Cheesy intro, I know. But seriously, if you are in Asia, Macau is a great place to spend a couple of days exploring. You can try your luck at the casinos, eat a wonderful meal of Chinese-Portuguese fusion food, and see wonderful old colonial European architecture in a UNESCO world heritage site. Macau is truly a blend of the Oriental and European culture.
Macau was the First & Last European Colony in Asia
In 1557, Macau was leased to Portugal from China as a trading port, and stayed a Portuguese territory until 1999, until it was returned back to China. Macau is officially known as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Macau still maintains its own legal system, monetary system, customs and immigration policy and China oversees its military defense and foreign affairs. The economy since then has continued to prosper with the sustained growth of tourism from mainland China and the construction of some of the largest casinos in the world. That is where Macau earned its nickname the “Las Vegas of Asia.”
Location and Transportation
Macau is situated 37 miles southwest of Hong Kong across the Pearl River Delta and has a land border with China. It is composed of a peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane.
Finding and Using the Ferry
There are two ferry terminals in Hong Kong, one located at Hong Kong Island and the other in Kowloon. If you purchase tickets online make sure you know which terminal you need to use to depart.
Ferries to Macau leave from two terminals in Hong Kong: the Ferry from Hong Kong Island sails from Sheung Wan Ferry Terminal every 15 minutes. The Kowloon Ferry departs from the China Ferry Terminal at 33 Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui every 30 minutes. There are 2 main Ferry Companies in Hong Kong: Cotai Water Jet and Turbo Jet. Both operate at both ferry terminals. The journey from Hong Kong to Macau takes about 1 hour. Leave your hotel no later than 45 minutes prior to your ferry departure time to make sure you can check bags and clear Hong Kong immigration. Don’t buy ferry tickets from anyone other than the person behind the ticketing window, you might get sold tickets for a ferry that has already departed.
Now to get even more confusing; there are also two ferry terminals in Macau. Again, when you purchase your ferry ticket, try to book your arrival at the closest terminal to your hotel. Never fear though, there are shuttles and taxis at both to take you to your destination. The ferry terminals in Macau are: the Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal located by the airport and closest to the Cotai Strip. and the Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal located by the Fisherman’s Warf on the peninsula of Macau. Just make sure when you leave Hong Kong or Macau you go to the correct terminals to board your ferries.
Now that you have arrived in Macau:
Macau has a separate immigration regime from mainland China and Hong Kong. All travelers from mainland China , Hong Kong and all foreign countries have to go through immigration and customs checks on arrival in Macau. Most visitors do not have to get a visa upon arrival. Upon arrival in Macau, immigration clearance can take anything from 5-30 minutes.
Hop on that Free Shuttle bus
Shuttle buses to big hotels are available from both the Macau Ferry Terminal and Taipa Ferry Terminal. Some of the hotels are share shuttle buses. Follow the signs from customs outside and look for the shuttle bus bay. Signs and buses are marked with their destinations.
Depending on when you arrive, 1pm is usually the check-in time of hotels in Macau, so do expect to store your luggage. A great way to use this time is exploring your hotel and getting some lunch. When they give you the time to come back for check-in, you are probably going to join a long line in a queue.
Some of the largest Casinos in the world are located on the Cotai Strip, so Macau does have a lot of hotel rooms to choose from. Pick a resort one that suits your needs, the resorts offer great amenities, different entertainment venues, shopping arcades and fabulous pools.
Traveling around the Cotai Strip
The easiest way to get around Macau is simply using the complimentary shuttle buses operated by all major casinos and hotels. The casino shuttle buses can be used by anyone. Simply find the sign with the destination that you want to go to get into queue. The buses run about every 15 minutes.
Taipa Village is one of the few areas in Macau where you can step back in time and walk pedestrianized lanes to browse shops that offer Macanese specialties, such as the city’s famous almond cookies and egg tarts. Don’t forget to try the pork jerky offered by many vendors offering you samples. Generally most stores are open daily from 11AM – 9PM
Taipa Houses Museum
The museum complex consists of five houses, of which display various artifacts and exhibits on life during Macau’s colonial era. The houses were built in 1921 and restored to recreate houses of Portuguese families living in Macau during the early 20th century.
Lord Stow’s Bakery
You can’t leave without trying the signature Macau delicacy, the egg tart. Lord Stow’s Bakery is the orignal creator of the Macanese egg tart.
Gelatina Mok Yi Ke
You can order durian ice cream and sawdust pudding (made of ice cream and crushed biscuits) from this famous desert stand.
Tai Lei Loi
A cafe selling the famous pork chop bun, expect a long queue.
Taipa House Museum
was built in 1921 and served as a residence for the Portuguese governor and other high-level civil servants and their families.
Pak Tai Temple
Built in 1844, back then most people used to earn a living by fishing, and thus they followed the precepts of Pak Tai, the Northern Emperor. He is believed to have the divine power to withstand floods and fire which led to the temple’s establishment. A worship pavilion is set up for followers to pay tribute and offerings, which is rarely seen elsewhere on the island.
