The most common description of Macao is the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’, and admittedly it does have an area that resembles Vegas to a T. But after 5 days exploring more than just the casinos and resorts, I can happily suggest spending 2 or 3 days exploring the neighborhoods off the “strip”. There’s so much more to the destination than just gambling and light shows!
This autonomous territory – colonized by the Portuguese for trading purposes and transferred back to the Chinese – is the combination of 2 drastically opposite cultures fused into one. The mix of Portuguese & Chinese influences is amazing to see, hear, smell, and taste – most noticeably in the architecture, language, and food.
Strolling the Mediterranean streets in the Historic Centre – a UNESCO Heritage site – can be quite confusing to the senses. On arrival, it’s clear you’re most certainly in Asia. Bustling people and flashing neon signs with Cantonese characters invite you for a street food experience. Fresh noodles, bubble pancakes, a quick hot pot meal, and dumplings are all on offer for just a few dollars. Hawkers selling almond cookies, massages, and the stinky Durian ice cream can be quite overwhelming to those expecting to take a leisurely walk.
All of this is normal for a traveler having visited any major Asian city, until you turn the corner to see a historical, bright yellow, stucco building with white columns and a tiled fountain in front. The stone and tiled pathways leading to the colorful, colonial churches and buildings transport your mind to the streets of Lisbon. If you’re not too overwhelmed to observe the street signs, you’ll note they are written on traditional Portuguese tiling in both official languages. The subtle and even more obvious differences in culture are what make Macau such an intriguing city to spend time in.
The Portuguese expats who’ve set up some of the most delicious, Michelin rated, hole-in-the-wall, eateries treated me like family, sharing their recipes and love of good food over a glass of port.
To really get the feel of both cultures at one time, you’ll want to start at the Ruins of St. Paul. Take the side streets and approach St. Pauls from the quiet side street of Patio do Espinho. You’ll pop through a small doorway to be surprised by the Na Tcha Temple and St. Paul’s looming high just next to it. Make your way through the chaotic tourists scrambling for photos to get a good look at the remaining stone facade of St. Paul’s. From here, make your way down the steps through alleyways of the Historic Centre where you’ll smell, taste, see and hear the overlapping of Portuguese architecture with Chinese food and local life. Regardless of the direction you choose, you’ll probably find yourself at Senado Square where you’ll get a picturesque view of the stark contrast of the 2 cultures. Let yourself wander, get lost, try the foods you’ve never heard of, and enjoy.
From here, a quick taxi ride to the A Ma Temple should be a priority. Though the rain nearly washed us out, it did provide for a deserted site, devoid of other tourists with a whimsical and dreamlike aura.
Just nearby is the famous Macau Tower. Definitely take the ride to the top and strongly consider jumping off… bungee jump of course! It boasts the highest bungee jump in the world at 233 meters high. If you don’t have the stomach for the leap, you can strap on with a harness and walk the perimeter with your friends.
Alas, you can’t leave Macau without trying every type of cuisine. You can find…
- Traditional Portuguese : dried/aged ham & beef, croquettes, steak and potatoes, grilled chicken, and of course various white and red wines
- The Macanese style Egg Tart from Lord Stowe’s
- “African” Jerk Chicken from Mozambique
- Chinese : Hot pots, dumplings & steamed buns, roasted duck, and saucy beef, chicken, and pork dishes
- Seafood : Bacalau (Cod), octopus, shrimp, and sea cucumber!
Macau has no shortage of amazing properties to choose from. It can be slightly overwhelming if you’ve never been and even more so if you’re taking the ferry with the hundreds of daily commuters from Hong Kong. Therefore, I strongly suggest working with someone like ME to find you the perfect fit and customize an itinerary for your exact needs! But I can’t finish this post without a quick look at one of my favorite properties : The JW Marriott / Ritz Carlton Macao.
A shoutout to the Macao Government Tourism Board for taking care of me and planning such an amazing experience!