Macau is basically the Las Vegas of China, leaving much to be desired in this comparison (but I have no doubt that it’ll eventually catch up). Not much is left from their Portuguese colonization days aside from street names and official signs. No one speaks Portuguese, and even English was barely understood by service people (including those in the casinos).
If you’re into gambling, you can have fun exploring Macau’s casinos, but if you’re like us and gambling is not really your thing, the best way to visit Macau is on a day trip out of Hong Kong. In one day you can see everything and even pop by a casino or two.
We arrived in Macau at noon, and left around 11pm.
Round Trip Ferry to Macau: HKD 302/person ($39), with TurboJet leaving during daytime on a weekday, returning at night on the same day (it varies a bit depending if it’s on weekends, day or night). The trip takes about an hour.
The ferries to and from Hong Kong run 24 hours, so no planning needed, go by your schedule and buy a ticket when you’re ready to go back to your hotel.
We bought the tickets right before leaving, and waited about 30 minutes until board time. (There’s a ferry leaving every 15 – 30 minutes for the most part.) One thing to note, is that when you get to the gate, make sure to see the agent for your assigned seats, as they are assigned at the gate. We were lucky to get window seats in both directions on the second floor of the boat. They were comfortable, air conditioned (maybe a bit too cold), and you can buy sandwiches/drinks on board.
When you first arrive, definitely stop by the information office at the terminal. The super-nice agents will give you a city map and explain what bus to take to your destination. We hopped on a cheap city bus, got out around the Grand Lisboa Hotel, then walked everywhere from there.
If you’re off to a Casino, they all provide free shuttles from the ferry terminal.
Macau was very hot, so if you have an issue with the heat, it might be best to skipping all the walking around like we did. We were sweating, got sunburned, but that didn’t stop us from walking everywhere – we still find it the best way to really see a city. It is very safe to walk, but it will also be VERY isolated, since unless you are in a tourist spot, there will be no one else around.
But if we hadn’t walked we would have missed this cool view…
And this relaxing one…
And let’s not forget the on-course entertainment…
If you are pressed for time, you can hire a cab (though I heard they don’t always understand English so pointing at pictures on the map is helpful), or even sign up with one of the tours. I believe the tour guide that approached us said the Macau tour took 2 hours. I’m not surprised since it’s a very small place.
We snubbed the cabs and tours and just walked around the place, since it’s pretty small.
Food in Macau was not exciting. Definitely try the Portuguese egg tarts they sell pretty much everywhere, and the almond cookies you also see all over the place (both are remains from the Portuguese influence) as they are delicious. We were DYING to eat some Portuguese food, and we ended up eating no lunch on our attempt to find it. Around 9pm we gave up, and had Japanese food (teppanyaki) in one of the casinos. This turned out to be our most expensive meal of our Hong Kong trip (about U$100/person, ouch!), and though it was good, there was nothing great about it, and we weren’t even full when it was over. It was also annoying that the meat got ready first, so if you wanted to eat the meat with your rice, you’d be eating it cold, if you wanted to eat your meat warm, you’re stuck with a bowl of rice at the end and nothing to go with it.
Of course, after finally eating, we found a Portuguese restaurant two blocks away. Our last stop of the night was going to be the Sands Casino, and I almost cried when I found out that they have a Portuguese restaurant there as well (we had gone to 5 different casinos and asked all of them where we could go for Portuguese food).
We went on a Monday, so a lot restaurants in the casinos were closed (none of them were Portuguese though). We didn’t find many restaurants that were not in casinos, just a lot of bakeries, which is why casinos were our only option. If you’re adventurous and don’t really care that you can’t recognize the animal you’re eating, you might have a better time exploring the few restaurants that are outside the casinos. We would stare at the pictures on the menu and go “WTF is that??” and we couldn’t go through with it. (Karl has eaten a live octopus during his time in Korea, so that says something.)