Cotai Strip: The Mega Casinos
Each casino in Cotai has a theme including hotels, restaurants, entertainment and shopping areas. Macau in total has more than thirty casinos, Cotai has: – The Venetian Macao, the Parisian Macau, the Four Seasons, City of Dreams, Wynn Palace, Studio City, Sands Cotai Central and the Galaxy Macau.
Studio City is a spacious old Hollywood themed Casino. It has a large food court and shopping arcade. The main attraction is the Golden Reel – the world’s first figure eight ferris wheel built right into the middle of the building.
This massive resort not only has ornate decorations transporting you to Venice but you can also ride a Gondola on the canals though the resort by a singing gondolier.
City of Dreams
A trio of hotels comprise the City of Dreams. The “House of Dancing Water” is one of the world’s most expensive theater shows. The show features actors performing in and around water with daredevil dives into the colossal pools.
The main attraction is a performance lake that has fountain shows every 15 minutes that are choreographed with music, water and light. To get to the entrance of the casino, you board a gondola that will carry you across the lake and fountains with amazing views.
With a half-scale lighted Eiffel Tower outside, the interior has a large fountain and atrium giving a feel of Paris patrolled by street entertainers.
Exploring Macau Peninsula
After your breakfast, you can do an early check-out, make sure to store your luggage at the baggage service of the hotel and claim it before you depart for your ferry. Next, Taxi or use free shuttle bus to the historic center of Macau, and a UNESCO world heritage site. The old heart of the city is small and extremely walkable.
Churches, Temples and Tarts
Starting at Senado Square wind you way up Rua da Palha to the Ruins of St Paul. Explore the different Churches and Temples and stop in the open-fronted shops selling souvenirs and street food. This is a great place to try the famous pork shop buns, jerky, egg tarts and pick up some almond cookies to take back home.
Senado Square (Largo do Senado)
This is the traditional heart of Macau, Senado Square is paved with Portuguese mosaic tiles and surrounded by classical colonial buildings Sitting on the square is St. Dominic’s Church. It was founded by three Spanish Dominican priests from Mexico in 1587.The bell tower at the back of the building has been converted into the Museum of Sacred Art with around 300 artifacts dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Lou Kau Mansion
The former residence of Lu Huashao, a prominent Chinese merchant. The historical house was built in 1889. It is open for tours 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and is free of charge.
The Macau Museum is located on the hill of the Fortaleza do Monte. After touring the museum, be sure to exit from the top floor, which takes you to the Mount Fortress Mount Fortress was built between 1617 and 1626 by the Jesuits, and housed barracks, arsenal and storehouses to allow it to withstand a siege lasting two years. You can get good views of the inner harbour and the Macau peninsula from there.
Ruins of St. Paul
Built in 1580, St. Paul’s Church was plagued by fires. The first was in 1595 then another in 1601. Reconstruction started in 1602 and was completed in 1637, at that time the church became the biggest Catholic Church in East Asia. Unfortunately, a violent typhoon hit Macau in 1835 and the church caught fire for the third time leaving only its facade. It has become Macau’s most photographed tourist attraction. Beware of the selfie sticks on the stairs.
Na Tcha Temple
The Na Tcha Temple, built in 1888, is a Chinese temple dedicated to the worship of the deity Na Tcha. Na Tcha is the child god of war. It is believed that the temple was built to put an end to the plague ravaging the region during that time.
You can perform the world’s highest bungee jump from the 1,108ft Macau Tower. It also has observation decks, restaurants, theaters, shopping malls and the Skywalk X, a thrilling walk around around the rim of the observation deck.
Don’t forget to have your taxi take you to the correct ferry terminal if you booked online. Going back to Hong Kong or Kowloon is just like your journey coming to Macau. You will go though immigration to leave Macau and when you arrive in Hong Kong/ Kowloon you will go though Hong Kong immigration again.
Macau to Hong Kong Airport
It is possible to take a ferry from Macau to the Hong Kong airport, but keep in mind that sailings are not 24 hours a day, check with TurboJet and CotaiJet for schedules. Buying the ticket beforehand is highly recommended to avoid not getting on the ferry that you need. As the journey takes about 1 hour, it is a safe bet to choose a ferry that is leaving Macau no less than 3 hours prior to your scheduled flight departure time. The ferry takes about one hour for the trip.
You can use Hong Kong Dollars (HKD) or Macau Patacas (MOP), in Macau. If you get Patacas will want to make sure to spend this while in Macau as it can’t be used back in Hong Kong once you leave. You do pay a slight overage by using HKD as it is slightly more valuable than MOP.
Customs and Etiquette
Visitors should bear in mind that English is only spoken well by a minority of locals and sometimes there may be a language barrier. I have found that the Macanese are very friendly and will find someone to help with the translation.
The climate in Macau is often hot and humid from May to September. Plan your travel accordingly and make sure you keep yourself hydrated if traveling in the summer months.
If you have any travel tips for Macau, please let me know! Thanks again for visiting! Happy Travels, Tava