Time-out in Macao: the glitz and more

6 Aug 2015 by Akanksha Maker
Macao skyline

Located at a convenient distance from two of China’s major business hubs — 60km from Hong Kong and 145km from Guangzhou, Macau lies on the tip of the peninsula formed by the Zhujiang river on the east and the Xijiang river on the west. There are no direct flights from India, but ferries to Macau can be boarded from Hong Kong’s International airport itself. A seamless transfer, luggage checked-in at the port of departure, anywhere in the world, can be claimed at the Macau ferry terminal. A number of ferries operate frequently from the Hong Kong airport, but it is advisable to book it in advance (TurboJet — turbojet.com is a good option), as they fill up soon.

This Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China has an interesting antiquity that intermingles two absolutely contrasting cultures — Chinese and Portuguese. A Portuguese colony until 1999 (when it was handed-over to China), Macau is populated by Macanese people, an ethnic group that originated here in the 16th century. While it rose as the Las Vegas of the east with its casino boom in the 21st century, its rich Portuguese culture continued to flourish. 

Macau is broadly divided into the Macau Peninsula and two islands — Coloane and Taipa, which are connected via the famous Cotai strip that houses the overwhelming series of casino hotels including the famous Venetian and the newly opened JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton. The Cotai strip offers a host of entertainment options including the “House of dancing waters”, a water-based performance at The City of Dreams, that’s way too spectacular to be missed. Not too far away from this hotel glitz is the Coloane village, Cotai’s polar opposite and the embodiment Macanese Macau. The pastel yellow St. Francis Xavier chapel stands charmingly at the Eduardo Marques Square, and a number of alleys that lead you to quaint Portuguese restaurants and street-shops branch out of here. Walking distance from the square and home to Macau’s original and famous egg-tart is Lord Stow’s Bakery. The bakery also has a shop in the Venetian, but it is best experienced in the heart of the Coloane village. Macau’s Hac Sa beach, that literally translates to black-sand bay and Cheoc Van Beach are driving distances from the Eduardo Marques Square. The more quiet face of Macau, a walk on the black sand beach was a tranquil experience. Try visiting at dusk to catch an idyllic sunset.

Egg tart, Lord Stow's bakery, Macao

You will never tire of the constant contrast Macau offers. Taipa island connects to Coloane through the Cotai strip, a part of the region that offers the best of the glitz and culture. The island is home to the famous Macau Jockey Club that holds horse-racing and betting, and the Canidrome that hosts the traditional greyhound races on  Avenida General Castelo Branco. The only such race in Asia, the greyhounds are made to race behind an artificial rabbit that reeks of meat and the bets begin at as low as MOP$10/HK$0.97 (about ₹82). For a break from wagering, visit the museum of houses in Avenida da Praia, a complex of five pastel-coloured Portuguese residences, that were home to affluent Macanese families in the early 20th century and offer a glimpse into the colonial lifestyle of that period.

Ruins of St Paul, Macao

For a peek into Macau’s cultural heritage, drive across the Macau-Taipa bridge over the Pearl River, from Taipa island to the Macau peninsula. The Ruins of St. Paul’s located at Travessa de São Paulo in the peninsula, is what remains of the 17th century Jesuit church, that was demolished in a fire in 1825. Considered as one of the greatest monuments of Christianity in Asia, the Ruins consist of a five-tiered granite structure with intricate catholic inscriptions and carvings. A stairway  in front of the monument runs parallel to lush green shrubs and connects to a number of street-shops selling local confectionary including versions of the egg-tart. The walnut and date cakes sold here are worth a try. Walking distance from here is the Macau Museum, a three levelled exhibit of the Macau’s traditional art and culture, the Neolithic period, and its contemporary scene.

Ama temple, Macao

A visit to the A-Ma temple, on the southwest tip of the peninsula, at St. Lawrence’s Parish, is a must because of its significance to the region. This is because the name “Macau” is known to have originated from the word A-Ma-Gau, that literally translates to the place of A-Ma, who is known to be the seafarer’s goddess. Guarded by stone lions, an imperial Chinese gateway takes you to various halls where the religious light incense sticks to offer their prayers. The ambience is serene and a series of stairs take you to halls on different levels that offer panoramic views of Macau. Here, you can even interact with Mandarin fortune-teller (you will need a translator) or buy lucky charms for your family back home. Don’t forget to bargain to get better price for your souvenirs. After the temple’s rendezvous, spend an evening admiring the colourful details of Portuguese buildings at the vibrant Senado Square, even shop for a pair of shoe or two from the many sports outlet shops around this area.

If you’re an adrenaline junkie and bungee jumping is on your bucket list, head to the Macau tower’s top floor. To calm your head-rush after the jump, eat a quiet dinner at Cafe 360, its rotating restaurant and enjoy stunning night views of the Macau peninsula. You’re never too far away from Macau’s hotel and casino glamour — the MGM Grand and Grand Lisboa hotels housing large-scale casinos are just driving distances from here.

While Macau is known for its entertainment, it’s hard to ignore the rich blend of Portuguese and Chinese cultures it offers. Even though most tourists visit Macau for its nightlife (some even visit to extend an expiring Hong Kong visa, that can be re-issued for two weeks on arrival to Macau), a few days spent exploring its lesser known parts will manage to leave a deeper impact on the cultured traveller.

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