An astonishing mixture of cultures. Chinese heritage mixed up with Portuguese. Old architecture and way of life meets the modern flow of tourists. Are you intrigued?
Well, I hope you are, because Macau, or Macao, is really unique. Don’t think of it as if it was a common Chinese city where gambling is allowed because it’s not. It’s a special administrative region within China ( = People’s Republic of China, because there is also a Taiwan which is officially called ‘Republic of China’!). All the signs are written in Cantonese and Portuguese as these are Macau’s official languages.
Macau has its own flag, currency/banknotes called Macau ‘pataca’ backed up by Hong Kong dollars and the exchange rate is fixed though, and Macau citizens have Macau passports. Yes, there is a passport control when you travel from Hong Kong or mainland China. And yes, it does strike you with a marvellous combo of cultures which is enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More impressive is the thought that actually Macau is the oldest permanent Western habitat in Asia: Portuguese ruled it from mid-16th century to modern times!
Venetian Grand Canal, the British invasion behind the egg tarts, cinematographic spots of K-dramas – scroll down to learn the most interesting things about Macau!
Cathedral of St. Paul
The most iconic ruins of Macau? No doubt this is the facade of the Cathedral of St. Paul, gem in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, constantly flooded with tourists taking selfies! St. Paul’s College and the Cathedral of St. Paul were built in the 16th century, but sadly the complex was destroyed by fire in 1835 and never rebuilt.
Tip: walk through the facade and visit the underground part of the complex: Sacred Art Museum (their collection dates from the 16th to the 20th century) and and Crypt located on the site of the altar of St Paul’s College!
Fortaleza do Monte
Mount Fortress, or Fortaleza do Monte, built in the first third of the 17th century is located a few minutes walk from Cathedral of St. Paul. Once it was the most important military point of Macau and it is famous for holding off the Dutch invasion in 1622! Just walk along, explore the cannons, enjoy the views over the city and pop into the…
Macau Museum, the biggest museum in Macau, is located within the Fortaleza do Monte’s walls. It opened its doors to the public in 1998. Its collection is divided into a few sections where you can learn about the pre-Portuguese history of Macau, the most notable buildings, mix of Portuguese and Chinese traditions (for instance, Kraak porcelain!) and the modern life of the city. Highly recommended!
Largo do Senado
Do you recognise these wavy-stoned mosaic floors? (I did because I watched a couple of K-dramas where Macau was featured 🙂 ) Of course, this is Senate Square, or Largo do Senado, another famous landmark of Macau. Leal Senado, or Loyal Senate building is located on one end of it – and this is where the square derives its name from.
Interesting: Macanese cuisine, the local cuisine in Macau, is a very special mix of Portuguese and Chinese traditions.
Santa Casa da Misericórdia
Holy House of Mercy, or Santa Casa da Misericórdia, founded in 1569 is one of the oldest organisations that helped orphans and widows of the sailors.
St. Lawrence’s Church
St. Lawrence’s Church, or Church of Smooth-sailing Wind (Feng Shun Tang), is one of the oldest churches in Macau dedicated to the saint patron of Portuguese. The church was built around 1558-1560 and then renovated a few times.
Koi Kei Bakery
When in Macau, you’d probably very soon notice a Koi Kei Bakery – it’s a shop chain which absorbed the city. Although its most famous products are almond biscuits (which actually brought it fame) and peanut brittle, you can also try there a famous Portuguese dessert called egg tart, or pastel de nata. Well, I can’t say that I felt a huge difference between Macau ones and egg tarts I tried in London but it was really good!
Interesting: of course I don’t push you to try egg tarts precisely at Koi Kei Bakery (there are high chances that you see them in there first) – they are baked and sold everywhere in Macau! As the legend says, pastel de nada were widely introduced to Macau by… British person three decades ago! Andrew Stow, the owner of a bakery on Coloane Island, has changed the recipe slightly to resemble the tarts to the creamier custard tarts of England, and the love for his egg tarts became viral! You can still try his pasties at Lord Stow’s Bakery.
I must sincerely admit that we didn’t head to Maritime museum because we were eager to visit it but noticed it when we were at the A-Ma Temple (see below). And we never regretted our decision to pop in because this museum was really good! It’s better to see the difference between Chinese and Portuguese sailing techniques and nautical equipment once than to read about it many times, and this museum gives you a historic perspective and a marvellous comparison between these two. Moreover, you’ll also find aquarium section where you can study the local marine life!
Sorry for the off-top, but even the restroom was pretty well stylised 🙂
Interesting: the museum is built exactly on the site where first sailors from Portugal landed!
If you choose to visit one temple in Macau as we did this undoubtedly would be A-Ma Temple, built in 1488 which makes it the oldest one in the city. It was dedicated to Mazu (or Matsu), the goddess protecting the fishermen. Possible, even the name ‘Macau’ is derived from it!
The temple complex consisting out of six parts is compact but beautiful – take a moment to look from Barra Hill around you!
Las Vegas of Asia
As I’ve already mentioned, Macau is often referred as a Las Vegas of Asia, and there is a reason behind it! Gambling is legal there in contrast to mainland China – I hope you had a glance on my article about Monaco too, btw 🙂 And there are two icons you must visit even if you’re not into gambling.
Gran Lisboa hotel
Well, Grand Lisboa hotel is hard not to notice: it is the tallest building in Macau! It was designed by Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Ma and opened in 2017. You might like it or not, but Macau’s skyline would have been different without it!
The Venetian Macau
The Venetian Macau, a close relative of The Venetian Las Vegas, is a giant hotel and casino complex. If you’re into these things, you can spend there days without noticing for sure: Grand Canal of Venice, sampling halls, concert halls, food courts and restaurants, shops – it has it all.
To be honest, I was a bit bored by the interiors, architectural elements and even Venetian canals with its artificial sky it because it looks fake in real life even if it looks nice on photos. Still, I did appreciate the scale and the effort! Perhaps, I should return one day and explore more of it in less rush.
How to get there?
You can take a ferry from Hong Kong – it takes only about an hour! There are a few options but we choose Cotai Water Jet and booked a VIP cabin as we were travelling with family members. The price for cabin is fixed, and you can travel alone or in a company of 7 other people as you like! Tea, coffee, biscuits etc are included too as well as priority landing and a vip lounge (at least we found one on our way back from Macau)
What else to see?
Moorish Barracks, Taipa Village historic village, Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, Na Tcha Temple, St. Augustine’s Church, Guia Fortress or Mandarin’s House.
Am I going to come back to Macau? If yes, I’d definitely love to see more of the architecture of its older days!
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Anna | London & Beyond
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