Traveler: Pat McFadden
When: January 2018
My interest in Macau piqued years ago after watching the James Bond movie, Skyfall, where James competes in a high-stakes poker game on a floating Macanese casino. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the real Macau looked nothing like the polished seashore metropolis from the movie, but I was. The real Macau boasts a charming colonial old town, a rugged authenticity, and a tastefully opulent gambling district. If you’re interested in gambling, you could easily spend several days in Macau’s lavish gambling resorts. Otherwise, a one or two day side-trip from Hong Kong, or Mainland China, is sufficient.
As a Special Administrative Region of China, Macau (and Hong Kong) have increased autonomy compared to mainland Chinese provinces, as well as their own immigration control systems. Americans can enter Macau, visa-free, for up to 30 days. Upon arriving to Macau, you will complete passport control, even if travelling from Hong Kong or Mainland China. If you’re a passport stamp collector, I have disappointing news: Macau issues a small piece of paper in lieu of a passport stamp.
Arriving to Macau has never been cheaper with the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in October 2018. Tourists can cross the 34 mile bridge by bus and reach Macau for $20 USD round-trip. When I visited Macau in January 2018, a ferry was the most economical option, but it was a hefty $42 USD round-trip price! If you are interested in the bumpy, 55 minute speed-boat ferry between Hong Kong and Macau, you can choose between two operators: TurboJet and Cotai Waters.
Much like Hong Kong, Macau is expensive. There is only one hostel on Macau and it requires a special government permit . I stayed at The Holiday Hotel which offered a relatively clean private room for $45 USD a night. It was conveniently located near the European Old Town, a market, and most importantly, a third-wave coffee shop.
Things to Do
Macau is divided into four regions: Macau Peninsula, Taipa, Cotai, and Coloane. Most tourist attractions are located in the Macau Peninsula and Cotai, but avid golfers and nature lovers would enjoy a trip to Coloane’s golf course, and beaches.
The European Old Town: As a former Portuguese colony, the Macau Peninsula has a charming European Old Town filled with shops, food vendors, churches, and colorful colonial architecture. As you saunter through the crooked alleyways of Old Town, you’ll be persuaded to sample the seemingly endless supply of locally cured meats. Indulge away; they are delicious! The zebra-patterned Senado Square is the center of the Old Town, and is the gateway to one of Macau’s most iconic landmarks: St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sadly, little remains of this once grand church, but it’s worth examining the intricate facade.
Fortazela do Monte: Perched high above the Old Town resides the Fortazela do Monte, which boasts 360 degree panoramas of the European Old Town. The fort is free to visit, and is a quick ten minute walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Cotai Strip: Gambling is big business in Macau, with Macau generating almost three times the revenue of Las Vegas! When I first laid eyes on the crown jewel of the Cotai Strip, the Galaxy, I was in awe. No matter how many photos I took, I couldn’t capture the stunning beauty. It was regal. It was modern. It was HUGE! I spent four hours walking through various Cotai casinos, soaking up the beautiful interior design and questioning whether there is a bona-fide demand for the myriad of restaurants and clothing stores. If you’re not a fan of American gambling epicenters, I’d encourage you to still visit the Cotai Strip. It shares the same grandiose scale of its American siblings, but with less tackiness.
Lou Lim Ioc Garden: Tucked away in a residential neighborhood of Macau Peninsula, Lou Lim Ioc garden is a peaceful retreat from the bustle of Old Town Macau. Entry to the garden is free and takes between 30 and 60 minutes to enjoy.
Taipia Village: A short distance from the Cotai Strip, Taipa village is home to many restaurants, bars, and craft stores. If the European Old Town felt too touristic, the Taipa Village is a more low-key neighborhood with equally appealing restaurants.
Places to Eat and Drink
If you are pinching pennies in Macau, skip the high couture casino restaurants and head towards the abundance of local noodle shops churning out meals for $4 USD.
One highly pleasant surprise during my visit was the magnificent coffee shop, Bloom. Bloom is a boutique coffee roaster specializing in variety of coffee preparations (pour-over, flat white, etc), using their award-winning roasted coffee beans. The quality is on par with the best roasts I’ve tried in the United States!
- Although few Macau residents speak Portuguese, it is still one of the official languages of Macau. You will occasionally see information signs in both Chinese and Portuguese.
- Macau has a currency independent of Mainland China’s Yuan, and the Hong Kong Dollar. Hong Kong Dollars are accepted at the major casinos, but smaller restaurants and cafes might expect payment in the Macau Pataca.
- If you would like to speak with locals but do not speak Cantonese, consider downloading the Google Translate app, as English fluency is limited in the Macau population.