Asia's Vegas surprises with stunning colonial remnants and a unique cuisine
Picture a few dozen glitzy Las Vegas casinos and a sampling of Portugal's famed edificios and avenidas jammed together on a strip of land overlooking the sea and you’re on your way to grasping the essence of Macau. Located about 60km west of Hong Kong, Macau hangs on to centuries-old remnants of its Portuguese colonial past, from chapels and temples to fortress walls and a Mediterranean-style town square.
At one time occupying little more than one square mile of real estate, Macau's 500 years of land reclamation projects means that it now encompasses the Macau Peninsula, the islands of Coloane and Taipa and the newly reclaimed land in between. The latter area, known as the Cotai Strip, is home to a growing number of mammoth casino resorts – the most noteworthy being Galaxy Macau, the Venetian Macao and City of Dreams – which are the primary reason for Macau’s rapid ascent in the ranks of top Asian tourist destinations.
Things to do: Macau
Aces go places
It might rankle gaming’s US movers and shakers to hear Las Vegas referred to as the 'Macau of the West', but it fits: the Asian city is a far bigger gambling destination in terms of revenue. For old-school types, Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho’s Hotel Lisboa opens in new window is still going strong but in the past few years it has been joined by a host of Vegas-style gambling palaces ranging from the Sands Macao opens in new window, Wynn Macau opens in new window and the Venetian Macao opens in new window to Galaxy Macau opens in new window and City of Dreams opens in new window. Place your bets!
Fancy a trip to the seaports of Venice, Amsterdam, New Orleans and the Italian Riviera? Do them all at Macau Fisherman’s Wharf opens in new window, a theme park just minutes from the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal. The kids will love Vulcania, a replica volcano that erupts nightly, Vasco de Gama Waterworld and the amusement park-like Aladdin’s Fort, and there are also places to eat and shop.
Macau’s ever-growing skyline hasn’t yet succeeded in robbing Colina da Guia, the city’s highest point, of its enduring grandeur. The hill is home to Guia Fortress and Lighthouse, the latter dating to the 17th century and owning the distinction of being the oldest on the Chinese coast. Come for the views, stay for the history and the art, and enjoy a cable-car ride back to the park below.
Instantly recognisable thanks to the wave-pattern mosaic that adorns it, Largo do Senado is the epicentre of Old Macau. Check out the religious artefacts at Santa Casa da Misericórdia, admire yellow-and-white 17th century Sao Domingos, and feast your eyes on the architectural wonder that is Leal Senado, then explore the tiled courtyard, library and lovely woodwork-adorned council chamber within.
Wall of fame
The towering façade and grand staircase leading up to the ruins of Sao Paulo are even more awe-inspiring than suggested by the ubiquitous images of this Macau landmark. Destroyed by fire twice, in 1601 and 1835, the church once stood with a college and library that were also consumed by flames. Efforts were once made to rebuild this grand edifice, which is now, along with Macau's historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Distance to city centre 4km to Cotai, 6km to Coloane
Taxi A taxi will take 5-10 minutes depending on where you’re going, and cost around MOP $40-70; there’s a MOP $3 luggage surcharge. But taxis can be scarce – the shuttle bus is your best bet.
Shuttle Free shuttle buses opens in new window depart every 15-20 minutes and serve all the major luxury hotels, the border gates and the Taipa Ferry Terminal.
Bus A number of public bus routes opens in new window serve the airport. Fares are around MOP $6.Back to top
When to go
Mid-October to December, when the weather is cool, dry and generally sunny, is the best time to visit Macau. The rainy season runs from April to October, with precipitation hitting its peak in May and from July to September, which is the typhoon season. The average annual temperature is about 20°C, with the mercury climbing above 30°C in the summer but seldom dropping below 10°C in the winter.
As with most parts of China, the Lunar New Year period in January or February sees Macau go into full party mode with parades, street festivities and colourful temple rituals. Other big events include the Macau Arts Festival in May or June, the Macau International Dragon Boat Races in June, the Macau International Fireworks Display Contest in September or October and the Macau Grand Prix in November.Back to top
Macau is well covered by buses opens in new window, with three companies – Transmac, TCM and Reolian – plying circuit-style routes of major attractions and hotels on the peninsula, Taipa, Coloane and Cotai. Buy a prepaid electronic MacauPass at any 7-Eleven store for use on all buses.
Macau is home to two taxi companies, Yellow and Black, which can be flagged on the street or called – although they are often scarce. Make sure the driver turns the meter on. Visitors can also travel on old-fashioned pedicabs, a replica of 1920s English bus and, in the Municipal Garden of Taipa Village, on rental bicycles.Back to top