Macau (“Makao”) is a small peninsula at the bottom side of China known for its rich culture – a blend of Portuguese and Chinese. Only an hour away from Hong Kong by ferry, it is worth spending a day exploring Macau.
Hong Kong to Macau ferries operate for almost 24 hours. By the way, Macau has two ferry terminals: Macau Ferry Terminal and Taipa Temporary Ferry Terminal. Nevertheless, I would recommend that you take a 16-minute helicopter ride through Sky Shuttle, the only company that operates this kind of service from Hongkong to Macau. The Sky Shuttle operates from 10am to 11pm and the price starts from $4,800 HKD.
Macau is so small that a one-day tour is more than enough for most visitors. However, due to a very small number of people who speak English in the area and too many tiny streets that lead to almost nowhere, most tourists in Macau easily get lost. For this reason, I wrote this article to help those planning to take a little side trip and experience Macau at its finest.
Exploring Macau: Hotels and casinos
Upon arrival at Macau Ferry Terminal or Taipa Temporary Ferry Terminal, various hotels and casinos in Macau offer free bus transport to their establishment. Most shuttle buses operate from 10am to 11pm. If you have your own itineraries and travel guides, you can use these services for your convenience.
But for the purpose of this article, let us take a free shuttle bus to Wynn Hotel. It has an international reputation for great customer service and luxurious casino and hotel facilities. Wynn Macau is also visited by tourists for its shows which have informally become one of the celebrated attractions in Macau. Besides Wynn Macau, there are also other casinos and hotels around the area like Starworld Casino, L’Arc Hotel and Casino, MGM Macau, Hotel Lisboa and Grand Lisboa. You can also conveniently take a quick tour around these hotels and casinos. Each of them offers various attractions for tourists, too. For example, there is this marvellous aquarium of beautiful fishes at MGM, the beautiful sculptures of angels, horses, and other creatures at the L’Arc Hotel and Casino; and the collection of exquisite jades and antiques by Mr Stanley Ho at Hotel Lisboa.
Exploring Macau’s busiest road and tasting the famous Portuguese Egg Tart
After those gigantic hotels and casinos, our next stop will be Macau’s busiest and very well-known street – Infante Dom Henrique. This is like a miniature of Hong Kong’s streets, but this one is magical, unlike any other ordinary street. I personally did not imagine that I could find beauty in a busy street amidst a traffic jam. Instead, you can stand at an intersection of the highway, close your eyes, and you can imagine the fast-moving world mysteriously changing its pace in slow-motion.
As we move along, let us drop by a small store listed in every “Must Go Place in Macau” article – the very renowned Margaret’s Cafe e Nata. If ever you wonder what is in this store, it is the best seller delicacy – Macau’s Portuguese Egg Tart. I assure you, this delectable Portuguese egg tart is worth the long wait in a queue.
Aside from that oh-so-good egg tart, you can also explore other restaurants around the vicinity. You can see different kinds of Chinese food here and there. For example, a well-known diner just opposite Margaret’s Cafe e Nata, across the ICBC bank, Chan Kong Kei. They offer their famous gastronomic delight – pork, duck and chicken cooked in Chinese style. Sik Fahn La! (Cantonese for “Let’s Eat”).
Exploring Macau: Senado Square and legendary buildings
Our next destination is one of Macau’s pride – the crowded and bustling Senado Square. This Heritage Site is also known as San Malou. Back in the old days, Senado Square serves as a meeting place for the residents in Macau, like a plaza. You can notice stunning Portuguese architecture in this area – proof of how a place will look when the West meets the East.
While you are at the Senado Square, you can conveniently swing by Leal Senado Building and Macau Postal Office.
Leal Senado building used to be the seat of the Portuguese Macau Government during the Portuguese sovereignty over Macau. The entrance is for free. Inside the establishment, you will see a small library of collection of books on Macau’s laws and statutes. On the second floor, you can sit, relax and enjoy a small peaceful garden.
Macau Post Office is almost a century old and is worth a photograph. There is a variety of collections of stamps inside the post office! There is so much beauty in this building, but the only thing that took my breath away is this striking view of a clock that seems to guard the rapidly growing City of Macau.
Exploring Macau’s churches
Just near Senado Square, there are churches that you can visit: the St. Augustine Church, St. Dominic’s Church, and the Cathedral.
St. Augustine Church is considered to be the parochial church of several Filipinos who live in Macau. It is located at the top of the hill behind the Leal Senado Building. The church is usually jam-packed during Saturdays and Sundays masses because of the growing Filipino community in the city. Around the St. Augustine Church, you can also drop by a library, which houses the sweet smell of leather-bound tomes of Macau’s literary antiques. Book lovers just got to love that ‘oh so good’ mysterious library scent while rummaging through the stacks.
St Dominic’s Church is not your just-another-church-around-the-corner. It was included as one of the cultural heritage sites here in Macau. Aside from its enigmatic church design, it also has a museum of relics and paintings.
Lastly, the Macau Cathedral Church has a typical neoclassical style and is one of the architectural statements in Macau. It is exquisitely located at the top of a hill when you pass through a small street beside McDonald’s in Senado Square.
Exploring Macau: Shopping and St Paul
Suppose you are looking for something to bring home for your folks, from souvenirs, branded clothes and the latest gadgets. In that case, you can find a very active shopping avenue right at the juncture of Senado Square and Ruins of St Pauls. My favourite spot is a bit crowded street where every stall offers a free taste of their specialties!
If there is only one reason people visit Macau, they want to see the iconic Ruins of St. Paul’s. This over-a-hundred-year-old facade has become a famous tourist attraction in Macau. If you ask some locals, the walls of this church mirror a thousand stories of faith and courage and how it stood the test of time. It has also become the symbol of Macau. However, the Ruins of St Pauls is more than just an attraction. It serves as a museum of the rich culture and history of Macau. Inside the Ruins, is a small museum that is open to the public. Across the park at the right side of the Ruins of St Pauls are the Macau Museum and the great Macau Fortress, which offers a 360-degree-view of Macau City. So, that’s Portuguese culture, Chinese Culture and Macau History in one place!
Exploring Macau: Ama Temple and Macau Tower
Now, from Senado Square, let us leisurely walk back to Grand Lisboa. Opposite that, you will find a series of bus stations. Look for the colour “blue” station or the “B” station. Then, take either bus number 32 or 9A. The fare is 3.20 MOP$, and get off to our next destination, the stately Macau Tower!
After the breathtaking view of the city from Macau Tower, our next and final stop will be the historical Ama Temple. This is initially where Macau took its name. This place is where the original port was located. It is also included in the list as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Entering through a gateway, you will experience a creeping sense of transformation of faith. Though it is usually crowded and takes a long picture-taking queue, Ama Temple is worth a stopover. Some believe that this temple brings good luck in health, wealth and relationships.
There are a series of pavilions at the Ama Temple. The upper part of the temple has a big stone with a Chinese Character engraved on it. Outside the temple, there is a museum of the ancient maritime culture of Macau. There is a dragon boat and a man-made river which is like a miniature of those scenes that you can see in the Chinese movies.
These are just recommendations that I think you should consider when exploring Macau. Apart from the list above, some tourist attractions in Macau like the Guia Hill, Lou Lim Ioc Garden, the Fisherman’s Wharf, the hotel and casinos in the Taipa side (Venetian Hotel, Galaxy Hotel, Hard Rock, City of Dreams), Taipa Village and many more are also must-sees. If you’re planning a trip to Hong Kong, don’t miss the chance to hop on a ferry to Macau.