Macau is a sister Special Administrative Region to Hong Kong, and a very common day or overnight trip from the city. The journey between the two is generally smooth sailing (pun intended) as the ferry takes only about one hour and leaves and departs frequently. Macau is treated as a separate country from Hong Kong, so a passport is needed and everyone has to go through immigration.
Macau also has it’s own currency but Hong Kong dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere. I never traded money to go there, but be aware that if you pay in Hong Kong dollars sometimes you will get change in Macau pataca. (They are considered equal in value, 5 Hong Kong dollars is 5 Macau pataca).
Although Macau has close proximity to Hong Kong, the two regions are very different. Macau was a Portuguese colony for over 400 years, the first European colony in China and the last to be returned — Macau was handed over two years after Hong Kong in 1999.
The Portuguese influence is evident in the architecture, as the old city contains many lovely churches and buildings painted in pastel yellows, pinks, and greens. But Macau in my opinion actually felt more Chinese than Hong Kong — perhaps due to closer proximity to the mainland. Macau really is an “East meets West” city.
Generally Macau is most well known for it’s casinos than anything else, since it caters to wealthy mainland businessmen who love to gamble. It generates even more revenue than Las Vegas, but this is mainly because the Chinese are more willing to place bets on larger amounts of money than Americans.
I personally was not interested in the casinos, I visited Macau to see the old city and architecture. At first I was kind of unsure if I wanted to visit Macau. I had friends who were disappointed with it, so I wondered if it would be worth the trip. Ultimately I decided to go given that I had the time and I was glad I did. I’m very interested in history and colonial buildings and Macau is a good place to see those. One thing I really liked about Macau is that nearly all of the historical buildings are completely free to enter. I only paid one entrance fee and it was a very small 5 HKD/MOP.
Macau is comprised of a peninsula (Macau) and two islands (Taipa and Coloane). The UNESCO listed Historic Centre of Macau is located on the Macau Peninsula. Many of the casinos are located on Taipa island. The Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal is on Macau proper, and Taipa also has it’s own ferry terminal.
Ferries to Macau are available both from Kowloon and from Hong Kong Island. I took the ferry from Kowloon, at the China Ferry Terminal. From my hostel I crossed the street and went through Kowloon Park next to the mosque. At the terminal, touts stood outside the ticket gate and sold tickets to Macau. I bought one for about 165 HKD. After buying, I realized that the ticket was for Taipa and not the Outer Harbour terminal. I wanted to return it but the vendor told me that the ferry to the Outer Harbour wasn’t leaving for an hour and that I could simply take a casino shuttle to the Macau Pensinsula. So I agreed and boarded the ferry.
The ferry is pretty comfortable and has a small snack stand (but only one item on their menu was actually available). After arriving at either Taipa or the Outer Harbour terminal, it’s possible to take free shuttle buses to the casinos. The Grand Lisboa is the closest to the Historic Centre, but the Wynn Macau is also close by, across the street from Grand Lisboa. At the ferry terminal, it’s a good idea to pick up a map of Macau.
I took the shuttle to the Wynn Macau. It’s very comfortable and has complimentary wifi.
From there, I followed a few signs pointing in the direction of the A-ma temple, which I knew was close to the old city. It’s a pretty long walk, around 40 minutes around a lake.
Finally I made it to the A-ma Temple. The temple is a Taoist temple from the Ming Dynasty and included on the Unesco World Heritage list.
The temple has free admission and it’s up a fairly steep hill. On the right, a 10 minute walk away are the Moorish Barracks, built by an Italian for Goa Indian police. The building is closed to the public but it can be viewed from outside.
Nearby the Barracks is the Lilau Square, the old Portugese settlement.
In this area I tried a Portuguese egg tart and Portuguese coffee. Both were delicious.
A short walk away is the Mandarin’s House, a beautiful Chinese style house built by a wealthy family in the 19th century and home to f Zheng Guanying, a Chinese scholar. The house is free to enter, quite large and has two stories.
Macau has plenty of signs with English directing to the tourist attractions, and each attraction has a description of some of the history behind it.
Near the church is St. Augustine’s Square, which is a nice historical area with old trees and streetlamps.
Dom Pedro V Theatre. Sometimes performances go on here though no one else was there when I went in. It’s the first European-style theater built in China.
Past the Square is the Sir Robert Ho Tung library. It served as the residence of Ho Tung, a Hong Kong businessman, until his death when it was turned into a library, as he wanted in his will.
Rua da Falicidade, meaning “Street of Happiness” is a former red light district turned into a tourist area with shops and restaurants.
One of the restaurants on this street, called Dragon Portuguese Cuisine, had a line to get in so I hoped that meant it was good. I waited 20 minutes for a seat there. The food was indeed good, I ordered baked chicken (which was actually in a soup) with rice. The Portuguese chocolate pudding was also delicious.
Senado Square is the main touristic area of Macau, so it’s quite crowded. It is named for the Leal Senado building, which was the government center during the Portuguese administration of the city.
The Holy House of Mercy was built in the 16th century and served as a medical clinic and orphanage. There is a museum inside for 5 HKD/MOP admission.
The ruins of St. Paul is nearby Senado Square. It is the most famous historic place in Macau. Honestly I was expecting it to be bigger given it’s popularity, but the details on the facade are interesting. The church was first built in the 17th century and then mostly destroyed by fire.
Right next to the ruin is Monte Fort, an old protective fortress, offering some views of Macau.
At the top of the fort is the Macau Museum, but I didn’t pay a visit since I was tired and itching to head back soon.
Camoes Square is a small square located near Senado Square. It has a small park and a few other places worth seeing, including St. Anthony’s Church.
Next to the square is Casa Garden, the former home of a Portuguese merchant now used as an art gallery (it’s also free). A protestant cemetery and Anglican Church is also right by here.
Since I had been walking around for several hours by this point I made my way back by walking to the Grand Lisboa, the closest casino to the Historic Centre.
When I went in I asked for the free shuttle, and I was told to go into the gaming area and up to the second floor to get a ticket. This actually involved going up the escalator more than twice since the first “floor” is actually made up of two floors somehow. The second floor was full of gaming tables so I asked again where to get the ticket and finally made it to a small desk and was handed the shuttle ticket. Then I went back down, exited the gaming area and went down to the basement where people were lined up for the shuttle.
The casino shuttle went to the Macau airport as well as the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal. I got off at the ferry terminal and purchased a ticket at the desk to Kowloon for about 193 HKD.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from Macau but I was happy I decided to go. There’s a lot of history and the historic buildings are well preserved. Although nothing is really spectacular or on the grand scale of some churches in Europe, it is pretty interesting, and most of the buildings are completely free which was a pleasant surprise.