I simply start my article stating that Macau was a surprise for me. It was not included in my trip to Asia since I had planned to go to Korea and Japan but unfortunately, I could not make it and replace these two destinations with a one-day trip to Macau. I did not expect anything from Macau, I just thought it was a plain imitation of Europe, particularly of Portugal, as Macau was a Portuguese colony in the past. How I was wrong! It surpassed my expectations and destroyed this image I had of a boring and fake reconstruction of Europe.
A Bit Of History:
As many of you already know, in the 16th century Portuguese were great merchants, they owned one of the best fleets and travel back and forth the world to get and then, sell different products and spices. They eventually settled down in Macau area in the 1550s and rented the port from China a bit later. It was one of their most important bases in Asia where they could trade with the Chinese and other countries. Macau was administered by Portuguese and Chinese Empire altogether until the end of the 19th century, when Macau became voluntarily a colony of Portugal.
The area stayed under Portuguese influence until 1999 when it was handed back to China but still retained its own sovereignty. The political system is very similar to the Hong Kong one “one country, two systems” I talked about in my Ten Facts About Hong Kong: Macau has its own police, legal system, currency etc but China takes care of foreign affairs and defence.
Macau is mainly known for its multitude of casinos, thus it is often called Monte Carlo of Asia, and much loved by wealthy Chinese people that come here to gamble and spend their money. My boyfriend even said Macau is already part of China since it is more accessible for them than Hong Kong and they fund Macau with their money. Here Mandarin is also more spread and spoken due the great flow of Chinese tourists, whether gamblers or not.
What Do To Do In One Day:
I expected Macau to be much smaller than it is actually is so I thought I could see everything in one day but I was very very wrong! Macau was an island before the 17th century but because of reclamation projects, the island got connected to the Mainland by an isthmus, gradually losing the status of island. It is made up of 3 islands and one Peninsula: Macau Peninsula itself, Cotai, Coloane and Taipa. Cotai is not a proper island as it was obtained through a reclamation project and now connects the two islands Coloane and Taipa.
On these islands you can encounter posh hotels and countless casinos, among them the Venetian Macau, but since I am Italian, European and more interested in Chinese culture, I skipped the area – I also dislike gambling, not my place at all. Something that surprised me much was that the signs were not bilingual but even trilingual: Portuguese, English and Cantonese/Mandarin. I do not actually know if Portuguese is spoken by the locals but my boyfriend told me it is not taught in the high schools so I was even more shocked to find it everywhere. It seems they really liked Portuguese rules xD
Taipa is quite a weird name for a Chinese place; I have read that in Chinese the island has been known by different names but the nowadays English and Portuguese name come from the pronunciation in Chinese of the Ming Nan word 氹仔. The first chinese settlements took place under Southern Song Dynasty in the 12th-13th centuries, making the area quite old. I expected to find big casinos and gambling-lover-rich Chinese but the area was very local and quiet.
There were many Macau bakery shops selling a Portuguese-Chinese hybrid pastries, which seemed to be pretty popular there, everyone was there buying and most of them were locals. The area was so pretty and alluring: many old colonial-style houses that reminded me of South America and South Europe (I felt home) but everything was mixed with typical chinese architecture, fragrances and landscapes.
It is really a nice mix between Asia and Europe, even better than Hong Kong. Hong Kong can be compared to the UK or the USA: it still retains that strong financial aura as everyone there works all day long following exhausting schedules, the places are overcrowded and there are many tall skyscrapers around while Macau was like a Southern European version of Hong Kong: more relaxed lifestyle, quieter atmosphere and quaint deserted alleyways. Anyway do not get me wrong, Macau can be as chaotic and as overcrowded as Hong Kong is; not by chance it is one of the most densely populated area in the world and it is also not second to Hong Kong when it comes to bizarre skyscrapers ahah
St. Paul’s Cathedral
This is one of the most popular and probably the most photographed landmarks of Macau. I could see its massive popularity once I got closer: more you approached, more people were popping out restraining your movement ahah Nevertheless it is worth the struggle of swimming in this big sea of people because this chunk of church has its own charm.
Macau, unlike other Chinese places, was strongly catholicized as Portuguese are known for their strong attachment to religion a bit like Italians. There are countless churches dotted throughout Macau Peninsula and most of them date back before 18th century, unlike many temples and churches in Hong Kong, which were built in recent times. St. Paul’s Cathedral, or what it remains of it, was built, indeed, in the 17th century by Jesuits – there was a strong presence of Jesuits in Asia at that time.