We were promised a Portuguese-Chinese fusion in everything we read about Macau before going there, and were disappointed that such thing doesn’t really exist.
Karl’s biggest complaint about the casino food is that in Vegas you can eat amazing but affordable food (to spend your money on the casino floor after all), meanwhile in Macau we had sticker shock, and it was a fortune to eat at any of the places inside the casinos. We wouldn’t have minded as much if the food had been great and plentiful.
Macau Tower: MOP 120 (U$15) We started the sightseeing trip by going to the Macau Tower, and walking to the other spots from there.
The Macau Tower has both an indoor and outdoor observation deck, but on the outdoors you’re still enclosed by glass (I hate getting glare on my pictures, but there’s not a way around that when you’re dealing with glass windows).
It’s definitely an iconic tower in Macau, but after visiting The Peak and the Sky 100 in Hong Kong, the view in Macau is not nearly as exciting, but pretty nonetheless.
If you’re the adventurous type (and we are, but we’re also the “cheap type”) you can bungee jump off the tower – they claim to be the tallest bungee jumping experience in the world.
Gate of Understanding: This was built in 1993 as a friendship symbol between the Portuguese and the Chinese, and since Macau went back to China, it seems that this place has been ignored and abandoned and in ridiculous need of maintenance. It’s gated off so no one can go there. The sign at the gate blocking entrance to the path (where you would have been able to walk right under the structure) is so old that none of the words are legible as the whole thing has rusted off, and the concrete path cracked and overgrown by grass.
It’s a shame, since whether you appreciate your history or not, it should still be preserved.
A-Ma Temple: This is the oldest temple in Macau, but just like the Gate of Understanding, it was not what I was expecting. What was I expecting, you ask? An old temple. Not a very commercialized temple with brand new construction showing no signs of what the temple actually looked like in the 1700’s.
Senado Square/St. Paul’s Church Ruins/The Fortress: This was the part I was most looking forward to! I had seen pictures and knew that the Senado Square would remind me of downtown Rio. And it did, as the architecture is very similar, and even the sidewalks are the same ones you find all over Rio de Janeiro. But a few steps from the square, the whole area is commercialized, with stores, stores, stores, all with brand new signs in old buildings. Again, they’re not really appreciating the historic property they have.
St. Paul’s church is just a couple of blocks away. The building got destroyed in a fire but the original façade is still there. You can tell it used to be a gorgeous building. Sadly the Chinese tourists around us were all taking pictures holding out peace signs with their fingers and sticking their tongues out, or other shenanigans. Really? It’s not even a matter of respecting other’s religion, is it appropriate on a place that got destroyed by fire?
Another block and lots of walking uphill and up never ending steps, you reach the fortress, lined up with canons. There’s not much of a view left in this place, but you get to look at the tall casino buildings. I bet the view from here used to be gorgeous!
Casinos: If you like gambling, the casinos will keep you entertained for days. Since we’re not big fans, it all looks the same for us. We do like slot machines, but turns out my Atlantic City experience spoiled me: it was a LOT more fun when you could insert quarters and have actual quarters coming out with each win. Having everything done in credit on the computer is a bit boring, and it just looks like you’re playing in the computer, so you can just do it at home. Some of the slots didn’t even have sound to them! (Karl said that you can’t really find the quarter slots anymore even in Vegas, so this is not particular to Macau.)
Plus, all the buttons were in Chinese, so we had to ask the staff quite a few questions to know what button to push to get our credit printed, for example.
Lotus Flower: Macau has couple of statues we didn’t get a chance to visit (I was pooped), but on our way out of town we stopped by the Lotus Flower. Cute, but not a must see by any means.
I’m glad I went to Macau, but I really don’t see any reason to ever go back, unless I’m living in Hong Kong at some point, then I’d go back because it’s calm, quiet, a lot less crowded than HK, and there’s no pollution, so it would be a perfect place for running (but I’d stick to the water side as the place is HILLY). Plus, now I know where to find the Portuguese restaurants!