The former Portuguese colony is the world’s top casino hub, but you’ll also find elegant colonial buildings in the UNESCO-listed historic centre.
China's gaming capital is oft misunderstood. While its reputation as the world's top casino hub is well-known, long surpassing Las Vegas in revenue, few think of Macau as an idyllic escape. But once you step away from the Baccarat tables, that's exactly what you can find.
There are two sides to the former Portuguese colony. One is all about the superlatives – the largest, flashiest, most headline-grabbing casinos and resorts attracting professional gamblers. The other is elegant with colonial mansions and churches beautifully preserved in the Unesco-listed historic centre. Add to this the colourful markers of Chinese culture (smoky temples, rowdy festivals, warm hospitality) and you've got a destination that's truly unlike any other in China.
While Macau is waylaid by the main attractions of Hong Kong and the greater Pearl River Delta, those who plan more than just a quick day-trip to the city will find it very rewarding. The best plan of action is to start things off with a bang at the casinos, having a hedonistic night out enjoying the top-notch dining, shows and games, before recovering with a day of sightseeing and shopping. Foodies will want to reserve a third day just for restaurant-hopping, because the fascinating Macanese cuisine is an attraction in itself.
Macau is best in the autumn when the climate is relatively mild. Try October to November for clear skies and an average temperature of 20 degrees Celsius. The months of March to May are also great as the city emerges into spring, but the chances of rain are slightly higher.
Singapore citizens can stay in Macau for up to 30 days without a visa, provided they have a passport valid for at least six months. To stay beyond 30 days, apply for a visa at your nearest China embassy.
Hong Kong dollars are widely accepted in Macau and are on a par with Macau Patacas, but change will be given in Patacas. Chinese Renminbi is accepted by most businesses, but do take note of the current exchange rate.
Macau can be reached by ferry or by air. Ferries will dock either at the Macau Ferry Terminal or at Cotai. Almost all major hotels and casinos offer convenient shuttle bus services to and from the ferry terminals; these can be taken advantage of whether you intend to gamble or not. Most visitors travel by taxi around the city as they are plentiful and relatively affordable. Macau can also be reached by Sky Shuttle helicopter. Although it is much pricier than the ferry option, the commute only takes 15 minutes compared with an hour by sea.
Macau has high health and sanitation standards with well-stocked pharmacies and good hospitals. Pickpocketing is an infrequent problem in Macau, but otherwise crime rates are surprisingly low for a casino capital.
|How are you?||Neih hou ma?|
|Fine, thanks||Hou hou do jeh|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Ching mahn!|
|Thank you||Do jeh|
|What's your name?||Neih giu mat yeh meng?|
|My name is…||Ngoh giu…|
|Nice to meet you||Hou gou hing gin dou neih|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Neih yauh mouh jyu chaak Facebook/Twitter?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Mohng ba hai bin douh?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Ngoh hai bin douh ho yih wandou dik si?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Fo che jaahm/ba si jaahm hai bin douh?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Yat jeung heui…ge daan chihng/seung chihng fei|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Auh mouh yat/leuhng go yahn ge fohnggaan?|
|When's check out?||Gei dim teui fong?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Neih ho m ho yih gaai siuh yat gaan hou ge chaan teng/jau ba?|
|A table for two, please||M goi bei leuhng yahn ge toi ngoh|
|A menu, please||M goi neih bei choi paai ngoh|
|The bill, please||M goi maaih daan|
|Where's the toilet?||Sai sau gaan hai bin douh?|
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The A-Ma Temple is Macau's oldest, commemorating Mazu the sea goddess who is worshipped by fishermen. Dating to the early 16th century, the temple has since expanded to include many other deities. A-Ma Temple is a great place to get a taste for a range of Chinese religions, large and small, as it mixes Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and folk religions.
AJ Hackett at Macau Tower
If the highs and lows at the gaming table aren't enough for you, then get your thrills at the Macau Tower where you can experience the world's highest bungy jump from a commercial building. Leap off 233 metres (764ft) above ground to free fall into the spectacular vista of Macau and its surrounding waters. You can even do it at night when the city lights up in a rainbow of neon. If this doesn't set your heart racing, you're probably dead.
Ruins of St Paul's Cathedral
The remaining facade of the 16th-century St Paul’s Cathedral is Macau’s most photographed landmark. Once one of Asia’s largest and most important Catholic churches, it was destroyed in a fire during a typhoon in 1835. The ruins are now a protected heritage site with an attached Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt housing valuable religious artefacts. The facade itself can be climbed for a closer look at fascinating carvings of Sino-Jesuit iconography.
Taipa Old Town
On Taipa, Macau’s smallest island, is Taipa Old Town, a quiet residential area of low buildings in East-meets-colonial style, all painted in pastel shades. It’s a quaint, charming neighbourhood that contrasts sharply with the nearby mega-casino developments on the Cotai Strip. Stroll around Taipa Old Town for a nostalgic feel of Macau in days past. There are some touristy streets worth visiting as well, such as Rua do Cunha, an alley lined with popular snack shops and restaurants. The Taipa Houses Museum can also be found here.
