillity on this side… at least not yet. Take a stroll along the waterfront and you will see a mix of Chinese and Portuguese-influenced buildings, including the modest but elegant Biblioteca de Coloane, marked by white limestone columns, and the Kun Iam Temple. This mix of architectural styles speaks of the island’s unique past.

I know there is much of Coloane I still haven’t explored. The island is actually covered by green hills that make for good hiking, and there are also the beaches. I have only ever been to Hac Sa (meaning “black sand”) Beach as it is where the legendary Fernando’s restaurant is located. I have never been tempted to swim at this beach, though, as the colour of the sand and the murky water (we are at the mouth of a major river delta, remember) don’t appeal to me. I have heard that Cheoc Van, at the southern end of the island, is much nicer, but I have never been. Maybe it’s good that I still have a to-do list for Macau. 

How to get there

Although Macau has an airport with flights to and from various Asian destinations, most visitors choose to take the ferry from Hong Kong. The journey takes one hour and the service operates around the clock (frequency after midnight is comparatively sparse though, and tickets are often sold out). There are various service providers with routes connecting different parts of Hong Kong and Macau.




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