When I told people I was spending Christmas in Macau, the first question most asked was: ‘oh, are you going to gamble?’
Now, while I was aware that Macau is the world’s casino capital (it’s been far outstripping Las Vegas for the last few years), I was taken aback by how dominant that side of its reputation is.
But when I got there I realised how much more there is to the crazy little SAR (Special Administrative Region).
So, here in no particular order are nine reasons – apart from hitting the casinos – to visit Macau:
Exquisite Portuguese food – having been a Portuguese colony for more than 100 years up until 1999, there’s a huge abundance of fabulous Portuguese food on offer. From tiger prawn and monk fish ‘cataplana’ at Miramar, to garlic prawns at Fernando’s or ‘feijoada’ at A Lorcha, there’s something to tickle anyone’s taste buds.
Lord Stow’s Bakery – tucked away in Coloane village, this beacon of baked delights is a haven for non-sweet bread starved ex-pats living in China. Make like us and fill your hand luggage with tasty treats for the freezer!
East meets West at St Paul’s church – only the front wall remains of the what some consider to be the greatest monument to Christianity in Asia, but it stands as a beacon to Macau’s mixed up heritage.
Movie magic – forget James Bonds’ trip to Macau in Skyfall, which was all shot in a studio in England, for a real-life movie experience head to Rua de Felicidade, where part of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom was filmed. The white-washed buildings with their red awnings still stand and the street is now home to an array of tasty restaurants, as opposed to the brothels that used to be there!
Escape to the countryside – although an ever-increasingly smaller part of Macau’s charm, there is still a sizeable area of forest at the bottom of Coloane island, criss-crossed with hiking trails that lead to the lovely beaches and BBQ areas that dot the coast. A perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the rest of the SAR.
A-Ma superstar – This lovely temple is dedicated to A-Ma, goddess of the sea from where Macau reputedly gets its name. There are some great restaurants and food outlets in the streets nearby too, including A Lorcha.
Visiting the neighbours – if you manage to run out of things to do in Macau, you can always hop on a turbojet ferry and head to Hong Kong. The journey takes an hour, drops you right in the heart of Hong Kong and with ferries running back until almost midnight, it’s easy to take a day trip over to China’s other SAR.
Practice your languages – with Macau having been a Portuguese colony, in a predominately Cantonese-speaking area, but flooded with Chinese gambling addicts and right next door to that old British colony Hong Kong, there are many opportunities for practising different languages. The buses, for example, announce each stop in Cantonese, Portuguese, Mandarin and English, while street names are usually given in Traditional Chinese characters and Portuguese.
Dances with water – if you’re looking for a show that combines acrobatics, water and motorcycles with Pirates of the Caribbean and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (I know you are), then look no further than The House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams. I had no idea what the storyline was, but as a piece of theatre it’s unrivalled. And if you get the ‘splash seats’ on the front rows like we did, you’ll feel like you’re part of it.
See, I told you there was plenty of stuff to do in Macau! But, if you really must check out the casinos (and to be fair they are worth a visit) look no further than:
The Venetian – the world’s largest casino and possibly the world’s largest monstrosity, depending on your POV. This enormous replica of Venice is resplendent in its gaudy over-the-top-ness and the outdoor-indoor mind trickery of its Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square is an unsettling experience.
Head in, lose track of time and join the thousands of gamblers all hoping to win big. Or for a more productive way of losing money, check out the endless tax-free shopping centres