At the heart of Macau’s historic centre is the beautifully preserved area of Senado Square. Colonial architecture surrounds the black-and-white paved plaza with a fountain marking the foci. The Leal Senado, St. Dominic’s Church and the General Post Office can all be seen here. These days, the buildings are filled with chain restaurants and shops and the streets are flooded with tourists, but Senado Square is still the most scenic part of colonial Macau.
House of Dancing Water
If there’s only time for one show in Macau, make it the House of Dancing Water. With its own custom-designed theatre, it is the world’s largest and most memorable water-based show. The storyline (something about a princess that needs saving) is secondary to the special effects: moving stages that swiftly transform from dry land to deep pools and back again, breathtaking high dives, acrobatic dancing, and even motorcycle tricks. It promises to have your jaw on the floor for the whole 85 minutes.
Being the day with a dim sum breakfast fit for champions at The Eight (on the second floor of the Grand Lisboa Hotel). This flamboyant restaurant redefines Cantonese fine dining with its glam-kitsch decor and surprises on the menu. An overwhelming sensory experience begins with the over-the-top interior design using an auspicious goldfish motif. More than 50 kinds of dim sum are available, with some continuing the auspicious imagery, such as impossibly detailed goldfish-shaped shrimp dumplings.
Feeling peckish in the afternoon? Grab a taxi from The Eight and head to the original branch of Lord Stowe’s Bakery at 1 Rua da Tassara in Coloane Town Square for a Macanese egg tart. Macau does its own version of a pastel de nata, or Portuguese egg tart, which has become an iconic snack in the SAR. Lord Stowe's was one of the first to make the tart famous beyond Macau and is now something of a household name. Best to gobble the tarts while still hot, immediately after buying them.
Make sure you book weeks ahead to secure a dinner table at Amagao. This little family-run place (at 25 Rua Ho Lin Vong in Taipa) seats a dozen diners and has a private kitchen feel to it. Amagao is famous for warm hospitality, hard-to-get reservations, and generous proportions. The Portuguese chicken is extremely popular, and it’s easy to see why. A rich, creamy stew of tender chicken, the dish is a fusion of Portuguese and Asian flavors – a true Macanese original.
The Eight, Lord Stow's Bakery, Amagao.
Dare to stay at the San Va Hospedaria (65–67 Rua de Felicidade) or just visit the hostel for a taste of Old Macau and a brush with cinematic greatness: Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai shot several scenes here for 2046. A typical 1930s Chinese building, with all the original fixtures, it is undeniably rich in atmosphere. However, its charm is a double-edged sword as many of the rooms desperately need renovating and the walls are paper thin.
Visit the 16th-century St Paul’s Cathedral in the early afternoon for good light – this is Macau’s most photographed landmark. From the San Va Hospedaria, either head northeast on foot for about 30 minutes, or flag down a cab, as all drivers will know the attraction. Once one of Asia’s largest and most important Catholic churches, it was destroyed in a fire during a typhoon in 1835. The ruins are now a protected heritage site with an attached Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt housing valuable religious artefacts. The facade itself can be climbed for a closer look at carvings of Sino-Jesuit iconography.
End a day of sightseeing at the A-Ma Temple, Macau's oldest, commemorating Mazu the sea goddess who is worshipped by fishermen. Located at Rua de Sao Tiago da Barra, it is a short drive from St Paul's. Dating to the early 16th century, the temple has since expanded to include many other deities, making it a great place to get a taste for a range of Chinese religions, as it mixes Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and folk religions.
San Va Hospedaria, St Paul's Cathedral, A-Ma Temple.
For a romantic getaway, finding the right hotel can be crucial. Maybe your partner would love the ostentatious luxury of The Banyan Tree (Galaxy Macau Resort, Avenida Marginal Flor de Lotus, Cotai) where the beachside resort experience has been recreated in the middle of urban Macau. High-rollers book out the decadent individual villas with private outdoor pools and pool houses with a tropical ambience. Several of the suites also have spa pools inside the bedrooms for ultimate privacy.
Or maybe they would enjoy something more old school, such as the Pousada de São Tiago (Avenida da Republica, Fortaleza de Sao Tiago da Barra). The property was converted from an imposing 17th-century Portuguese fortress that defended the colony from pirates. The hotel is now Macau’s most exclusive and a great conservation project. Wedding planners and photographers love to use the hotel and its Chapel of St. James as a backdrop for fabulous nuptials.
Live a little and book a table for two at Robuchon au Dome (43/F, Grand Lisboa Hotel) for a top-notch French dinner. Chef Robuchon runs a tight ship; if it's gourmet you're after, this three-Michelin-star restaurant will do the trick. The quality of the modern French cuisine is consistently high and service never disappoints
For post-dinner entertainment, check out Taboo, the risque cabaret show by Franco Dragone. World-class aerialists, acrobats, dancers, pole artists and singers entertain and tease. There's lots of leather and just the right amount of nudity for a sexy but tasteful date night.
The Banyan Tree, Pousada de São Tiago, Robuchon au Dome, Taboo