This piece was written by Red Room contributor Jenny Block.
Macau, it’s not your modern-day Las Vegas. Yes, Macau does have a number of casinos from the classic Lisboa to the enormous and glamorous Venetian. And, yes, it has gobs of neon, killer entertainment, great shopping, and over-the-top hotels. But that’s just a glimpse of what really comprises Macau. There are also serene temples, busy shopping alleys, and street food from basic to extreme.
Although once a Portuguese Colony, Macau is now a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The delight of Macau, however, is that from moment to moment you can’t tell if you’re in Europe or China – from the food to the architecture to the street signs, there’s a confliction of countries in every direction. It’s a strangely surreal and singular experience to eat Portuguese food in front of a Buddhist Temple, with smells of incense and ocean air wafting on the breeze and strains of English, Portuguese, and Chinese filling your ears.
To be in Macau is to be in many cultures all at once. Although you can spend your time in Macua gambling, you can also spend days on end exploring the sites, tasting the delicacies, enjoying the beaches, and pursuing adventures without ever setting foot in a casino at all.
The choices are endless, so here are a few hot spots and tricks of travel for your next visit.
[Photo credit: Flickr, Yong Shimin]To sleep
Mandarin Oriental Macau: The latest hotel to open this year. It’s the first property of its kind in Macau without a casino. If you go, be sure to book a Spices of Portugal Journey treatment in their spa.
Address: Avenida Dr Sun Yat Sen, NAPE
Telephone: 853 8805 8888
Five Star hotel with 25 meter heated, outdoor pool and fitness center
Rates: Starting at $243.00
Pousada de Sao Tiago: A former Portuguese Fortress that is now a 5-Star Boutique Hotel. Regardless of if you stay here, stop by and visit their restaurant bar at sunset for a spectacular view.
Address: Avenida da República, Fortaleza de São Tiago da Barra
Telephone: 853 2837 8111
Five Stay hotel with outdoor swimming pool and terrace
Rates: Starting at $230 a night
Grand Hyatt at City of Dreams in the COTAI Area: High-end digs for those looking to experience the “new” Macau. Because the Grand Hyatt is part of the City of Dreams urban resort, entertainment, dining and shopping options are on the property.
Address: Estrada do Istmo, Cotai
Telephone: 853 8868 1234
Five star hotel with 40m lap swimming pool and fitness center
Rates: Starting at $143.00 a night
A-Ma Temple: From which Macau gets its name. Here you can truly get a taste of old Macau and be witness to what the first Portuguese sailors saw when they arrived in Macau almost 500 years ago.
Rua de S. Tiago da Barra, Macau
St. Paul’s Church: Key to understanding Macau’s Portuguese legacy, St Paul’s is the first Jesuit Church in China and houses a rich collection of relics from Asia’s first missionaries.
Rua de Sao Paulo, Macau
Senado Square: The feel of a European city…in Asia! For centuries, locals and visitors alike have flocked to the square to celebrate Macau’s major holidays. You can feel the past in your feet as you wander the square.
Around the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro
Antonio’s: Nestled in Taipa Island, Antonio’s is home to local celebrity chef, Antonio, whose big personality is in complete contrast to the tiny restaurant. Order steak cooked on hot stones or desserts that are flambéed, both of which are cooked right in front of your eyes. If you ask nicely and order a bottle of champagne, Antonio himself will saber it for you. Now, that is a sight not to be missed.
Address: António, Rua dos Negociantes No. 3, Old Taipa Village, Taipa
Telephone: 853 2899 9998
Entrees: From $13.00 – $23.00
O Porto Interior: Located in Macau’s old harbour area, Porto Interior can give you a taste of the city’s juiciest African chicken (a local delicacy) and of Macau’s abundant history. You’ll find a variety of Portugeuse specialties here as well as stuffed crab Macau, which is well worth the visit.
Address: 259B Rua do Almirante Sergio, Macau Peninsula
Telephone: 853 2896 7770
Entrees: From $9.75 – $23.00
Fat Siu Lau: Over 100 years old, Fat Siu Lau is Macau’s oldest restaurant and serves classic Macanese cuisine. Their signature dish, roasted pigeon, is not to be missed. Although, you can hardly go wrong in a restaurant whose dishes and atmosphere have lasted a century.
Address: Rua da Felicidade No.64
Telephone: 853 2857 3580
Entrees: From $11:00 – $23.00
House of the Dancing Water: The latest show from Frank Dragone, House of the Dancing Water cost a billion dollars to produce and opened to rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. Think: an alternate Cirque du Soleil with water. Through the insanely ingenious use of fountains and elevators, they are able to convert the stage from a stage pool 3.7 million gallons of water (a record breaker in this category), equivalent to 5 Olympic-sized swimming pools to a solid stage surface. Be sure to book your seats early, House is one hot ticket.
Address: City of Dreams, Estrada do Istmo, Cotai
Telephone: 853 8868 6688
Tickets: From $44.00 – $114.00
Zaia: Macau’s resident Cirque du Soleil show. Located in the Venetian, Zaia is as magical and inspiring as the Cirque shows that preceded it. Highlights include a polar bar gliding through space, a massive globe floating above and around the audience, and a miniature city built right on the stage.
Address: The Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel,
Estrada da Baía de N. Senhora da Esperança, Taipa
Telephone: 853 2882 8888
Tickets: From $25.00 – $162.00
MGM’s Lion’s Bar: Locals and tourists flood the place on weekends and weekdays alike. The bar is known for its exceptional cover band fronted by the handsome and charismatic singer Baby Boy.
Address: Avenida Dr. Sun Yat Sen, NAPE
Telephone: 853 8802 8888
Words to the Wise
Rome wasn’t built in one day, and you can’t see Macau in one either. While some visitors think they can pop over to Macau and see it all in a few hours it’s important to remember that Macau also has two islands, Taipa and Coloane, which you don’t want to miss.
Going to Macau without having a Portuguese Egg Tart at Lord Stow for breakfast or afternoon tea is like visiting Paris without catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. If you want to get a real taste of Macau, start with a tart.
Address: 1 Rua da Tassara, Coloane Island
Phone: 853 2888 2534
Free samples aren’t just for Sunday at Costco. Take a scenic stroll from historic St. Paul’s Church to Senado Square and enjoy a variety of free goodies from beef jerky to almond cookies.
If you’re looking to feel the thrill of Macau, try jumping off the Macau Tower. You can also walk along the outside of Tower’s top or, for the less fearless, walk along the tower’s glass floor and see the view below without setting your heart racing.
Did you know Macau has a Grand Prix? The third week of November is Macau’s Grand Prix races, much to the delight of car racing fans all around the world.
If you have a USA passport, no VISA is necessary to visit Macau. But, if you happen to have a VISA for China, you may want to take a stroll across the border into Zhuhai, China for a bit more shopping and dining.
Hong Kong is just a ferry ride away from Macau. Take advantage of the proximity and spend time before or after Macau visiting Hong Kong’s busy streets. Travelers tip: It can be very cost effective to fly in and out of Hong Kong and use the ferry to take you to and from Macau.
Macau is not like anywhere else in the world and is not to be missed. It’s not like Vegas, mainland China, or Portugal. Instead, it is a travel treasure that only 6,000 years and such a dramatic mix of cultures could create.
A former college English instructor, Jenny Block is a freelance writer for numerous print and online publications and the author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage. Read her blog on Red Room.