The church was the former cathedral and one of the largest catholic church in Asia. Regrettably it was destroyed because of a fire after a typhoon came in the 19th century and never rebuilt. What we can admire now is just the façade of the church, which was the only part that could survived the fire as the building was built by using wood.
Old Town And Its Streets
The old town is pretty lively: hordes of people pack the old town’s narrow streets, all the shops along the way are open selling local products, it is really an enjoyable atmosphere. The town is really quite old with these half-crumbling houses and quaint alleyways.
I think they way they live is similar to Hong Kongers since houses seem as small as In Hong Kong – you always see wet clothes hanging outside with bamboo sticks. I had fun by getting lost in its maze and discovering secret corners. One of my favourite places in Macau, besides the alluring small alleyways, is Largo Do Senado, a triangular-shaped and paved square, which in the past was used as meeting place between Chinese and Portuguese merchants.
When I visited there, the square was decorated with Christmas ornaments and everything looked much more beautiful! I was really amazed at how beautiful the place was and so european yet so chinese. The paved road is very charming with its black and white tiles. I, later, got to know that it is part of UNESCO World Heritage. This is, indeed, a great achievement for Macau.
Trying Macau Pastries And Food
Asia is really a perfect place to savour when it comes to food, here they have a great variety of dishes and ingredients. The food is always so fragrant and rich in taste. Asians, as I could already tell from Japan, also like mixing their food with the western one and you can see this fusion food in the bakery shops around. In Macau, as former Portuguese colony, inhabitants mastered the art of Portuguese bakery and still nowadays you can find Chinese-Portuguese mixed pastries and biscuits. Be sure to check the Almond Biscuits out, it is a delicacy around here.
Resting In Peaceful Parks
Macau may be a bustling and big city but has nature everywhere and really peaceful parks. We came across one while wandering aimlessly in the old town and it was a pleasant surprise as we could rest after the long walk. I do not think it was exactly what you would call a park because there was an empty mansion inside built in colonial style and an entrance gate on which is written “Fundação Oriente” (Oriental Foundation).
Before entering, I noticed a small notebook that asked the visitors to write down the place they came from so did I! It was real fun reading all the places that visitors there came from. After having explored that mansion – there was nothing interesting inside – I encountered a cat and started taking photos of him ahah Macau cats sure are cute <3
A-Ma Temple – 媽閣廟
I did not expect to find such a chinese place in the middle of the European city of Macau and I was really pleased when I came across this place. At first I gave up on going here as Macau is not provided with a metro thus you need to get on a bus to reach far away place like this – it was located at the tip of Macau Peninsula – and finding the right bus stop and bus is actually very hard. Nevertheless we managed to get on the right bus and in less than 10 minutes we reached our destination.
A-Ma Temple is quite a huge chinese-folk religious complex that is developed on multiple levels. It is said that the name Macau itself comes from this temple: when Portuguese merchants at the beginning used to come to China, they landed at the coast just near the temple and asked the locals what was the name and they replied with A-maa-gok. It is made up of six parts: Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin and Buddhist Pavilion.
The entrance gate itself was already a masterpiece and once entered, you could see some wish papers attached on a stand. There people usually go when they want one of their wishes to be fulfilled and hang one of these mentioned papers there. The temple is built on the rocks, which also bear some chinese writings whose nobody knows the meaning ahah Once you reach the top, you will find the oldest hall of the complex and all around it those whirl-shaped candles spreading smoke everywhere.
A-Ma Temple itself is another UNESCO World Heritage of Macau and no wonder why they decided to include it. Once we were done with the visit, we went to the near bus stop and waited for the bus there to get back. I was lucky enough to witness this beautiful burning and fire-like sunset on the sea promenade that really warmed up my heart, I will remember it forever.
How To Reach From Hong Kong:
- First of all I advice you to buy the ticket beforehand online because you might find a full schedule once you reach the harbour. Here the website if you are interested in buying tickets https://www.turbojet.com.hk/en/
- You can take the boat from Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal, Tuen Mun and Kowloon.
- The journey lasts one hour and the boat is very fast. They provide you with everything, even the vomit bag, and you can buy food on board.
- The price range depends on when you book but the cheapest is 280 HKD one way.
- You normally book the time to go back beforehand but if you want to go back earlier than the scheduled time, you can queue up in the waiting line and might have a chance to get on the earlier boat.
- In Macau there are two ferry terminals: one is Outer Harbour in Macau Peninsula and one is in Taipa Island.
- Once in Macau, there is no metro so you need to use buses to go around and it is not as easy you could think.